EXCLUSIVE

Learning to fly

3 minutes

Newton’s three-body problem

6 minutes

EXCLUSIVE

Elsewhere

30 minutes

Acadiana

10 minutes

Dani

8 minutes

We can’t fly like birds, nor can we stop our gaze soaring skyward to dream of it

In this brief, whimsical documentary, the UK director Eleanor Mortimer turns her camera’s gaze on urban birdwatchers as they wait for, observe and marvel at the peregrine falcons hovering above Sheffield in the north of England. The result is a beguiling look at a uniquely human condition: envy of flying. Or maybe it’s something else that turns these city-dwellers’ eyes skywards. The pleasures of birdwatching are many; the words to describe them are perhaps best left to the poets among us.

Director: Eleanor Mortimer

A millimetre makes a world of difference when calculating planetary trajectories

Calculating the trajectories of two gravitating bodies is straightforward mathematics. But introducing even just one more variable into an orbital system can make its long-term trajectory impossible to predict. In 2009, two researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz investigated just how difficult this mathematical phenomenon – known as the ‘N-body problem’ – makes forecasting the eventual fate of our own corner of space. The team ran 2,000 simulations of the solar system’s trajectory up to 5 billion years into the future, with the only variable being less than a millimetre difference in the distance between Mercury and the Sun. The simulations yielded a stunning array of results, including the possibility of Mercury careening into the Sun, colliding with Venus and destablising the entire inner solar system. This animation from TED-Ed breaks down the N-body problem with rich visuals and methodical clarity, and concludes with scientists’ efforts to minimise N-body unpredictability as humans press further into space.

Video by Ted-Ed

Director: HypeCG

Writer: Fabio Pacucci

Eight men reflect on their paths to prison – and imagine their alternative lives

An idiosyncratic patchwork of reflection, fantasy and atonement, the German director Adrian Figueroa’s experimental documentary Elsewhere invites viewers to step inside the minds of eight men serving extended terms in a German prison. As each inmate talks about the path that led him to incarceration, their distinct life stories, personalities and talents emerge, with the only clear connection between them being their shared quarters. While discussing topics ranging from the unparalleled highs of performing a robbery to the clarifying power of meditation, the men are green-screened into escapist settings aligned with their imaginary selves, and far removed from the drudgery of their locked-away lives. The result is at once enlightening and disorienting – and quite unlike any other ‘behind prison walls’ documentary you’re ever likely to see.

Elsewhere was awarded online distribution by Aeon Video at the 2020 Cheap Cuts Documentary Film Festival.

Director: Adrian Figueroa

Producer: Sibylle Arndt

The uncanny allure of the annual Cajun crawfish festival in Louisiana

Crawfish – small crustaceans also known as crayfish, crawdads or mudbugs – have long been a staple of Cajun cuisine, with the lobster-like creatures plentiful in the freshwaters of Louisiana. With an observational style and an experimental flair, Acadiana gathers scenes from a day at the state’s annual crawfish festival in Breaux Bridge. A crawfish eating competition, crawfish-inspired costumes and a float procession featuring the 2019 crowned Crawfish King and Queen are captured with a mix of anthropological curiosity and familial respect by the Québécois filmmakers Guillaume Fournier, Samuel Matteau and Yannick Nolin. While its title references the French-Canadian roots of Cajun culture in the United States, there is something otherworldly about this short film, which went on to win several awards on the Canadian film-festival circuit.

Directors: Guillaume Fournier, Samuel Matteau, Yannick Nolin

Producer: Jean-Pierre Vézina

Website: Kinomada

‘I hate giving you bad news’: when a daughter with breast cancer calls her mother

Danielle Hernandez is 30 and has Stage 4 breast cancer. As she calls her mother Violeta in Florida to deliver an update on her treatment from her home in Los Angeles, she oscillates between medical jargon and silver livings, with the more difficult pieces of information hidden in the subtext, only occasionally bubbling to the surface. This intimate conversation is captured by her roommate, the US filmmaker Lizzy Hogenson, in the short film Dani. Using a stop-motion technique that combines felt figures and claymation, Hogenson places her own veneer on the discussion, which is pierced by intermittent cracks of raw emotion, hard truths and silence. The result is at once affecting and distressing, as small moments of love, courage and pain spark and fade into uncertainty.

Director: Lizzy Hogenson

Producer: Kyle McClary

We can’t fly like birds, nor can we stop our gaze soaring skyward to dream of it

In this brief, whimsical documentary, the UK director Eleanor Mortimer turns her camera’s gaze on urban birdwatchers as they wait for, observe and marvel at the peregrine falcons hovering above Sheffield in the north of England. The result is a beguiling look at a uniquely human condition: envy of flying. Or maybe it’s something else that turns these city-dwellers’ eyes skywards. The pleasures of birdwatching are many; the words to describe them are perhaps best left to the poets among us.

Director: Eleanor Mortimer

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Study For Liberty Displaying the Arts and Sciences, or The Genius of America Encouraging the Emancipation of the Blacks (1791-92) by Samuel Jennings. Courtesy the Met Museum/New York

Essay/
History of ideas
Philosophy’s systemic racism

It’s not just that Hegel and Rousseau were racists. Racism was baked into the very structure of their dialectical philosophy

Avram Alpert

Detail of ‘Siege of the City’ by Jean Charlot, watercolour of a fresco at Chichén Itzá. The Maya mural from the Las Monjas building clearly shows a ship with the distinct wooden planks of a Viking boat © Jean Charlot/Artists Rights Society [ARS]; Copyright Agency, 2020

Essay/
Global history
Vikings in America

Centuries before Columbus, Vikings came to the Western hemisphere. How far into the Americas did they travel?

Valerie Hansen