Herd of two

13 minutes

Stay close

19 minutes

A Jew walks into a bar

24 minutes

Maesteg

10 minutes

Summerhill

28 minutes

What can working with horses teach us about power and communication?

‘When you work with a horse, you are a herd of two.’

Growing up in a small Swiss village, Caroline Wolfer found herself much more at ease around horses than people. Now working as a horse tamer in Patagonia, she has developed an understanding of horses based on what she describes as male and female ‘energies’, with the behaviours of stallions rooted in respect, and the behaviours of mares rooted in trust. Wolfer believes that, in human interactions, these two equally vital energies are out of balance, with the scale tilted heavily towards the male. In her work teaching humans to interact with horses at a corral, she emphasises the value of both male and female energies, and the importance of being straightforward in communicating. In doing so, Wolfer feels that she has helped people with their everyday interpersonal skills, and also helped herself to find comfort around other people.

Director: Diane Crespo

Producers: Belle Casares, Diane Crespo

Website: Cicala Filmworks

‘I feel the weight of everyone’: Keeth Smart foiled death to make it to the Olympics

Olympic athletes have, by definition, overcome overwhelming odds. But even among such a class of people, the US fencer Keeth Smart’s story stands out as extraordinary. He was the worst member of his high-school fencing club – which he joined only thanks to his talented sister (and future Olympian) Erinn – yet he ended up with a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, just four months after he was diagnosed with leukaemia. Combining family home videos, a voiceover from Smart and graphic-novel-style animations, Stay Close shows how a black kid from Brooklyn dealt with his challenges to succeed in a sport dominated by affluent white athletes – and became the first US fencer to top the world’s rankings.

Directors: Luther Clement, Shuhan Fan

Producer: Nevo Shinaar

Being a stand-up comedian is hard. It’s even harder when it’s against your religion

Have you heard this one before? An ultra-Orthodox Jew breaks the rules by going online, falls in love with stand-up comedy, and starts performing in clubs to help manage his crippling social anxiety. With deadpan delivery, and often wearing traditional Jewish Orthodox clothing, David Finkelstein has developed a comedic sensibility that connects with audiences at open mics in New York City. But even as he grows ever more comfortable on stage and finds a second home in the comedy community, the experience is rife with challenges and compromises. Finkelstein is still devout and attempts to adhere to as many of his religion’s rules as possible, even as he operates in a cultural ‘grey area’ by performing. This means no physical contact with women, no vulgarity, and no shows on the Sabbath, which nixes the desirable slots on Friday and Saturday night. And, most challenging of all, it means navigating between two very different worlds as he tries to keep the faith while pursuing his passion.

An endearing fish-out-of-water tale that grapples meaningfully with questions of religious values, culture and mental health, A Jew Walks into a Bar follows Finkelstein as he tries to establish himself in the stand-up scene. The short is one-third of the US filmmaker Jonathan Miller’s feature-length documentary Standing Up (2019), which follows three unlikely stand-ups as they pursue comedy in New York.

Director: Jonathan Miller

Producers: Colin Bernatzky, Katharine Accardo

Website: Standing Up

A cabbie’s tour of his Welsh hometown where the jobs are gone but the stories remain

A generation ago, the Welsh valley town of Maesteg was a booming coal mining and manufacturing community. Today, the mines and factories have all closed, and the sweeping green hills outside town are capped with massive wind turbines. This short documentary chronicles a day in the life of a longtime cab driver, who goes by Stumpy, as he winds his way through Maesteg and its environs. Most of Stumpy’s passengers are repeat customers – often friends and even family – who chat with him about their problems, love lives and times gone by. While the conversations are usually peppered with bantering good humour, they’re also bound together by an undercurrent of struggle and nostalgic longing for Maesteg’s better days. Richly evoking distinct nuances of time, place and community, the UK filmmaker Theodore Tennant offers a bittersweet ride through a memorable corner of Wales.

Director: Theodore Tennant

Producer: Tom Tennant

The school where children make the rules and learn what they want to learn

Established in 1921 by the Scottish writer and educator Alexander Sutherland Neill (1883-1973), Summerhill School in England helped to pioneer the ‘free school’ philosophy, in which lessons are never mandatory and nearly every aspect of student life can be put to a vote. Neill’s radical and controversial view of education was centred on his belief that ‘if the emotions are free, the intellect looks after itself’. Today, despite a series of clashes with Ofsted (the UK’s Office for Standards in Education) in the 1990s and 2000s, Summerhill still operates as a private boarding and day school in Suffolk for pupils from age five upwards.

Neill’s teaching methods and a rising countercultural movement inspired similar institutions to open around the world. Released in 1966, Summerhill explores the school’s educational philosophy by letting Neill and the many international pupils speak for themselves. Candid moments and scenes that evoke the rhythms of daily life at the school give a sense of the children’s lived experience. With an evenhanded approach, the film finds both potential pitfalls and benefits to a Summerhill education – including the results of letting children and teens run laissez-faire around the clock, and the possibilities for students who struggle in the rigid structures of traditional schools.

Director: Dennis Miller

Producer: Cecily Burwash

Website: National Film Board of Canada

What can working with horses teach us about power and communication?

‘When you work with a horse, you are a herd of two.’

Growing up in a small Swiss village, Caroline Wolfer found herself much more at ease around horses than people. Now working as a horse tamer in Patagonia, she has developed an understanding of horses based on what she describes as male and female ‘energies’, with the behaviours of stallions rooted in respect, and the behaviours of mares rooted in trust. Wolfer believes that, in human interactions, these two equally vital energies are out of balance, with the scale tilted heavily towards the male. In her work teaching humans to interact with horses at a corral, she emphasises the value of both male and female energies, and the importance of being straightforward in communicating. In doing so, Wolfer feels that she has helped people with their everyday interpersonal skills, and also helped herself to find comfort around other people.

Director: Diane Crespo

Producers: Belle Casares, Diane Crespo

Website: Cicala Filmworks

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Aldous Huxley in 1958. Photo by Philippe Halsman/Magnum

Essay/
Philosophy of religion
Perennial philosophy

Aldous Huxley argued that all religions in the world were underpinned by universal beliefs and experiences. Was he right?

Jules Evans

Black clothing, a distracted gaze: the height of Elizabethan fashion. Portrait of Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland (1590-1595), by Nicholas Hilliard. Photo courtesy the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Essay/
Stories and literature
My mistress Melancholy

In The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton gave his life to charting a Renaissance disease both alluring and dangerous

Mary Ann Lund