How to make a pearl

22 minutes

My dead dad’s porno tapes

14 minutes

Commodity city

10 minutes

Can apes really ‘talk’ to humans?

8 minutes

Flawed

13 minutes

What it’s like to spend a decade in the darkness and yet retain an inner light

The US artist John Kapellas found out that he had HIV in 1987. As a Vietnam veteran, the devastation of the AIDS crisis reminded him of the war in its destruction of young lives and indifference to their worth. A combination of medications saved his life, but he would carry the psychological trauma of losing so many in the gay community to the disease, and would live with the toll that his medications took on his body. In How to Make a Pearl, the filmmaker Jason Hanasik joins Kapellas in a blacked-out apartment in San Francisco where, besides brief pre-dawn walks and trips to the hospital, he has been living in near-complete darkness for roughly 10 years. In 2007, he was diagnosed with severe photosensitivity – likely the result of one or some combination of his HIV medications. Despite being ‘a prisoner of light’, as he puts it, Kapellas courageously and doggedly maintains a rich and active life: he welcomes friends and family into his apartment each week, and renders his traumas and experiences into art, much of which he makes directly on his walls, and music with which he fills his home. Read more about Kapellas’s life in the dark in The Guardian.

What it’s like to spend a decade in the darkness and yet retain an inner light

The US artist John Kapellas found out that he had HIV in 1987. As a Vietnam veteran, the devastation of the AIDS crisis reminded him of the war in its destruction of young lives and indifference to their worth. A combination of medications saved his life, but he would carry the psychological trauma of losing so many in the gay community to the disease, and would live with the toll that his medications took on his body. In How to Make a Pearl, the filmmaker Jason Hanasik joins Kapellas in a blacked-out apartment in San Francisco where, besides brief pre-dawn walks and trips to the hospital, he has been living in near-complete darkness for roughly 10 years. In 2007, he was diagnosed with severe photosensitivity – likely the result of one or some combination of his HIV medications. Despite being ‘a prisoner of light’, as he puts it, Kapellas courageously and doggedly maintains a rich and active life: he welcomes friends and family into his apartment each week, and renders his traumas and experiences into art, much of which he makes directly on his walls, and music with which he fills his home. Read more about Kapellas’s life in the dark in The Guardian.

What you can tell about a person from the junk they leave behind

The Canadian filmmaker Charlie Tyrell delves into his late father’s belongings in an effort to better understand the man’s inscrutable inner life, including his somewhat cold and distant demeanour towards his three children. Finding no answers in those titular, poorly hidden VHS tapes, Tyrell tugs at the roots of his family tree, uncovering an intergenerational cycle of abuse that makes him reconsider his complicated relationship with his father. Crafted with humour and heart, Tyrell’s inventive and deeply personal collage of animations, archival footage and audio recordings was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival in 2018, among others.

Director: Charlie Tyrell

Producer: Julie Baldassi

Writers: Josef Beeby, Charlie Tyrell

Five miles of fake flowers, cat cushions and muzak: enter the world’s largest market

The Yiwu International Trade City in China is the world’s largest wholesale market for consumer goods, stretching some five miles and featuring roughly 75,000 vendors. The Chinese-American filmmaker Jessica Kingdon’s observational documentary Commodity City employs static shots of everyday scenes from the market – mostly without dialogue – to convey the seemingly endless stretches of vendor booths that specialise in everything from cat pillows to Santa figurines. Through these vignettes, Kingdon captures the incongruous interplay of boredom and commerce, vastness and claustrophobia that characterises this otherworldly space, offering a hypnotic anthropologic exploration of consumer culture and capitalism.

Director: Jessica Kingdon

Producers: Daniel Cooper, Kira Simon-Kennedy

People have been trying to talk with apes for nearly a century. How far have we got?

Since the early 20th century, a number of curious (and sometimes ethically dubious) psychological studies have tried to figure out if we can communicate with great apes using language. In the 1970s, the answer was reported to be an unequivocal ‘yes’ after Koko, a female western lowland gorilla, learned to sign at her handler, a graduate student at Stanford University, using a modified version of American Sign Language. But more recent critiques of the Koko studies (and others) dispute the idea that great apes have had truly meaningful two-way language communication with humans. This video from NPR’s Skunk Bear offers a brief survey of the history of ape-human communication research, suggesting that ‘Can we talk with them?’ might be the wrong question to ask.

Video by Skunk Bear

Producers: Ryan Kellman, Adam Cole

There’s nothing like falling for a plastic surgeon to help you embrace your body as it is

After meeting a potential romantic partner – ‘the nicest guy in the world’– while on vacation, the Canadian filmmaker Andrea Dorfman had a difficult time reconciling everything she liked about him with her judgment of his work as a plastic surgeon. Although most of his work was reconstructive, she couldn’t kick the feeling that the cosmetic surgeries he performed made people feel imperfect, sending the message that some body shapes are better than others. In her charming, vulnerable and heartfelt animated film Flawed, Dorfman sketches out the story of their romance in time-lapse watercolour animations that recreate how the two corresponded with handmade postcards as she confronted insecurities from childhood that challenged her ideas about herself. Flawed was nominated for a News and Documentary Emmy Award following its 2010 release.

Director: Andrea Dorfman

Producer: Annette Clark

Website: National Film Board of Canada

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