White fright

30 minutes

Multiverse

3 minutes

The mechanics of bird flight

3 minutes

Shepherd’s delight

8 minutes

We are built to be kind

5 minutes

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When does US news ignore a terror plot? When the target is called Islamberg

Islamberg is a small hamlet of roughly two dozen families in upstate New York that has come to represent some of the most pernicious contradictions of political culture in the United States. Situated 130 miles north of New York City on the Pennsylvania border, the town was formed in the early 1980s by members of an African-American Muslim community in Brooklyn looking to escape the fraught conditions in the city at the time, including the crack epidemic. As such, Islamberg is an almost archetypal example of those ostensibly ‘American’ ideals of religious freedom and the pursuit of a better life. Since its founding, however, the community has contended with rumours of connections to radical Islamic terrorism despite repeated assurances from local law-enforcement that no such threat exists. On the contrary, the rumours have put the community itself in danger.

The US director David Felix Sutcliffe’s film White Fright explores Islamberg in the context of a foiled 2015 attack on the community, which was planned by a white Christian minister and ultimately intercepted by the FBI. Splicing together FBI documents, news footage and interviews with Islamberg residents, the documentary probes how deceptive and inflammatory Right-wing news coverage helped to inspire the plan for a massacre at a mosque and school in the town, while other national news outlets barely covered the plot upon its unravelling. Since the film’s release in 2018, Islamberg was subject to yet another plot to murder its residents that was foiled by law enforcement in January 2019.

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Time dilates and people flow in and out of each other in a hallucinatory urban commute

Warning: this film features rapidly flashing images that can be distressing to photosensitive viewers.

A commute is often judged good or bad by how long it takes, but sometimes getting from one place to another can yield wrinkles in our experience of time. The Japanese filmmaker Hiroshi Kondo explores this phenomenon in his often breathtaking video Multiverse, layering time on itself to create a hallucinatory vision of countless scooterists flowing through Taiwan’s capital Taipei. The result is a vision of a city and its people that takes an ordered freneticism and manipulates it to create a sense of time speeding up and standing still. People are momentarily discernible as individuals before morphing into strange amalgams of humanity. As the piece progresses, the pace becomes increasingly dizzying, until finally the crowd melds into an amorphous blur of light and motion. For another surreal take on the urban world from Kondo, watch his video Eye Know (2014).

Director: Hiroshi Kondo

Music and Sound design: Himuro Yoshiteru

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Flight manifest: from take-off to landing, a bird’s eye introduction to flying

It seems to be a deeply human experience to catch sight of a bird on the wing and stand there entranced, whether by a hummingbird’s frenetic zipping lines, a hawk’s graceful curves or any of the countless other forms of avian flight. Created by the US animator Stephen Cunnane as a tool to demonstrate realistic bird movements to other animators, this breezy short renders winged flights using silhouettes, detailing the key manoeuvres of avian aerodynamics. If only this how-to manual allowed us to take to the air ourselves… For more from Cunnane, watch his companion animation Animal Gaits.

Video by Stephen Cunnane

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A horse walks into a pub: on the excruciating trauma of being told a joke

You’re at a party, perhaps finding your next drink, when someone you hardly know comes up and asks: ‘Hey, want to hear a good one?’ The real answer is almost always: ‘No, thank you,’ but as a polite guest, what choice do you really have? This excerpt from the film Shepherd’s Delight (1984) drops the viewer directly into this awkward scenario, with a quip about two racehorses talking shop in a bar. As the joke-teller eagerly addresses his audience, a wry running commentary breaks down the psychological minutiae of joke-telling, including the many emotions – from discomfort to sweet relief – experienced by the audience. Infused with a peculiar, subversive sense of humour, the UK filmmaker John Smith’s short is a mad meta-comedy – clever, a bit mean and discomfitingly relatable.

Director: John Smith

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Don’t misread Darwin: for humans, ‘survival of the fittest’ means being sympathetic

One of the shockwaves from Charles Darwin’s idea that humans evolved from other animals was moral panic. If our ethics are not guided by an omnipotent and all-knowing god and, instead, life is driven by ‘survival of the fittest’ via natural selection, how could we possibly expect humans to behave with anything other than brash self-interest? Yet Darwin’s use of the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ was hardly meant to suggest that existence was a knockdown, drag-out fight – he was very clear that generosity, sympathy and all those other traits that give us warm feelings are central to human survival. In this short video, the psychologist Dacher Keltner at the University of California, Berkeley puts kindness in evolutionary context, connecting his own recent neural-imaging work on compassion with Darwin’s view that sympathy is a cornerstone of human flourishing.

Video by Fig. 1

Aeon for Friends

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When does US news ignore a terror plot? When the target is called Islamberg

Islamberg is a small hamlet of roughly two dozen families in upstate New York that has come to represent some of the most pernicious contradictions of political culture in the United States. Situated 130 miles north of New York City on the Pennsylvania border, the town was formed in the early 1980s by members of an African-American Muslim community in Brooklyn looking to escape the fraught conditions in the city at the time, including the crack epidemic. As such, Islamberg is an almost archetypal example of those ostensibly ‘American’ ideals of religious freedom and the pursuit of a better life. Since its founding, however, the community has contended with rumours of connections to radical Islamic terrorism despite repeated assurances from local law-enforcement that no such threat exists. On the contrary, the rumours have put the community itself in danger.

The US director David Felix Sutcliffe’s film White Fright explores Islamberg in the context of a foiled 2015 attack on the community, which was planned by a white Christian minister and ultimately intercepted by the FBI. Splicing together FBI documents, news footage and interviews with Islamberg residents, the documentary probes how deceptive and inflammatory Right-wing news coverage helped to inspire the plan for a massacre at a mosque and school in the town, while other national news outlets barely covered the plot upon its unravelling. Since the film’s release in 2018, Islamberg was subject to yet another plot to murder its residents that was foiled by law enforcement in January 2019.

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