Documentary

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Documentary History

A Heartening Documentary Follows the Community Harvesting Ice in Minnesota's North Woods

September 22, 2021

Grace Ebert

Each winter in Ely, Minnesota, a crew treks out onto a frozen lake to cut hefty blocks of ice from its surface. They haul the thick chunks to storage, where they’re stacked, covered in sawdust, and preserved for use the rest of the year, a once-necessary method of refrigeration rarely applied today. Consisting of dozens of people, some who have been dedicated to the cause for decades and others who joined in the last year or two, the team engages in the age-old practice of harvesting the frozen blocks at the property of legendary explorer and preservationist Will Steger.

Produced by Gravity Films and directed by Nathaniel Schmidt, “Ice Ball” follows the crew throughout two seasons as they endure below freezing temperatures, a typical condition for Minnesota winters that made filming extra challenging, at the explorer’s sustainable enclave in the North Woods. The short documentary spotlights the community that’s gathered around Steger since his Arctic expeditions and chronicles their devotion to more sustainable ways of living.

As the disastrous effects of the climate crisis accelerate, historic methods like the ice harvest reduce the reliance on carbon-based energy sources and offer an urgent alternative. “All of the ice shelves that I’ve traveled on in the polar regions, north and south, they’re not there anymore. We’re at this crisis now, the human race and the planet. We’re going to have to innovate out of it, and this is what it’s about,” Steger says.

According to Short of the Week, Schmidt is currently working on a feature-length documentary about the life of a Wiradjuri woman. It’s slated for release next August, and in the meantime, you can find more of his work on Vimeo.

 

 

 



Documentary Photography Science

A Short Film Dives into the 15-Year Process Behind the Documentary 'Fantastic Fungi'

September 1, 2021

Grace Ebert

We shared footage of the mesmerizing mycelium networks pulsing underneath our feet back in 2019 to mark the opening of Louie Schwartzberg’s Fantastic Fungi, and now the dedicated director takes viewers behind the scenes to show his painstaking process. Filmed throughout a 15-year period in his home studio, Schwartzberg’s timelapses zero in on myriad spores as they burst open, sprawl in every direction, and morph in color and texture. They’re a compelling visual representation of time and nature’s cyclical processes, which he explores in a new short film produced by WIRED.

Most of the challenges in capturing the footage center around predicting where an organism will grow to keep it within the shot and understanding the frame rates of different lifeforms. Schwartzberg explains:

For example, a mosquito on your arm, having a little drop of blood, takes a look at that hand coming towards it in ultra slow motion and has plenty of time to take off because its metabolic rate, its lifespan, is way shorter than our lifespan. And our lifespan is way shorter than a Redwood tree’s lifespan. This reality of real-time human point of view is not the only point of view, and that’s really the beauty of cameras and time-lapse cinematography. It’s actually a time machine.

Watch the full making-of above—note that it does include a clip of a mouse decomposing near the end—and find Fantastic Fungi on Netflix. (via The Kids Should See This)

 

 

 



Documentary

An Advocacy Campaign Spotlights the Ordinary Lives of People with Disabilities in a Lighthearted Short Film

August 23, 2021

Grace Ebert

To kick off their joint WeThe15 campaign, the International Paralympic Committee and International Disability Alliance commissioned a short film that takes a humorous and playful approach to showcasing the ordinary lives of people with disabilities. Produced by Sam Pilling of Pulse Films, the ad uses a series of vignettes to spotlight members of the disability community, who speak to their joyful, frustrating, and routine experiences alongside the discrimination and stereotypes many confront on a daily basis.

WeThe15 will help launch the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and be shown at the opening ceremony on August 24. It hopes to spur greater visibility, inclusion, and accessibility for the 1.2 billion people living with disabilities worldwide, making it the largest marginalized group at about 15 percent of the global population. We’re also enjoying “Superhuman ’21,” a similarly lighthearted film by Rina Yang.

 

 

 



Art Documentary Music

Through Totemic Sculptures and Sound Art, Guadalupe Maravilla Explores the Therapeutic Power of Indigenous Ritual

August 11, 2021

Grace Ebert

In 1984, eight-year-old Guadalupe Maravilla left his family and joined a group of other children fleeing their homes in El Salvador. The Central American country was in the midst of a brutal civil war, a profoundly traumatic experience that’s left an indelible impact on the artist and one that guides his broad, multi-disciplinary practice to this day.

Now based in Brooklyn, Maravilla works across painting, sculpture, and sound-based performances all veiled with autobiography, whether informed by the Mayan architecture and stone totems that surrounded him as a child or his cancer diagnosis as a young adult. His pieces are predominately therapeutic and rooted in Indigenous ritual and mythology, recurring themes the team at Art21 explores in a new documentary.

 

“Guadalupe Maravilla & the Sound of Healing” follows the artist as he prepares for his solo exhibition on view through September 6 at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City. Titled Planeta Abuelx, or Grandparent Planet—Maravilla expands on the often-used idea of Mother Nature to broaden its scope—the outdoor show is comprised of the artist’s trademark Disease Throwers, towering headdresses and shrines made of recycled aluminum. Allusions to Central American culture bolster the monumental works, with imprints of corn cobs, wooden toys, and other found objects planted throughout.

Covering the surrounding grass are chalky white markings, a signature component of the artist’s practice that delineate every space where he installs a piece. The abstract patterns evoke Tripa Chuca, one of Maravilla’s favorite childhood games that involves players drawing lines between corresponding numbers to create new intertwined motifs.

 

In Planeta Abuelx, Maravilla pairs his visual works with meditative performances that are based on the sound baths he used for pain management while undergoing chemotherapy. These healing therapies are designed to reduce anxiety and tension that often trigger stress-induced diseases. Using gongs and glass vessels, the palliative remedy has been the foundation of workshops the artist hosts for undocumented immigrants and others dealing with cancer that more deeply connect his totemic artworks to the viewers.

“Having a community that has gone through similar experiences can be really empowering,” he says. “Making these elaborate Disease Throwers is not just about telling a story from my past, but it’s also about how this healing ritual can continue in the future, long after I’m gone.”

If you’re in New York, Maravilla is hosting a sound bath to mark the close of Planeta Abuelx on September 4, and you can see more of his multivalent projects on Instagram. For a larger archive of documentaries exploring the lives and work of today’s most impactful artists, like this visit to Wangechi Mutu’s Nairobi studio, check out Art21’s site.

 

 

 



Documentary Photography

An Insightful Short Film Follows a 90-Year-Old Fisherman Who Clears Plastic from Bali's Coasts

August 6, 2021

Grace Ebert

Each day, 90-year-old Wayan gathers his nets and mesh sacks and sets his small boat out on the coast of Bali. The jewel-toned waters used to be a prime location for fishing, a profession Wayan practiced throughout childhood and continued for decades, but today, instead of reeling in massive catches and struggling to drag them back to shore, he’s finding an overabundance of disposable containers and garbage where the once-thriving marine populations used to live—some reports estimate that there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050.

In her impactful short film “Voice Above Water,” San Francisco-based director Dana Frankoff visits Wayan at his coastal home and chronicles his adapted routine: rather than harvesting food for his family and community, he scoops up wrappers, bottles, and other refuse and carries the discarded material back to the beach for recycling. “The story is a glimpse into how one human is using his resources to make a difference and a reminder that if we all play our part we can accomplish something much greater than ourselves,” Frankoff says.

“Voice Above Water” is the director’s debut film, and you can follow her work on Vimeo. (via Laughing Squid)

 

 

 



Documentary Photography

Guardians of Paradise: An Intimate Short Film Peers into Life in Burma

July 30, 2021

Grace Ebert

Comprised of footage shot between 2018 and 2020, “Guardians of Paradise” offers an intimate and sensitive glimpse at Burmese life. The short film shows children at play on docks, a fisherman as he pulls in his net, and others as they practice religious rituals in an attentive look at the joyful, trying, and mundane moments.

Directed by Ivan Maria Friedman of the Lausanne, Switzerland-based studio Maya Pictures with music by Max Richter, “Guardian’s of Paradise” is a small window into the Southeast Asian country prior to the February 1 miliary coup, which was prompted by unfounded claims of voter fraud following the election of National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. “In a moment where they need international attention the most, this work wishes to portray the uniqueness of the Burmese culture, as well as to bear witness of their incredible strength, whose true power lies in compassion, gracefulness, true generosity, and human dignity,” Friedman says.

See more candid photos and footage from the filmmaker’s visits on Instagram.

 

 

 

A Colossal

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Sailing Ship Kite