Documentary

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Art Documentary History

‘Beyond the Visible,’ a Documentary Illuminating the Life and Work of Hilma af Klint, Is Free to Stream

September 21, 2022

Grace Ebert

Released in 2020, an acclaimed documentary serves as a corrective to the art historical record. Beyond the Visible spotlights the life and work of the pioneering Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862–1944), an obscure figure during her lifetime whose colorful abstract works predate those of famed male artists like Vasily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian. Directed by Halina Dyrschka, the feature-length documentary centers on af Klint’s groundbreaking practice and the spiritual, scientific, and natural phenomena that inspired her work.

Beyond the Visible is currently available to stream for free on Kino Lorber’s YouTube, which is a trove of art history and culture. To learn more about af Klint’s legacy and view her expansive oeuvre, pick up The Complete Catalogue Raisonné: Volumes I-VII. (via Open Culture)

 

 

 



Art Documentary

A Powerful Documentary Captures the Life and Work of Artist Yvonne Shortt Who is Legally Blind

September 8, 2022

Grace Ebert

Retinitis pigmentosa is a rare genetic disease that breaks down the retina and causes vision loss as it progresses. Like many with the condition, Yvonne Shortt was diagnosed as a child when she realized that her sight was different from those in her family when they wandered into dark movie theaters or looked at the stars at night, and she struggled to do the same.

Now legally blind as an adult, Shortt cultivates a visual art practice that involves shaping figurative busts from clay, moss, grasses, and other natural materials. “I make a face of a little girl, and I make that face for hours until I feel her breathing. I thought, if I can’t see, will I have that connection with it?” she says of experiencing her vision slowly diminish. “But there’s the tactility, the wetness of the clay, how it dries. I realized that I can still make objects even with my eyes closed.”

Filmmaker James Robinson dives into Shortt’s story in one part of the documentary series Adapt-Ability, produced by The New York Times. The film chronicles how Shortt experienced the progression of the disease and offers a simulation of what the world looks like from her body as she gradually loses clarity and her peripheral vision. Robinson explains:

Unlike the stereotype of the blind living in a lightless world, Ms. Shortt, like most other legally blind people, lives a nuanced existence between those who see well and those who can’t see a thing… She can see some things some of the time, depending on various factors, including the amount of ambient light, her distance from the object and the object’s location in her field of vision.

Although the condition has necessitated life adjustments like the use of a white cane, Shortt has come to understand her limitations as a benefit to her art, her other senses, and her ability to find compassion for those around her. (via Laughing Squid)

 

 

 



Documentary Food

An Ethereal Documentary Illuminates the Booming Grasshopper Harvest in Uganda

May 24, 2022

Grace Ebert

In the Luganda language, the word nsenene describes the long-horned grasshoppers that are the backbone of a robust industry in Uganda. The nocturnal insects are a crunchy delicacy, often served boiled or fried, and are harvested in incredible quantities during the rainy seasons in May and November. A poetic documentary directed and produced by Michelle Coomber follows locals as they set up precarious traps and gather hordes of the crickets under the nighttime sky.

Narrated by a grasshopper hunter named Ibrah, “Nsenene” peers through the darkness and smoke from a nearby fire to illuminate the collection process. The insects are attracted to bright bulbs strung up around tall iron panels, which stun the crickets and drop them into the open drums at the base. “We add smoke so the light makes a lens in the sky, and the grasshoppers get drunk on the smoke. They fall into the barrels like fat raindrops on a tin roof,” the narrator says.

The noisy crickets, though, are also imbued in lore. “There are so many beliefs, like, if a pregnant woman ate them, her child would have a grasshopper head,” says Ibrah, whose family has participated in the industry for generations. “Some people believe they come from water in the lakes. Others say they emerge from the soil like ants. I believe they’re not from this world.”

Coomber has garnered multiple awards for “Nsenene” from Raindance, Sydney Short Film Festival, and Fargo Film Festival, to name a few, and you can watch more of her works on her site and Vimeo. (via Short of the Week)

 

 

 



Documentary Science

A Conservationist Teaches Geese to Use Safer Migration Routes by Flying With Them Across Europe

May 20, 2022

Grace Ebert

Back in 1995, Christian Moullec embarked on his first migration alongside a flock of lesser white-fronted geese that he intended to introduce to Sweden. He flew an adapted delta plane alongside the birds, which were threatened after being overhunted, and protect them on their journey. This initial mission quickly morphed into a now decades-long project of training avian populations to utilize more secure paths as they travel across Europe, ensuring that the already dwindled species would survive the trek and be able to reproduce.

English YouTuber and educator Tom Scott (previously) joins Moullec on one of the flights above Southern France as they glide in a microlight aircraft just inches from the animals—Scott is so close that he’s able to touch goose’s tail feathers. Reaching this level of intimacy takes dedication and immersion in the flock, Moullec shares, saying that he raises the birds, sleeps with them, and even bathes in the pond on his property. This establishes trust and is essential as they define their routes, which sometimes traverse thousands of kilometers each day. “I’m not the one who teaches the birds to fly with me,” Moullec shares. “I’ve been flying with birds for 27 years, and they taught me how to fly with them.”

In addition to his conservation-oriented flights, Moullec offers passenger trips for those interested in joining the flock, and you can find more about his work on his site. (via The Kids Should See This)

 

 

 



Design Documentary History

A Massive Chainmail Shelter Prevents a Renowned Scottish Mansion from Dissolving in the Rain

February 7, 2022

Grace Ebert

The coastal town of Helensburgh is located in one of the wettest regions of Scotland, averaging more than 190 days and 63 inches of rainfall each year, and it’s also the site of an architectural masterpiece by famed designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Built in 1904, “Hill House” is a modern construction with a focus on light and texture, and its facade is made of gray Portland cement rather than a more traditional and hardier substance like lime.

While the material was innovative at the time, it hasn’t endured the wet conditions of its surroundings and has started to deteriorate and crumble as it soaks up moisture from the air and ground—the National Trust of Scotland, which manages the home, describes it as “dissolving like an aspirin in a glass of water.” To dry out the facade and hopefully preserve it for generations to come, the trust commissioned a giant, greenhouse-like box to sit over top.

English YouTuber and educator Tom Scott visits the porous covering, which at 32.4 million steel rings is the largest sheet of chainmail in the world, in a short documentary that reveals how the uniquely designed mesh structure has become a landmark of sustainability and innovative conservation in its own right. He discusses the unusual reasons for a permeable wall, the ways the chainmail offers the proper amount of ventilation without sacrificing protection, and how the multi-story walkways allow for otherwise impossible views of the “Hill House” roof and upper floors. Join Scott on his tour above to see the enclosure up-close, and in case you missed it, make sure to watch his trip to this mountain of mannequins.

 

 

 



Design Documentary

Wander Through a Mountain of 25,000 Mannequins in an Astounding Look at Consumerism and Waste

January 6, 2022

Grace Ebert

In a wooded area of Lincolnshire, it’s not unusual for people to partake in what’s dubbed a “drive through body part heist.” The preposterously named activity involves a trip to Mannakin—a Midlands mannequin distributor frequented by a wide array of clientele like merchandisers, film crews, and Halloween devotees—where visitors spend 15 minutes scouring its meters-high pile of discarded forms for, none other than, body parts. These challenges to fill a car with as many pieces as possible are just one part of the company’s business model, which involves saving the used fiberglass displays from landfills and returning them to the retail ecosystem.

English YouTuber and educator Tom Scott walks through the staggering heap in a recent video and talks with director Roz Edwards, who’s amassed about 25,000 figures from locations all over Europe that are now scattered across the property. The short documentary project dives into the company’s process for revitalizing worn arms, legs, and torsos and confronts the strange, surreal environment created when thousands of lifeless bodies occupy a single space in what’s ultimately a striking visual indictment of consumerism and our collective approach to waste.

You also might find this short documentary set in a mannequin factory interesting.