1491 – Worlds of Ursula K. LeGuin (2018)

a documentary by Arwen Curry

Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin is a feature documentary exploring the remarkable life and legacy of the late feminist author Ursula K. Le Guin. Best known for groundbreaking science fiction and fantasy works such as A Wizard of Earthsea, The Left Hand of Darkness, and The Dispossessed, Le Guin defiantly held her ground on the margin of “respectable” literature until the sheer excellence of her work, at long last, forced the mainstream to embrace fantastic literature. Her fascinating story has never before been captured on film.

Produced with Le Guin’s participation over the course of a decade, Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin is a journey through the writer’s career and her worlds, both real and fantastic. Viewers will join the writer on an intimate journey of self-discovery as she comes into her own as a major feminist author, opening new doors for the imagination and inspiring generations of women and other marginalized writers along the way. The film features stunning animation and reflections by literary luminaries including Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell, Michael Chabon, and more.

Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin was created with the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, California Humanities, the Berkeley Film Foundation etc (description taken from the original website of the documentary)

The documentary is truly one of the best I have seen dedicated to an author, the more to such an incredible and inspiring one such as Ursula K LeGuin. Take some time to explore her website https://www.ursulakleguin.com/

One of the best documentaries about Sci-Fi indeed and one to carefully and attentively thread along and listen to one of its most cherished authors. It wanders elegantly from personal life, the landscapes that shaped her novels, the childhood memories, her rise and response in Sci-fi fandom and canon, her relation, acknowledgment and understanding of the first nation people genocide in the Americas and in particular her knowledge of indigenous peoples of California.

It also combines some really great animation work that blends in very well with her world building. There are in fact very few movies based on her actual work.

To her previous mentioned works I would like to add The Lathe of Heaven about dreaming and the universe (also a movie) and the wonderful short story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. Also mentioned in the documentary is her 1985 experimental work Always Returning Home written and situated in the Napa Valley, a speculative anthropology works and tapes made by a future ethnographer and anthropologist Pandora with the rituals, the musical instruments, chants and language of a post-apocalyptic people named the Kesh, a sort of anarcho-primitivist tribe that combines elements of hunterer-gatherers, agricultural and industrial civilization while rejecting city building.

1490 – No Gods, No Masters (2016)

  • documentary in 3 parts directed by Ramonet (Tancrède)
  • produced by Arte France and Temps Noir

This is the story of Anarchism. By going back over the key events of the last two centuries of social history, the series reveals, for the first time, the origins and destiny of a political trend that has been fighting all gods and all masters for over 150 years.

Who exactly are they? Where do those who have always called themselves anarchists come from and what is their line of thought? Why do we consider their thinking to be confused and their history such a cause for concern?
Featuring previously unseen and forgotten archive footage, in addition to outstanding documentation and accounts by world experts, this documentary series recounts the history of a movement that from Paris to New York, and from Tokyo to Buenos Aires, has constantly imbued the world with its freedom and revolt.

the various directions of socialism and their preferred methods

Long version in French NI DIEU NI MAITRE VERSION LONGUE COMPLETE 3h34

Episode 1 : PART ONE: THE PASSION FOR DESTRUCTION (1840-1906)

Episode 2 : PART TWO: LAND AND FREEDOM (1907-1921)

Episode 3 : PART THREE: IN MEMORY OF THE VAINQUISHED (1922-1945)

While not immediately visible, I’m sure the anarchist movement has taken new forms in Romania and has recognized its own rich if misunderstood history. I am sure now it will be not as easily be transformed into a caricature as during the NATO summit in Bucharest, when the majority of TV broadcasting channels immediately rallied behind the repressive powers of the Romanian government, castigating any anti-NATO protester or any suspicious persons as terrorists or trouble makers.

It is by no means a homemade documentary, it is made with a budget and also uses a lot of visual documentary and archival material as well ss historians and researchers. This is truly another history of known social movements, different from the history as written or thought ib school by the liberal establishment, social democracy and one that clarifies its sometimes embittered relation with communist/Marxist tradition although always in conjunction and often intertwined with it. A history that has to be understood in its relations to the Marxist school of thought and to the larger Revolutionary movements worldwide such as the Mexican, the Russian Revolution, the Paris Commune or the Spanish Civil War.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

In an especially bitter chapter it is revisiting the anti anarchist reprisals in Soviet Russia against its former political allies, Russia being one of the historical hotbeds of world anarchism (Bakunin, Kropotkin etc). But ot does not stop there – on a map one cam see Anarchism springing up everywhere in Italy, Germany, South America, Australia, China, Japan, Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Greece) etc It also gives exemples about how much the monarchies and repressive governments of the world felt the anarchist threat – the very first terrorist movement of proportions using bombs and even cars in their exploits. Anarchists invented and experimented withwith both peaceful meansmeans as well ss violent ones. They responded to the brutality of police and the armed attacks against the striking masses in kind. Tutorials with artisanal bombs in anarchist mags abounded and the assassinations of presidents and monarchs made them infamous, the Propaganda of the Deed drew both admiration & ire of theof the public. Interpol was basically founded to counter act the anarchist global threat as perceived during the 1890s. This was the first war on terror before the Bush retoric took it on again. The follow-up was always a regrouping from direction action into the fold of cooperatives and going one more time grassroots and trying to built things from base up.

the Magón brothers

It is also in my knowledge one of the first historical documentaries to accord such an importance to the Mexican Revolution as the first truly anarchist revolution as well as its relationship to Emiliano Zapata. This was also one of its biggest stumbling blocks – the suspicion, common to all world proletariat revolutions against the peasants leading the way, with the possible exception of the Maoist or Ho Chi Minh revolutionary struggles in Asia. Zapata and his peasant Christian anarchist troops got a cold welcome in the city.

Very important the early role of industrial city of Chicago in the early workers rights movement, a proletarian city par excellence, at the epicenter of railway and meat processing industry. Chicago was the place of the Haymarket affair and also had an incredible anarchist press largely conducted by immigrants (including esoterica Jewish Kabbalah bookshops according to Erik Davis), paving the way to the celebrations of the 1st of May.

It’s the best way to learn about the Internationalist dimensions of Anarchism, it’s past popularity and future promise, be it trough its magazines, newspapers and a lot lives lived fully by such historical figures such as:

Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman, Voltairine de Cleyre, Peter Kropotkin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Itō Noe, Ōsugi Sakae,

Liu Shifu, Li Shizeng, Sacco and Vanzetti, Ricardo Flores Magón, Buenaventura Durutti, Nestor Makhno and many others. Roughly it is the tumultuous, exalted, incredibly bloody and diverse history from 1840 to 1945 comprising all sort of directions, splinter groups and innovation brought by and with the help of anarchists, be it in the frame of collectivist, mutualist, Propaganda of the Deed, utopian socialism, libertarianism, radical individualism, anti-authoritarianism, nihilism, Russian nihilist movement, anarcho-primitivism, platformism, Christian anarchists, separation of state and church, atheism, eco-anarchism, anarcho-feminism or anarcho-syndicalism.

Peter Kropotkin

I am glad the current and future generation have this documentary to look and learn from. Although there is a lot of stuff happening after 1945 being also complicated by the rise of anarcho-capitalist direction (or coup – depending) lead by Murray Rothbard (1925-1995), but that I guess is the task of another documentary maker.

Dybenko the Soviet emissar and Nestor Makhno

It is mind blowing to realize how wide spread or popular were these ideas around 1900, of gaining or loosing popularity, being transformed or playing a leading role in social movements and emancipatory avant-garde. Truly they are never disappeared and in a sense became permanent taken for granted nowdays. Even if somehow written from the end, these exceptions have never been forgotten, nor completly negated but integrated and absorbed into official history, while their initiators got mostly imprisoned or killed, it also remains a living proof that something like this existed and influenced the most basic things from the strike to the 8h working day or the weekend pause. All these examples of cooperative organization, labor movement, autonomy, of inventing and trying out alternative and experimental anti-authoritarian pedagogy models and lots of practical experiences and historical examples were basically preparing the entire society for a jump into an alternate, future post-capitalist world. Many thanks to Felix P for pointing it out to me.

Buenaventura Durutti

1487 – kurzgesagt – In A Nutshell: Why Blue Whales Don’t Get Cancer – Peto’s Paradox (2020)

kurzegsagt (In a Nutshell in German) started as a collaboration btw German ZDF and ARD broadcasters 10 minute or more popularization animations using Illustrator and After Effects.

Be it philosophy, biology, cosmos or Fermi’s Paradox/Big Filters, lots of grand Sci-Fi ideas… or Ant Mega Colonies – their incredibly mindfuck, cartoonish, eye-catchy, poppy, gamified, infotainment, kawaii aesthetics, fast-paced & up-to-date style never gets in the way of explanatory powa, complexity or tackling speculative heavy duty topics. Their’s is a constant wobble of smiley faced cosmic pessimism. One of my favorite YouTube Channels (rapidly to become yours too I bet) although (BIG WARNING) must be said that most biomedical videos are supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation which should keep us vigilant. Sadly a lot of technological biomedical and epidemiologic knowledge is being funneled or sponsored and influenced by philanthropocapitalists.

Here is the original in German (DE)

And here is the English Youtube version (EN)

“Videos explaining things with optimistic nihilism.

We are a small team who want to make science look beautiful. Because it is beautiful. Currently we make one animation video per month. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook to get notified when a new one comes out. (YouTube Channel description)

1472 – Our Secret Universe: The Hidden Life of the Cell (documentary 2012)

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timespace coordinates: cytoplasm at nonhuman temporal scales

Director and Producer: Mike Davis

Concept art: Tory Miles

Duration: 57 minutes

A documentary made for BBC Two in 2012 exploring the inner world of the human cellular structure via the narrative of a viral infection from within the world of a single cell.

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virus penetrating cell wall

UPS: Probably this documentary will be regarded as a total highlight of scientific motion graphics animation for some time to come. As of now, BBC Four was still screening it in 2019, a basic item in their science arsenal (already feeling infected by the militaristic jargon used throughout the production – but i will stop here with that).

Vibrational: Finally a documentary that takes into account the fact that all all molecular parts of the cell (not mentioning the atomic lattices) are under constant vibrational trepidation. Once could build on this vibrational metaphysics at work here at this biochemical molecular level and this movie makes it very clear for the first time. Especially the scenes with the star molecule (a bit too rash hailing it as symbol of the 21st c while it is so mid 20th c!) DNA. In the nucleus scene the details of the DNA helix are phenomenally alive, humming somehow under perpetual quivering. Most DNA up to this 2012 feature is depicted as forever static, chains of billiard balls rotating but never vibrating. Older 3D rederings introduce this assembly line movement and then always rotate along an invisible axis. This time the movement is basically incessant and blurry – showing how impossible it is to actually catch DNA at rest and make it visible for human eyes. This touch of realism makes the whole documentary one of my favorites.

Enough to think that all this prolific activity is going on all the time down there, and that the molecular recyclers, the membrane trafficking, the rotating mitochondrial rechargers or the busy rybosomal reading in and out activity is going all at this very moment, in all creatures and in all cells on this planet.

Most CGI work on biochemical processes is so much a question of promoting biochemical products, an outcome of pharma or big pharma pipelines trying to promote their products. I find it always welcome when a documentary does not function as a simplistic add-on illustration of a pharmaceutical add-on no matter how essential and life saving it actually is. At the same time it is always illuminating to see how such imagery makes the unseen seen and on what type of libraries or imagology it draws on.

The new cellular realism entails various accounts about its own artifice – the ways in which it is slowing down time or processes in order to make them visible, perceptible or even HD. One such process was the movement of cellular carrier (molecular machinery) across long immense scaffolding that spans the whole cytoplasm and support its internal architecture. Movement of 60 steps or so per second was slowed down to human level – at the same time the actual movement itself at normal (normal at the cell level) is blurry, another vibrational process that does transforms the step by step Sisyphus into some Flash – superhero speed.

Somehow these documentaries are the fallout of the molecular revolution which I think is bringing not only the star molecule DNA into the limelight but precisely cellular mechanism and the cell as such as well as the complexity of metabolic pathways that are not always traceble via genes (science of epigenetics or metabolomics).

A few notes on the wonderful work of Tory Miles. According to his website which I encourage you to check, it is his the first show he ever worked on. One more time we realize how important and valuable is the work of an artist (matte painter-concept art-environment art) for the illustration, understanding and making visible the invisible, hidden and out – of – this world landscapes. Goes without saying the role played by motion graphics and gaming. THE HIDDEN LIFE OF THE CELL could be seen as just gamification of biological processes and it still would brake boundaries in scientific illustration and imagining the invisible.

Also big pro for the fact that there has been a big con in choosing(no anthropocentrism intended) simplicity over complexity. Cells are just one direction while viruses and other simple parts went basic. Prions (misfolded proteins) or viruses do not suffer from their simplicity. They infect prosper on the back of growing complexity elsewhere or this is how I understand it. There is no shame in going half dead half alive as viruses manage to stay. You can be at this boundary zone when you are not too simple or not too complex and use this shapeshifting potential. The documentary makes this amply clear.

What he also makes clear from his website is the symbiotic relationship with speculative fiction and speculative biology and SF via other productions, influences and works. I found some on his page some proposals for the Protomolecule presented for the Syfy Channel success series EXPANSE (based on a series of novels by James S. A. Corey). Altough final concept art was done by Canadian studio North Front, it is revelatory in this sense. Would be an interesting exercise to tease out the reciprocal influences of developing the ‘protomolecule’ and the actual epidemiological account of the infection of a cell by an adenovirus featured in The Hidden Life of the Cell. The protomolecule is both cell-generating, viral and of extra terrestrial origins as the fandom wiki explains:

The Protomolecule was created by extra-terrestrials around two billion years in the past, and launched as a one of the Bracewell probe swarm at a trajectories towards the stars harbouring planetary systems having conditions for the emergence and evolution of some molecular replication mechanism.[citation needed] Such replicators could be any powered by energy from chemical bonds, such as life based on carbon, silicon or other elements, and also by any kind of photons also or even radioactivity.

There is direct reference to phage (viral) mechanisms of the protomolecule replicator so there is some inherent virality to the both of them.

Also in relationship with the cellular CGI structures is mentioned the 2007 SF cult movie Sunshine by Danny Boyle. It is both a cosmic horror movie and one that has transformed the mission of reigniting the sun into something else akin to an initiation tale of solar burnout and cvasi-solar cult (also mentioned in recent The Lighthouse hit).

The cellar nucleus has the same dimensions and presence of a galactic core – at the same time is both clarifies how this sort of nucleus-centrism in the BBC documentary coincides neatly with our heliocentric image of a dying sun or a some star at the brink of going nova.

Not to mention the whole general alien aesthetics of this world, indeed we need more documentaries like this. There is the sense of incredible spaciousness, that makes the improbability of it all the more poignant. Everything bumping into each other, everything self organizing and still there is an incredible avalanche of timed effects, shapes and chemical bonds that shape them shape all actions in a bizarre orchestration of larger and larger assemblages. It is outer space and it is not. It is a sort of liquidity and viscous becoming that bathes everything into something almost oceanic and abyssal.

This inner and outer drift is what is the hardest to catch aesthetically I guess, the fact that nothing is really under the control of the central unit – the nucleus even if so much aimed at its inner data base. There is a lot of stuff getting in and out, but also a lot of parts, outside of the cell and inside of the cell that somehow manage to collude and act out outside of direct influence or control. There is no end to the alien realms out there even if most of it is CGI – the most incredible inflamationthing being how one can almost completely bypass new imaging flourescence techniques that are wonderful in themselves. These make at least at larger scale of bacterial and inter-cellular level things more vivid than ever.

DOWNS

Epidemiology & militarism

Throughout the features the cold war neo-Darwinian slang lies heavy. Yes, this is life when infections happen. Yes, we always seem to lack the proper metaphors, the nonhuman turn makes itself least sensible at these invisible, apperceptive levels, but it is most funny and frustrating how unavoidable and pervasive war – and war of all against all gets center stage. Not all scientist in the documentary proffer this dramatic mode of heightened description, but there is most certainly a kind of almost normal happen stance creepy ego shooter battle cry, almost making sure that every anti-body lock-on or surrounding every viral particle is a mine, a weapon, an attack, a deathly struggle. Everything seems to revolve around sacrifice and selfishness.

The pionering work done in immunology by Élie Metchnikoff and others is supported by a vision that had the organism as a living, inner/outer refashioning relation, of innate learning capacities and constantly developing system while in contact with the exterior. His discovery of intra-cellular digestion in flatworm paved the way to discovering phagocytosis, the fact that certain blood cells are actively destroying bacteria won him the Nobel Prize. Even if absent his shadows looms large. His fundamental breakthrough of inflammation as a boundary interaction and a directed action against host invasion by pathogens features large in this documentary. Metchnikoff was a Darwinist and atheist and also an early supporter of the larger role of the microbiome/holobiont and believer in the virtues of probiotics (Bulgarian yogurt) in prolonging life and preventing aging.

Also expect a lot of DNA centrism hailing, as mentioned above. Expect a restricted view focused just the human genome project (or any other species genome), never taking into account the non-human genes and microbial cellular assemblages that we have learned to appreciate only relatively recently.

As usual only the mitochondrial endosymbiosis powerhouse account escapes this war logic as well as the fact that almost all the pieces coexisted and co-evolved since the dawn of time. This ultimately brings home the realization that we are not witnessing just power blocks or absolute contraries at work but also complementary forces, tensions and divergences.

Yes, there is more gripping action and attention when there is talk of war, of conflicts of permanent arms race or egotistic units vying for supremacy. Still there is other ways of avoiding banality, bored viewers or easy simplification. So i wish they would have gotten more inspiration from indie games (not only graphically) but also conceptually, rather than the usual strategy war games.

Other big lack is the CRISPR-Cas9 system (revolution?) and its implications for the evolution of viral or bacterial interactions and evolutionary origins.