Human: The Movie Features Interviews with 2,020 People from 60 Countries on What It Means to Be Human

What is it that makes us human? And how best to ensure that we all get our fair say?

For director, photographer, and environmental activist Yann Arthus-Bertrand, the answers lay in framing all of his interview subjects using the same single image layout. The formal simplicity and unwavering gaze of his new documentary, Human, encourage viewers to perceive his 2,020 subjects as equals in the storytelling realm.

There’s a deep diversity of experiences on display here, arranged for maximum resonance.




The quietly content first wife of a polygamist marriage is followed by a polyamorous fellow, whose unconventional lifestyle is a source of both torment and joy.

There's a death row inmate. A lady so confident she appears with her hair in curlers.

Where on earth did he find them?

His subjects hail from 60 countries. Arthus-Bertrand obviously went out of his way to be inclusive, resulting in a wide spectrum of gender and sexual orientations, and subjects with disabilities, one a Hiroshima survivor.

Tears, laughter, conflicting emotions… students of theater and psychiatry would do well to bookmark this page. There’s a lot one can glean from observing these subjects’ unguarded faces.

The project was inspired by an impromptu chat with a Malian farmer. The director was impressed by the frankness with which this stranger spoke of his life and dreams:

I dreamed of a film in which the power of words would resonate with the beauty of the world. Putting the ills of humanity at the heart of my work---poverty, war, immigration, homophobia---I made certain choices. Committed, political choices. But the men talked to me about everything: their difficulty in growing as well as their love and happiness. This richness of the human word lies at the heart of Human. 

In Volume I, above, the interviewees consider love, women, work, and poverty. Volume II deals with war, forgiveness, homosexuality, family, and the afterlife. Happiness, education, disability, immigration, corruption, and the meaning of life are the concerns of the third volume .

The interview segments are broken up by aerial sequences, reminiscent of the images in Arthus-Bertrand’s book, The Earth from Above. It’s a good reminder of how small we all are in the grand scheme of things.

Appropriately, given the subject matter, and the director’s longtime interest in environmental issues, the filming and promotion were accomplished in the most sustainable way, with the support of the GoodPlanet Foundation and the United Carbon Action program. It would be lovely for all humanity if this is a feature of filmmaking going forward.

The Google Cultural Institute has a collection of related material, from the making of the soundtrack to behind-the-scenes reminiscences of the interview team.

Human will be added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her new play, Fawnbook, opens in New York City later this fall. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Fantastic Mr. Fox Meets The Shining in an Animated, Cautionary Tale About Consumerism

In this short stop-motion film, Alexandra Lemay draws some creative inspiration from Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick and leaves us with a "cautionary tale of what happens when we don’t think enough about what we buy." Produced as part of the National Film Board of Canada's Hothouse apprenticeship program, All the Rage follows a mink’s experience shopping in a luxury fur store. It's perhaps not too much of a spoiler to say, it doesn't end well. Lemay tells you more about the making of the film here. And don't miss the many great films in the Animation section of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Gabriel García Márquez Describes the Cultural Merits of Soap Operas, and Even Wrote a Script for One

The relationship between literary writers and the film industry has given us many a story of major creative tension or downward mobility. Most famously, we have Fitzgerald---who gravitated to Hollywood like most writers did, including the more successful Faulkner—for money. When we look at the career of one of Latin America's most celebrated writers, however, we find a very different dynamic. Although Gabriel García Márquez did not have what we might consider a successful career in the movies, his interest in cinema—as a screenwriter, critic, and even as an actor—stemmed from a genuine, lifelong love of the medium, which he considered equal to or surpassing literature as a form of storytelling.

“I thought of myself as a writer of literature,” says Márquez at the beginning of the documentary Marquez: Tales Beyond Solitude“but it was my conviction that the cinema, the image, had more possibilities of expression than literature.” And yet, he goes on…

Films and television have industrial, technical and mechanical limitations that literature doesn’t have. That’s why I said once, in a period of falling out with films, “My relationship with film has always been that of an uneasy marriage. We can’t live together or apart.” 

Film eventually needed Márquez more than he needed film. And yet he never disdained more popular entertainments, "producing more than twenty screenplays, some of them for television," according to Alessandro Rocco's Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the Cinema. He even relished the chance to write soap operas. In 1987, he told an interviewer, “I’ve always wanted to write soap operas. They’re wonderful. They reach far more people than books do…. The problem is that we’re condition [sic] to think that a soap opera is necessarily in bad taste, and I don’t believe this to be so.” Márquez felt that the "only difference between La bella palomera" [a TV film based on his Love in the Time of Cholera] and "a bad soap opera is that the former is well written." Though his pronouncements on the creative potential of television may seem prescient today, they did not seem so at the time.

In 1989, Márquez got his chance to write for television soap operas, with a script, The Telegraph tells us, "about an English governess in Venezuela called I Rent Myself Out to Dream." In the clip above from Tales Beyond Solitude, Márquez gives us his democratic philosophy of the arts: "To me music, literature, film, soap operas are different genres with one common end: to reach people…. In one single night, one episode of a TV soap can reach, in Colombia alone, 10 to 15 million people." He contrasts this with his book sales and concludes, "it's only natural that someone who wants to reach people is attracted to TV soap like to a magnetic pole. He cannot resist it."

Márquez also served as the president of the International Film and Television School, in which position, he said, "I can't start by being scornful of TV." And yet the novelist's regard for soaps was not simply a matter of professionalism. "For me," he said, "there's no dividing line between cinema and television, they're just images in motion." Ultimately, we can see Garcia Márquez’s total faith in the narrative potential of all forms of popular narrative---film, folk tale, the cherished telenovela---as an essential part of his writerly ethos, which has taken him from the daily scrum of the newsroom to the Nobel ceremony stage in Stockholm. “Ultimately all culture,” he says elsewhere in the documentary, “is popular culture.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

“Bleu, Blanc, Rouge”: a Striking Supercut of the Vivid Colors in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960s Films

What's your favorite color? A simple question, sure — the very first one many of us learn to ask — but one to consider seriously if you see a future for yourself in filmmaking. Earlier this year, we featured video studies on the use of the color red by Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick. Yasujiro Ozu, as Jonathan Crow points out in that post, "made the jump to color movies very reluctantly late in his career and promptly became obsessed with the color red," and a teakettle of that color even became his visual signature. No less an auteur than Krzysztof Kieślowski made not just a picture called Red, but another called Blue and another called White, which together form the acclaimed "Three Colors" trilogy.

Jean-Luc Godard, never one to be outdone, has also made vivid use throughout his career of not just red but white and blue as well. The video above, "Bleu, Blanc, Rouge - A Godard Supercut," compiles three minutes of such colorful moments from the Godard filmography, drawing from his works A Woman Is a WomanContemptPierrot le Fou, and Made in U.S.A., all of which did much to define 1960s world cinema, capturing with their vivid colors performances by Godardian icons Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina.

"Bleu, Blanc, Rouge" comes from Cinema Sem Lei, the source of another aesthetically driven video essay we've previously featured on how German Expressionism influenced Tim Burton. This one makes less of an argument than that one did, but truly obsessive cinephiles may still find themselves able to construct one. An obvious starting point: we consider few filmmakers as French as Godard, and which country's flag has these very colors? Well, besides those of America, Australia, Cambodia, Chile, Cuba, Iceland, North Korea, Luxembourg, Schleswig-Holstein, Thailand, and so on. And in interviews, Godard has distanced himself from pure Frenchness, preferring the designation "Franco-Swiss." But still, you can start thinking there. Or you can just enjoy the images.

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Jean-Luc Godard’s After-Shave Commercial for Schick (1971)

Jean-Luc Godard’s Debut, Opération béton(1955) — a Construction Documentary

Colin Marshall writes elsewhere on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

John Lennon’s “Imagine” & Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” Adapted into Smart, Moving Webcomics

Would John Lennon's "Imagine" have been such a big hit if it had come from an unknown singer/songwriter instead of one of the most famous rock stars in the world? Impossible to say. Maybe a better question is: could anyone else have written the song? "Imagine" has become much more than a soft rock anthem since its release in 1971; it has become a global phenomenon. Among the innumerable big events at which the humanist hymn appears we can include, since 2005, New York's New Year's Eve celebration and, just recently, a performance by pop star Shakira at the UN General Assembly just before Pope Francis' historical appearance.

It seems an odd choice, given the song's apparent anti-religious message. And yet, though Lennon was no fan of organized religion, he told Playboy magazine in a 1980 interview that the song was inspired by "the concept of positive prayer" in a Christian prayer book given to him by Dick Gregory. "If you can imagine a world at peace," said Lennon, "with no denominations of religion—not without religion but without this my God-is-bigger-than-your-God-thing—then it can be true…." As if to underscore that particular point in his adaptation of "Imagine" in the video above, cartoonist Pablo Stanley includes such religiously diverse, yet ecumenical figures as the agnostic Albert Einstein, Protestant Martin Luther King, Jr., Hindu Mahatma Gandhi, and Rastafarian Bob Marley, along with less-famous freedom fighters like Harvey Milk and murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Stanley's "Imagine" originally appeared in webcomic form, sans music, on his blog Stanleycolors.com. It seems that several people took exception to an earlier, mostly black-and-white draft (which also included what looks like the once-very-Southern-Baptist Jimmy Carter), so Stanley issued a multi-point disclaimer under his revised, full-color version. He states that this "is NOT an anti-religion/atheist propaganda comic"---charges also unfairly levied at Lennon's song. Stanley doesn't address the fact that most of the famous people in his comic, including Lennon, were assassinated, though this blog post offers a suggestive theory with interview footage from Lennon himself.

In every respect, the comic adaption of "Imagine" hews pretty closely to Lennon's call for world peace. In another Beatles-penned ballad-adaptation, however, things take a much darker turn. Stanley uses his personal experience of near-suicidal depression in his comic realization of Paul McCartney's song of lost love, "Yesterday." (See a video version above, webcomic version here.) This is grim stuff, to be sure, but Stanley assures us that he "overcame that situation." His commentary offers a hopeful take on the painful ending: "Looking at the yesterday reminds me that I should thrive for the tomorrow." I'm sure McCartney would agree with the sentiment.

For many more smart, moving---though non-Beatles-related---comics from Pablo Stanley, see his blog, Stanley Colors.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The World’s Oldest Surviving Pair of Glasses (Circa 1475)

oldest pair of glasses

Above, we have what The On-Line Museum and Encyclopedia of Vision Aids believes is the world’s oldest surviving pair of glasses. Dating back to the 15th century, the glasses belonged to the Eighth Shogun, Yoshimasa Ashikaga, who reigned from 1449 to 1473, during the Muromachi period of Japanese history. Both the glasses and their accompanying case were made of hand-carved white ivory.

Glasses were actually first invented, however, in Italy (some say Florence, to be precise) in 1286 or thereabouts. In a sermon from 1306, a Dominican friar wrote: "It is not yet twenty years since there was found the art of making eyeglasses, which make for good vision... And it is so short a time that this new art, never before extant, was discovered." In the mid 14th century, paintings started to appear with people wearing eyeglasses. (Take for example Tommaso da Modena's 1352 portrait showing the cardinal Hugh de Provence reading.) A gallery of other historic eyewear can be viewed here.

via Erik Kwakkel

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The Syrian Conflict & The European Refugee Crisis Explained in an Animated Primer

In a quick six minutes, the animation above explains the origins of two very related problems -- the Syrian Conflict & the European Refugee Crisis. How did the crisis first erupt? How did it lead to a refugee crisis? And why should we why put xenophobic fears aside and provide refugees with a safe haven in the West? All of these questions get addressed by "Kurzgesagt" ("in a nutshell" in German), whose timely animations you can find on Youtube (including a separate video on the rise of ISIS in Iraq).

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