Watch Online 75 Short Films from 2020’s South by Southwest Festival

South by Southwest, one of America's biggest cultural events, won't happen this year. The cause, of course, is the coronavirus pandemic, its own status as an event unprecedented in our age evidenced by the fact that South by Southwest has never in its 33-year history been canceled before. When SXSW, as it's now known, launched in Austin, Texas back in 1987, it did so purely as a music festival; cinema came in 1994, when it became the "SXSW Film and Multimedia Conference." Since then quite a few movies have launched from Austin into international renown, including Jeffrey Blitz's spelling-bee documentary Spellbound, Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq War thriller The Hurt Locker, and the entire genre of "mumblecore."

Spare a thought, then, for the filmmakers with work accepted into SXSW 2020 — or better yet, spare some time to watch their films online. While the festival's organizers figure out whether and how to reschedule, e-mail newsletter service Mailchimp and independent film company Oscilloscope Laboratories "have created a digital home for this incredible slate of short films, so you can watch them from wherever you are."

That slate includes selections from subcategories such as animation, documentary, the "preview of the next filmmaking generation" offered by the work of Texas high-school filmmakers, and even the beloved "midnighters," officially described as "bite-sized bits for all of your sex, gore, and hilarity cravings."

One such midnighter, a piece of domestic horror by Janina Gavankar and Russo Schelling called Stucco, appears at the top of the post. You'll find it on this Youtube playlist of short official selections from SXSW 2020, which also includes Zoe and Hanh, Kim Tran's examination of "girls, boys, and mothers," a "triangle of tension since… forever," and Charlie Tyrell's Broken Orchestra, a documentary on a Philadelphia community's effort to breathe life into a troubled public-school music program. There isn't much overlap between this playlist and the many shorts available to watch free on Mailchimp's site, so if you want to discover the filmmakers you would have at Austin this year — including the makers of Grand Jury Prize winners No Crying at the Dinner Table, Regret, Just Hold On, and Wish Upon a Snowman — head over there and have your own private SXSW Film Festival.

via No Film School

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Watch 3,000+ Films Free Online from the National Film Board of Canada

What, exactly, is Canada? The question sometimes occurs to Americans, living as they do right next door. But it might surprise those Americans to learn that Canadians themselves ask the very same question, living as they do in a country that could be defined by any number of its elements — its vastness, its multiculturalism, The Kids in the Hall — but never seems defined by any one of them in particular. Many individuals and groups throughout Canadian history have participated in the project of explaining Canada, and indeed defining it. Few have done as much as the National Film Board of Canada and the filmmakers it has supported, thanks to whom "three thousand films, from documentaries to narrative features to experimental shorts, are available to stream free of charge, even for Americans."

Those words come from The Outline's Chris R. Morgan, who writes that, "for the 'Canuckophile' (not my coinage but a term I happily own), the NFB’s Screening Room is one of the supreme pleasures of the internet. Since 1939, the NFB has facilitated the telling of Canada’s story in its people’s own words and images."

Morgan points up to such NFB-supported productions as 1965's Ladies and Gentlemen … Mr. Leonard Cohen, which "follows the titular 30-year-old poet giving witty readings, partying, and living around Montreal," and the 2014 Shameless Propaganda, described at the Screening Room as an examination of "Canada's national art form." That art form developed in the years after the NFB's founding in 1939, a time when its founding commissioner John Grierson called documentaries a "hammer to shape society."

Not that most of what you'll find to watch in the NFB's screening room comes down like a hammer — nor does it feel especially propagandistic, as we've come to understand that term in the 21st century. Take, for instance, the documentary portraits of Canadian writers like Margaret Atwood and Jack Kerouac.

The latter lead a life described by filmmaker Herménégilde Chiasson as "a Franco-American odyssey," which will remind even the most Canada-unaware Americans of one thing that clearly sets Canada apart: its bilingualism. That, too, provides material for a few NFB productions, including 1965's Instant French, a short about "the adventures of a group of businessmen who are forced into taking French lessons to stay competitive in their field."

"At first put out by this news," continues the description at the Screening Room, "one by one they begin to realize that gaining fluency in another language has its benefits." Hokey though it may sound — "definitely a product of its time," as the NFB now says — a film like Instant French offers a glimpse into not just Canada's past but the vision for society that has shaped Canada's present and will continue to shape its future. You can browse the NFB's large and growing online archive by subject (with categories including literature and language, music, and history) as well as through playlists like "Expo 67: 50 Years Later," "Extraordinary Ordinary People," — and, of course, "Hockey Movies," which  reminds us that, elusive though Canadian culture as a whole may sometimes feel, certain important parts of it aren't that hard to grasp.

Find more free films in our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in June 2019.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Watch a Sweet Film Adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Story, “Long Walk to Forever”

Shame, shame to have lived scenes from a women’s magazine. —Kurt Vonnegut

In his introduction to Welcome to the Monkey House, a collection of his short fiction published in 1968, Kurt Vonnegut shows no compunction about throwing its most mainstream entry under the bus:

In honor of the marriage that worked I include in this collection a sickeningly slick love story from The Ladies Home Journal, God help us, entitled by them “Long Walk to Forever.” The title I gave it, I think, was “Hell to Get Along With.”

The simple tale, published, as noted, by Ladies Home Journal in 1960, bears a lot of similarities to events of Vonnegut’s own life. After WWII, having survived the bombing of Dresden as a POW, he made his way back to Indianapolis, and invited Jane Cox, the friend he’d known since kindergarten, who was engaged to another man, to take a walk, during which he suggested she should marry him instead.

Director Jessica Hester's recent, Kurt Vonnegut Trust-sanctioned adaptation, above, plays it pretty straight, as do several other unauthorized versions lurking on the Internet.

She ups Newt’s rank to corporal from private, and replaces the glossy bridal magazine Catherine is thumbing through when Newt knocks with a coterie of attentive bridesmaids and little girls, apparently getting a jump on their nuptial fussing.

The magazine's omission is unfortunate.

In the story, Newt asks to see “the pretty book,” forcing Catherine to bring up the impending wedding. Its physical reality then offers Newt a handy emotional refuge, from whence he can crack wise about rosy brides while pretending to read an ad for flatware.

Without that prop, he's preternaturally aware of the names of silver patterns.

And as an Indianapolis native who went to school in the orchard where the story is set, and who can confirm that it's in earshot of the bells from the Indiana School for the Blind, I found it jarring to see the action transposed to New York’s Westchester County. (For those keeping score, it was shot on location in Croton State Park and the Rockefeller State Park).

(Breaking Away’s rock quarry aside, the Hoosier State just doesn’t have those sorts of high-up water views.)

Hester honors Vonnegut’s dialoguenearly everything that comes out of the characters’ mouths originated on the page, while providing a young female director’s spin on this material, half a century removed from its publication.

As she describes it on the storytelling platform Feminist Wednesday, the film gently satirizes the institution of matrimony and the importance placed upon it. It is also, she says:

...a story about courage, as the female has to face herself, her ideas, and her values… Catherine’s journey is so raw, terrifying in the most honest way, and heartfelt yet extremely funny because it is so relatable. 

Something tells me the author wouldn't have put it that way … his Monkey House intro, maybe.

But his admiration for his less-than-traditional muse, avid reader and writer Jane Cox, from whom he split after 26 years of marriage, was immense.

Ginger Strand’s profile in The New Yorker quotes the household constitution Cox drafted after their 1945 marriage:

We cannot and will not live in and be hogtied by a society which not only has not faith in the things we have faith in, but which reviles and damns that faith with practically every breath it draws.

Hester’s crowd-funded film, which the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library included as part of a COVID-19 crisis Virtual Vonnegut Fun Pack("Have a box of Kleenex at the ready!")was shot in 2014.

Had production been delayed by a few years, one wonders if the filmmakers would have come under  intense pressure to frame Newt’s refusal to take Catherine’s rejections at face value, his insistence that she continue the walk, and that unvetted kiss as something pernicious and intentional.

If so, we’re glad the film made it into the can when it did.

And we confess, we don’t really share Vonnegut’s avowed distaste for the story, though New York Times critic Mitchel Levitas did, in an otherwise favorable review of Welcome to the Monkey House:

This Vonnegut is obviously a lovable fellow. Moreover, he's right about the story, which is indeed a sickening and slick little nothing about a soldier who goes A.W.O.L. in order—How to say it?—to sweep his girl from the steps of the altar into his strong and loving arms.

Here's to future adaptations of this Ladies Home Journal-approved story by one of our favorite authors. May they capture something of his tartness, and forgo a sentimental soundtrack in favor of a chickadee whose cameo appearance after the School for the Blind’s bells prefigures Slaughterhouse-Five’s famous “Poo-tee-weet?"

"*chick-a-dee-dee-dee*," went a chickadee.

This adaptation of  Vonnegut's “Long Walk to Forever” 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, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain is on COVID-19 hiatus. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

What’s the Function of Criticism? Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #36 with Critic Noah Berlatsky

Do we need professional critics regulating our entertainment intake?  Noah has written for numerous publications including The Washington Post, The Atlantic, NBC News, The Guardian, Slate, and Vox, and his work has come up for discussion in multiple past Pretty Much Pop episodes.

He was invited to join hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt in spelling out the functions of criticism, the idea of criticism as art, ideological vs. aesthetic critique, and whether there's anything wrong with being negative about other people's art. While we talk mostly about film, Noah also writes about TV, comics, music and more.

First, read some articles by Noah about criticism:

Other authors speaking on the utility of critics:

Here are some examples of Noah's critical work relevant to what came up in the interview and our recent episodes:

Included here with Noah's permission, here's some criticism directed at Noah:

At the end, after Noah leaves, Mark lays out a taxonomy of criticism: supporter, decoder, taste enforcer, and hater. Noah practices all of these! Follow him on Twitter @nberlat and get scads of his writing by supporting him at

Watch Mel Brooks' depiction of the very first critic.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Watch Curated Playlists of Experimental Videos & Films to Get You Through COVID-19: Miranda July, Jan Švankmajer, Guy Maddin & More

When we get sick, many of us habitually use the time away from work and other obligations to do the same thing: watch movies. But old favorites and recent releases we'd missed our first chance to catch can only last us so long: now, with so much of the world either sick or at home trying not to get sick, a combination of isolation and uncertainty about the state of things pushes us to seek out more cinematically daring fare. To satisfy this demand, Los Angeles filmmaker Kate Lain has created a collection called "CABIN FEVER: Coping with COVID-19 playlist of online experimental films & videos," all of them free to watch online, begun "as an editable Google sheet on March 13 to gather some experimental films together based on moods one might be experiencing while being cooped up."

Since then, Lain writes, "the list has morphed some, with some great new categories being added to the mix." The most recent version of the spreadsheet, available in .XSLX and .PDF formats, includes such categories as "For when you need to laugh or smile," "For when you're stuck inside but want to be outside," "Animals," "Plants," "Nostalgia," and "Virus movies cuz why not." (One such movie, Tuzan Wu's Disease of Manifestation, appears at the top of the post.)

Within these and others appears the work of such filmmakers as Jan Švankmajer, Miranda July, Fernand Léger (previously featured here on Open Culture), Man Ray, Maya Deren, and Cindy Sherman. (Avant-garde enthusiasts may also rejoice at the sight of names like Hollis Frampton, James Benning, and Kenneth Anger.)

Inspired by Lain's collection, Hyperallergic's Dessane Lopez Cassell has "reached out to artists, filmmakers, and Hyperallergic contributors to assemble a list of what we’ve been sharing and encountering across our networks." Their selections include Afronauts, "a luminous short which renders the story of the Zambian Space Program" — at which we looked back earlier this month — "as a dreamlike work of speculative fiction"; Bassem Saad's Saint Rise, about the transportation of a statue of Saint Charbel ("now being heralded by conservative religious media as a healer of the Coronavirus," the filmmaker adds) to a high mountaintop in Faraya, Lebabanon; and Guy Maddin's The Green Fog (watch in full here and see the trailer below), described by critic Carman Tse as "a scene-by-scene recreation of Vertigo, made entirely of footage from other movies that take place in San Francisco."

"There’s an especially funny montage right at the climax of the movie that uses Chuck Norris clips," Tse notes, making The Green Fog a promising choice for those of us who need to lighten the mood of our isolation — and who also appreciate a high density of inter-cinematic reference. Hailing as he does from the notoriously wintry Canadian city of Winnipeg, Maddin himself surely knows a thing or two about how best to amuse oneself during long periods stuck indoors. Indeed, every artist growing up in circumstances of isolation, occasional or frequent, develops a strong appreciation and highly refined sense of artistic daring, one that unfailingly shows in their work when it debuts in the wider world. If we take this opportunity to expand the depth and breadth of our own viewing experiences, imagine how much more astute filmgoers we'll be after the pandemic passes.

Find the Cabin Fever collection of experimental videos and films here. It currently has 284 videos on the list. Hyperallgeric adds yet more here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Soothing, Uplifting Resources for Parents & Caregivers Stressed by the COVID-19 Crisis

When COVID-19 closed schools and shuttered theaters and concert venues, response was swift.

Stars ranging from the Cincinnati zoo’s hippo Fiona to Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda leapt to share free content with suddenly homebound viewers.

Coldplay’s frontman, Chris Martin, separated from his bandmates by international borders, played a mini gig at home, as did country star Keith Urban, with his wife, Nicole Kidman, lurking in the background.

Choreographer Debbie Allen got people off the couch with free dance classes on Instagram.

Audible pledged to provide free audiobooks for little kids and teens for the duration.

An embarrassment of riches for those whose experience of COVID-19 is somewhere between extended snow day and staycation...

But what about caregivers who suddenly find themselves providing 24-7 care for elders with dementia, or neuro-atypical adult children whose upended routine is wreaking havoc on their emotions?

“I know people are happy that the schools have closed but I just lost critical workday hours and if/when day hab closes I will have to take low-paid medical leave AND we will not have any breaks from caregiving someone with 24-7 needs and aggressive, loud behaviors. I feel completely defeated,” one friend writes.

24 hours later:

We just lost day hab, effective tomorrow. My messages for in-home services haven't been returned yet. Full on panic mode.

What can we do to help lighten those loads when we’re barred from physical interaction, or entering each other’s homes?

We combed through our archive, with an eye toward the most soothing, uplifting content, appropriate for all ages, starting with pianist Paul Barton's classical concerts for elephants in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, above.

Calming videos:

Hours of soothing  nature footage from the BBC.

Commuters in Newcastle's Haymarket Bus Station Playing Beethoven 

Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour's Musical Take on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18

Guided Imagery Meditation from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital

Four classic performances from the “Father of Bossa Nova” João Gilberto

The Insects’ Christmas, a 1913: Stop Motion  Animation

Multiple seasons of Bob Ross!

60+ Free Charlie Chaplin Films Online

Homemade American Music, a 1980 documentary on rural southeastern traditional music and musicians

Winsor McKay’s Gertie the Dinosaur

Calming Music and Audio:

Metallica, REM, Led Zeppelin & Queen Sung in the Style of Gregorian Chant

18 Hours of Free Guided Meditations

Weightless, the most relaxing song ever made

Calming Piano, Jazz & Harp Covers of Music from Hayao Miyazaki Films

240 Hours of Relaxing, Sleep-Inducing Sounds from Sci-Fi Video Games: From Blade Runner to Star Wars

Simon & Garfunkel Sing “The Sound of Silence” 45 Years After Its Release

We’ve also got a trove of free coloring books and pages, though caregivers should vet the content before sharing it with someone who’s likely to be disturbed by medical illustration and images of medieval demons…

Readers, if you know a resource that might buy caregivers and their agitated, housebound charges a bit of peace, please add it in the comments below.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch AI-Restored Film of Laborers Going Through Life in Victorian England (1901)

In these times, we need to keep at some kind of routine. And so I’d like to doff my cloth worker’s cap to Denis Shiryaev, who once again has returned from the early days of cinema with another AI-restored clip of film from the early 20th century.

Ah, but there’s something amiss this time, a glitch in the matrix of expectations. Not all sources can be saved by technology. Fans of Shiryaev’s crystal clear journeys back in time (find them in the Relateds below) might find the footage rough. It doesn’t make this film any less fascinating.

Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon started their film business to try to copy the success of similar, earlier filmmakers like the Lumiere Brothers in Paris. Audiences would pay to see short films of how people lived, worked, walked about, and just existed. It was a window into another reality, and by pure chance a hundred of Mitchell & Kenyon's films were found preserved in a Blackburn, UK basement nearly a century later. This is a compilation of three of them, scored by Guy Jones with mild atmospherics.

More than any of the other films that Shiryaev has “restored,” Mitchell & Kenyon don’t try to hide their camera or pretend it’s not there. Instead, these three films make a point of inviting their subjects to look directly at us, and because of Shiryaev’s work these dozens and dozens of eyes really seem to be watching us from across time. The young boys are cheeky, the young girls shy, the older adults bemused or slightly irritated. There is no particular focus here--we can choose who we want to follow, which indeed was one of the reasons for these films popularity. They were designed for repeat visits.

There are two particular points of interest that happen very quickly. One is at 1:09--the appearance of an Afro-Caribbean man as part of the workforce. People of African descent had lived in Britain since the 12th century, but this might be one of the earliest films of such a person. The other is later at 4:24, which might be the first film of a bloke giving the camera the rude two-fingered salute. This moment is why the British Film Institute dubbed Mitchell & Kenyon “the accidental anthropologists.”

(You might also watch for the fight that breaks out near the end of the film. Real or not? You be the judge.)

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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