Film

Web Documentaries on Diplomatic Translators, Princess Makeup, and More

Some exciting things to stream right now include a video essay on Unbreakable, “The right way to kill a fish,” and a look at the club kids of Chengdu, China.

From “The best food for summer—Many kinds of jam.”

Some of the most intriguing nonfiction film work being done today isn’t coming out in any theater or dedicated VOD platform, but on video sharing websites. In this ongoing column, I’ll be bringing you some of the best recent web documentaries, video essays, how-to shorts, and whatever other cool or interesting work shows up.

“Flash’s Final Days: A Retrospective” by E3kHatena

Next year, Adobe is ending support for Flash, putting the once-popular multimedia software out its misery once and for all. Among various technical concerns this presents for websites still using Flash, a ream of online games made with the software are now in danger of being lost. This video presents a great look at the unique aesthetics and construction of Flash games, their place in the old internet browsing experience, and efforts that are now being undertaken to archive and preserve these games.

Li Ziqi’s Food and Craft Videos

Li Ziqi is currently my favorite food vlogger, creating astonishing-looking videos of her making all sorts of dishes and crafts from scratch on her beautiful Sichuan farm. Special shout-out to the video in which she makes a dress and then dyes it with grapes.

“Interpreter Breaks Down How Real-Time Translation Works” by Wired

More than an explanation of the mechanics of political interpretation, this video delves into how the vagaries of differences between languages present challenges to translators. Bridging these gaps in understanding is an easily overlooked but crucial element of diplomacy.

“A Professional Party Princess’s Entire Routine, from Make Up to Happy Birthday Songs” by Allure

Makeup videos have an easy before/after appeal, but there’s more going on in the life of a “party princess.” Melody Ricketts plays princesses for kids’ birthday parties in between other gigs as an actress in LA, and this day-in-the-life peek demonstrates how exhausting that hustle can get. There’s a subtle undercurrent about the multiple layers of performance in her work, with more than one kind of transformation in play.

“The right way to kill a fish” by Vox

When you think about it, the secrets of good food are found where our understandings of different schools of biology and chemistry intermingle. Here we see how seemingly insignificant differences in ways of killing a fish create noticeable distinctions in the way it tastes once we eat it. The video then lays out how the details of food production obstruct more of us from tasting this difference for ourselves.

“Turning Life Into a Game for The Sims” by Super Bunnyhop

The Sims franchise is now nearly 20 years old. That can make it hard to remember just how different it was when the first game came out. This look back explores the underlying philosophies driving the mechanics of the popular life simulation game, how revolutionary they were, and how they went on to shape greater game design.

“The 134 people that Blizzard Entertainment is trying to fire” by People Make Games

Issues around the proper treatment of workers in the game industry are reaching a critical moment, with reports about ungodly work hours and numerous layoffs coming at an increasing clip. Just as the channel’s name suggests, People Make Games is concerned with the human side of this art form. This video heads to France, where game workers have much stronger labor protections than America (including, crucially, unions), and sees what kind of difference that makes in their lives.

“Why You Can’t Trust Me” by Tom Scott

Tom Scott makes quick but fun travel videos about off-the-beaten-path subjects, such as the anti-flooding infrastructure in Tokyo or a pigment archive. Here he takes an even more offbeat approach, however, intercutting between his visit to an Australian town and himself at a later date, explaining to the camera the limits of his approach and problems he ran into making the video. He does everything from point out small, ambiguous, but possibly important errors to show footage of himself repeating takes on his “spontaneous” walks through a location. The result is an interesting, open look at the filmmaking process in the YouTube age — and, indeed, why you should take everything you learn from him with a grain of salt.

“FAN THEORY: Unbreakable Isn’t A Superhero Movie” by Cinematary

This video is good enough that I’m recommending it even though it ultimately failed to convince me of its central assertion. The key is that along the way, Andrew Swafford demonstrates a strong array of ideas not just around M. Night Shyamalan as a filmmaker, but also the style and definitions of “Slow Cinema” and the superhero film, as well as how these factors play against our expectations of such movies.

“Run wild with the club kids of Chengdu” by Nowness

Ben Mullinkosson delves into the nightlife of Chengdu (we’re back to the Sichuan province, although in a drastically different backdrop) in his short film Double Sexy. Less a glamour-obsessed travelogue than a stark, honest look at young people after a good time and not quite always succeeding, it’s a great, distinct slice of neon life.

“Where Are All the Bob Ross Paintings? We Found Them” by the New York Times

Bob Ross painted thousands of pictures just in the course of his famous public television show, to say nothing of all the happy little trees he made off-screen. So… where are they? Why can’t you buy a Bob Ross at auction, or find one on the internet? In answering these questions, the New York Times also explains how Ross was initially discovered, and gets at his enduring appeal as a media personality.

If you have a recommendation for a video to feature in this series, or want to submit your own video for consideration, please don’t hesitate to reach out to [email protected]

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