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.
“Men. Abuse. Trauma.” by Philosophy Tube
This at first appears to be yet another YouTube video in which the creator does nothing but talk at the camera — the bane of contemporary social media discourse. But that’s not Oliver Thorn’s usual style, and gradually, you become aware of a purposeful twist of the format here. This is a riveting half-hour, nearly unbroken monologue on masculinity and domestic abuse, gaining impact from its refusal to make a cut (save one powerful solitary camera motion).
“The Art of Warez” by Oliver Payne
Filmmaker Oliver Payne delves into the lost art of ANSI drawing. In the early days of the internet, hackers stamped their pirated software (“warez”) with personalized 8-bit artwork. This digital graffiti developed into its own mode of communication across the bulletin board systems of the ’80s and ’90s. Made in collaboration with former ANSI artist Kevin Bouton-Scott, this fascinating overview of the subculture is currently hosted by Safe Crackers.
“Cities: Skylines | Power, Politics, & Planning: Episode 6: Public Housing Part 2” by donoteat01
I’ve previously covered donoteat’s videos, in which he uses the city simulation game Cities: Skylines to explain the history and problems of American urban development and planning. The latest installment is a mammoth look at how political and legal issues obstruct the basic function of public housing, using real examples from cities such as Philadelphia to illustrate it. The videos frequently draw out the contradictions between the illusion of control granted by the game and the deeply messy reality he’s discussing.
“George Was the Last of His Kind” by The Atlantic
This short is about endlings, the haunting name given to the final known members of a given species. In recent decades, multiple varieties of snails in Hawaii have been driven to extinction. Here, we see the efforts being undertaken to save similarly endangered snails from meeting this fate.
“The Decade-Long Quest For Shadow of the Colossus’ Last Secret” by Jacob Geller
Jacob Geller is one of the best YouTubers doing work on video games right now, but this gets at something deeper than mere criticism. It is a look at obsession and apophenia, which have the potential to make you nearly as conspiratorial as his subjects, who relentlessly teased out the hidden elements of the game Shadow of the Colossus for many years. It ends up as a poignant portrait of both the beauty and pitfalls of the exploratory instinct in gamers, which many games encourage.
“The Cyber Fiction Saga of Horse_Ebooks and Pronunciation Book” by Atrocity Guide
Atrocity Guide creates unsettling peeks into the internet’s stranger corners, at mysteries which may or may not have been solved. Here we learn of the dual enigmas of the Twitter account Horse_ebooks and the YouTube channel Pronunciation Book. Both bizarre, seemingly random accounts in fact seemed to have some greater design behind them, and internet sleuths drove themselves to the edge trying to figure it out. In truth … well, watch the video and find out for yourself.
“The World War of the Ants” by Kurzgesagt
The Munich-based animation studio Kurzgesagt produces some of the best short-form science content on the internet, and this is a solidly representative example. In laying out the evolutionary strategies and counter-strategies various species of ants have developed to destroy one another, it makes for an engaging look at the hidden mechanics of our biosphere.
“The Speed (and Stillness) of Being Online” by Grace Lee
Making her second appearance in this column, Grace Lee considers how the construction of the internet drives the ways we currently interact with it, as well as with our broader culture. She examines both “fast” and “slow” internet, and how different kinds of content are optimized for each, as well as the psychological effects they have on their users.
“The Bizarre Modern Reality of The Simpsons” by Super Eyepatch Wolf
John Walsh is an animation and games enthusiast with an evident and abiding love for the nitty-gritty of both forms, as well as the wider cultural ripples around them. Having previously discussed the downfall of The Simpsons, here he surveys how fans have made the show their own over the years through their own works, particularly memes. If you are at all a Simpsons fan, this will add at least a dozen different videos and publications to your to-do list. If you aren’t, this is still a terrific overview of remix culture and all its wonderful and strange (or both) facets.
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@example.com.