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I consistently wish we would get more documentaries that examine the history and construction of languages. Here are just a few great representative examples of the potential this genre has. An element not just of culture but of different ways of living in and experiencing the world, language is ripe for cinematic exploration.
In this documentary, Nurith Aviv takes an unusual approach to history, having seven dedicated Yiddish speakers talk about the language — what they love about it, what drew them to it, and most intriguingly, how they each relate to a different Yiddish poet. Such invocations of literature make the beauty and richness of the language come alive.
Koko: A Talking Gorilla (1978)
It’s widely believed that not only does the use of complex language distinguish humans from other animals, but also that language itself characterizes and shapes intelligence. Barbet Schroeder tests this idea with this film about Koko, the gorilla who famously learned an extensive vocabulary of both spoken words and sign language. Regardless of whether she truly ever “understood” complex language or not, Koko makes for an immensely compelling protagonist.
Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? (2013)
Noam Chomsky is best known as a political philosopher, but he got his start as a linguist. In this film, director Michel Gondry explains various theories about language and its relationship to cognition through animation. Chomsky narrates, and whimsical visuals illustrate his lectures. It’s a great primer on how the way we speak affects the way we think.
The works in Fault Lines prove that abstraction need not be confined to the inner life of the artist.
Celeste’s sculptures all rely on natural forces to achieve balance, and thus are perpetually on the precipice of collapse.
Romanticism to Ruin: Two Lost Works of Sullivan and Wright memorializes Chicago’s Garrick Theatre and Buffalo’s Larkin Building, which were razed to build a parking lot and a truck stop.
By reinventing the traditional bokashi technique, Hamanaka reminds us that nothing is dead, even when many proclaim otherwise.
The company’s mastery of the art market’s smoke and mirrors is its most impressive illusion.
Sadly, though by no means surprisingly, there is precedence for this female erasure. Women have been and continue to be the executors of the invisible, unpaid, unaccredited labor that makes much of the world run smoothly.