The web video of 2012: contributors s-t

The year’s best online movies, by 16 international correspondents.

Jasper Sharp , Caspar Sonnen , Jez Stewart , Kate Taylor
Updated:

Web exclusive

Jasper Sharp
Midnight Eye, Zipangu Fest

Always a difficult poll to do, this one – firstly to keep up with even a small fraction of the huge deluge of material that appears on the web every year; secondly to identify the year and source where the video was originally uploaded and make sure its online availability is legit, rather than magnanimously given away on YouTube without the author’s permission. Combined with the fact that many short filmmakers wait for their work to complete its run of festival screenings before they offer it over the internet a year or two later, it’s a tricky task isolating what constitutes ‘web-particular viewing’ in any given year.

Nevertheless, here are a few favourites of the videos and websites that have hit my radar over the past 12 months.

Science Film Museum (Kagaku eizo): Free Science Movies Resurrected from the Showa Era

There’s something quite magical about old science documentaries. It’s that combination of looking at the world with fresh eyes and a sense of wonder while almost fetishistically celebrating the very technology of visualisation, be it microscope, telescope or endoscope. The various titles in this online archive of Japanese examples of the form, produced from the early 1960s to the late 80s, render the ordinarily invisible everyday world – plankton, bacteria, snowflakes, blood vessels or intestinal walls; the flesh and bones of our existence – in colourful abstractions of peculiar beauty, accompanied by appropriately hypnotic avant-gardist soundtracks.

In a year when the sneaking digitalisation of the moving image can be truly described as having overtaken traditional forms, there’s something quaintly nostalgic about such celebrations of once state-of-the-art, now-defunct analogue technologies of image and sound from a more optimistic age. Thankfully, digital technology has made these works available with the click of a mouse to a new global audience. 15 of the titles contained on this bilingual website are available with English-language narration, although Japanese speakers are in for a real treat, with literally dozens more films dating all the way back to the 1930s.

Droom
Tim Grabham

Dark, dreamlike, non-narrative fantasy improvised on the hop by the director while he travelled the European festival circuit accompanying his documentary KanZeOn. A sensuous play of light, shadow and texture, Droom also benefits from a starkly-beautiful backdrop of atmospheric locations in Amsterdam, Tallinn and Warsaw.

Wonder 365 Animation Project
Mirai Mizue

Japanese independent animator Mizue, one of the core members of the CALF Collective, has been making quite a name for himself on the international festival circuit over the past few years. His colourful, free-flowing abstractions, all meticulously drawn completely by hand, can be divided into two categories – three-dimensional explorations of geometric volumes in films such as Modern (2010), or his more characteristic biologically-inspired cellular designs of pulsating blobs and Miro-like curves and squiggles.

The latter predominates in the ongoing Wonder 365 Animation Project, which began on 1 April 2012. The idea is for Mizue to create a short animation each and every day of the year, all to be edited together into one 365-second work at the end of the process. A quick browse through the 200-plus individual films already uploaded show the painstaking nature of this marathon process – with 24 frames needed for each daily second, Mirai will need to produce a grand total of 8,760 drawings by April 2013.

A Year in Full Colour – Moleskine Planners
Rogier Wieland, 2012

Continuing the 365-days a year theme, this remarkable stop-motion promotional animation for Moleskin is itself made completely using the very same products for which the notebook company is famous – an ingenious synergy between form and content!

Caspar Sonnen
IDFA DocLab

Narrowing this list down to five was a challenge, but mostly a confirmation of the addictive abundance of the web and the huge amount of amazing cinematic art that was released or became available online in 2012. If anything, it made me realise how much we need to celebrate the web, not only as a place for connecting with people and discovering new content, but also as a place where new forms of art and storytelling are being made.

Here’s to 2013 becoming the year of the slow web, a year where we stop multitasking, turn off notifications and take more time to enjoy things in full screen.

Interactive web documentary: Bear 71
Leanne Allison and Jeremy Mendes

Since 2008, we’ve shown over 100 interactive documentaries at IDFA DocLab. Last year saw the release of possibly two of the best yet: Bear 71 and Alma, a Tale of Violence (see below). Bear 71, a finalist for the IDFA DocLab Award and more recently winner of FWA’s website of the year, transforms raw surveillance footage and GPS data of grizzly bears in BANFF national park into a unique exploration of nature and technology – one that could not have existed in any other medium. It was produced by NFB Interactive, responsible for some of the most striking examples of interactive storytelling.

Interactive documentary app: Alma, a Tale of Violence
Miquel Dewever-Plana and Isabelle Fougère

Totally different to Bear 71 – superficially closer to traditional documentary cinema – this interactive documentary app is another project that blew my mind. It also won the IDFA DocLab Award 2012.

Alma presents the raw and emotional confession of a young girl who for five years was a member of one of the most violent gangs of Guatemala. Using a wonderfully clever two-screen touch-interface, it seamlessly merges 15 years of documentary photography, video and illustrations into a troubling and unforgettable interactive experience. It’s a new highpoint for Upian and ARTE France, who already showed us that web documentary is becoming a genre as much like choose-your-own-adventure CD-ROMs as magic lanterns have to do with arthouse cinema. Download it for iPad or Android.

Short Film: Las Palmas
Johannes Nyholm

A funny video can make me happy for an entire day. That happens easily if it’s a video with cats or babies, although sometimes a topic like ‘smartphone orientation when shooting video’ can work just as well. But it takes a true genius like Nyholm to actually take the milked genre of baby-video’s and turn it into a piece of short-form cinema of a drunk baby trashing a bar. Las Palmas is without a doubt one of the most absurd, disturbing and adorable things I’ve ever seen. We were delighted to show it at our open air festival in Amsterdam in 2011 and I’m really happy Nyholm made the full film available online in 2012 (on sale via his website).

Web Series: A Show with Ze Frank

If you don’t know the online performance artist Ze Frank, start with one of his TED Talks. Then join the online community with whom he’s currently co-creating this web series – the long-expected follow-up to The Show, his 2006 breakthrough that invented a large part of what web video could be. Ever since A Show kicked off in April 2012, it’s been scary, hilarious and moving to see Ze and his audience honestly and vulnerably try to do something unique, again. It’s been an amazing ride so far.

Short Film: Love Competition
Brent Hoff

Hoff is one of my favourite filmmakers working in the shorts and experimental world. Besides running one of the best non-festival short film platforms around, he’s already accounted for some of my favourite shorts of recent years. This year he outdid himself with this a touching little film that makes me think of some of the best Radiolab podcasts – though I fear it might one day also inspire some sleazy game-show producer.

P.S.

Two of my favourite web films are not (yet) available online in the UK. But if you’re ever in the Netherlands or Belgium, please watch the Oscar-nominated documentary 5 Broken Cameras or Viktor Kossakovsky’s masterpiece Svyato online.

Jez Stewart
BFI Archive

Making The Eagleman Stag
Mikey Please

I loved Please’s The Eagleman Stag the first time I saw it at the Royal College of Art’s graduation show in 2010, and every subsequent viewing has only added to my delight. The film thoroughly deserved its 2011 BAFTA for Best Short Animation, and whilst its arrival online this year makes it a worthy candidate for web video of the year, I’d instead like to highlight this ‘making of’. Just as valuable as its behind-the-scenes footage is its glimpse into the mind of Please, who’s as much a discovery as the film itself.

Prom Night
Celia Rowlson-Hall

What do you get if you cross Pina Bausch and Martin Scorsese? I’ve no idea, but I love this movie by choreographer, dancer and filmmaker Rowlson-Hall. It contains hundreds of stories communicated through the slightest of expressions and movements; the many filmic references are almost – almost – a distraction from the talent that shines through. Rowlson-Hall is a truly brave and intelligent artist; I await her future work with anticipation.

Fleischer Studios Superman Cartoons: The Bulleteers
Dave Fleischer

I’m cribbing slightly from Cartoon Brew here, but would add my thanks to Warner Brothers for published a good part of this fantastic series online for free, despite their having released it on DVD some years ago. Public-domain material pops up frequently on the web, but very rarely as an ‘official’ offering from a commercial company. I’ve always preferred Batman to the big blue Boy Scout, but can only imagine the excitement of seeing these as a young comics fan in 1941, when there’d never been anything like them before. Colour, thrills and plenty of narrative nonsense (eg this episode’s bullet vehicle) keep them a treat.

Brave New Old
Adam Wells

This film was a highlight of a strong short-animation programme at this year’s London Film Festival, particularly as it was from a young British animator whose work was new to me. Wells builds highly detailed little worlds, through which he offers 21st-century moral tales with humour and insight. He’s now put aside these square-headed people, but has given them several short outings.

Spectrum Portraits Project – Claire
Matthias Hoegg

I’ve already sung this project’s praises on the BFI website, but shall bang the drum again for this immaculately curated project by Art & Graft. They commissioned five short portrait films as part of a promotional strategy for the Cornwall-based charity Spectrum, a specialist care provider for people with autistic spectrum disorders. All are worthy of multiple viewings, but Hoegg’s contribution is a personal favourite.

Kate Taylor
Independent Cinema Office

Hennessy Youngman introduces Images Festival

Festival trailer of the year from Images, Toronto’s finest seedbed of experimental film joy. Artist Jayson Musson brings his Hennessy Youngman persona, fresh from delivering Art Thoughtz to young minds, to riff on the pleasures of cinema to festival audiences. But, y’know, he’s a liar.

These Hammers Don’t Hurt Us
Michael Robinson

Not strictly this year, but Robinson’s LUX Archive screening at Whitechapel this Spring was a reminder that this remains one of the best short films on the web. Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson and the transcendence of the Ancients make for rippy and wonderful.

Lana Wachowski speech at Human Rights Campaign gala

A frank, eloquent and emotionally flooring speech from a transgendered filmmaker with wit and guts. Discussing the negotiation of public and private identity, aware she is simultaneously sacrificing the anonymity she would prefer, Lana Wachowski does her bit to interrogate the pathology of “a society that refuses to acknowledge the spectrum of gender, in the exact same blind way that they refuse to see a spectrum of race or sexuality.” Plus it’s all written on scraps of paper.

Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution
Nada Zatouna

Meanwhile in Egypt another filmmaker, 23-year-old Zatouna, gives a compelling account of her experience in Tahrir Square, in a documentary project recording the participation of Women in the Egyptian Revolution. I first encountered this video at Impakt Festival in Utrecht, with its provocative theme of No More Westerns, and alongside the Pussy Riot closing statements, it has stayed with me as a reminder of how inspirational it is to see articulate young women on screen. More in 2013 please.

PSY Gangnam Style against Africa Style
AANINKA

When does a meme become significant to moving-image culture? Perhaps when it’s viewed by a billion people. In 2012 PSY’s Gangnam Style was the unexpected Trojan horse for K-Pop’s cultural technology to enter the international mainstream, spawning academic essays, interactive lectures and endless parodies and responses, from marching bands to Ai Weiwei. Also discovered at Impakt, this is my favourite response video so far, featuring the moves of AANINKA, a dance troupe from Ivory Coast currently on their own tour of South Korea.

Further reading

Back to the top