In the film Gattaca, there is a scene where a set of new parents are consulting a doctor about genetically altering the baby they wish to conceive. When they posit that maybe it’s better to leave a few things to chance, the doctor scoffs and tells them they want to give their baby the best possible start. The film is a warning about the kind of future that genetic engineering and eugenics could create. That hasn’t stopped us from researching this science, though, and in 2018 Dr He Jiankui (JK for short), a geneticist in China, created the first genetically edited human embryos.
Make People Better follows the story of JK in two parallel tracks. One in the build-up to this achievement discusses the ethical implications of literally making people better—the other counts down toward JKs eventual arrest and disappearance by the Chinese government.
In the 1950s and 60s, researchers at UCLA conducted a study into sex disorders. The resulting archive of data contains a cross-section of trans history in the form of interviews conducted with the study’s participants. One of the participants -a woman known only as Agnes- used the study to receive gender-affirming care and then seemingly disappeared.
With Framing Agnes, director Chase Joynt takes a handful of the stories collected in the UCLA study and presents them to the audience. The interviews themselves are re-framed as interviews on a late-night talk show and performed by trans performers. The performers themselves, along with trans researcher and advocate Jules Gill-Peterson, are also given the opportunity to reflect on the people they are portraying as well as their own life experiences.
The former is a brilliant take. Unfortunately, the latter interrupts the stories that we really want to hear. To put it more succinctly: Framing Agnes fails to get out of its own way.
Women have it harder in this world than men do. Some might dispute this (and they’d be wrong), but it is a fact. While it remains true anywhere you go, one of the worst places is Ciudad Juarez, in Northern Mexico. In this city, there is an ongoing trend of women being murdered and exploited. Luchadoras follows three women in the city who have discovered a means to empowerment within their lives, Lucha Libre.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition in the first place, but it only gets more powerful as the movie goes on.
It has been 14 years since Higashida Naoki’s book, The Reason I Jump was first published in Japan, and 8 since English novelist David Mitchell translated it. Naoki was 13 at the time and is autistic and unable to communicate verbally. He was able to write his book by using an alphabet board his mother created, and in the process provided a roadmap for how his mind works and how he experiences the world.
That roadmap has proven invaluable to the families of those on the spectrum, especially those who are non-verbal. This documentary by Jerry Rothwell explores how that roadmap has impacted the lives of five such people. The result is a film that will open your eyes and your heart.
Imagine living in a place that is literally rotting away beneath you. No matter what you do, what help you ask for from local and national governments, your home slowly but surely disappears. This is the story of Congo Mirador, a tiny village of fewer than 1000 people situated on Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela. It’s also the story of the whole country, and it’s heartbreaking.
And so here we are at the end of this series. In previous weeks the series examined the four major systems of our world: Volcanoes, which seed the atmosphere and create the land, The sun, which supplies us with energy, Weather, which delivers water to all life, and Oceans, which carry nutrients to all corners of the world. This last week the series examines a new force exerting an influence on the world: us.
Last week on A Perfect Planet the series looked at volcanoes and their extraordinary influence on this planet’s biosphere. This week, they look at a more obvious element in how the world functions: the sun.
We live on a fantastic planet. We often look to science fiction and fantasy stories for a sense of wonder, but the truth is that all you have to do is look closely at this world to accomplish that. Whether it’s half a million flamingos nesting in the middle of a caustic lake, or river otters fishing in volcanically warmed waters, Earth is a miraculous place.
The BBC Natural History Unit has produced incredible nature documentaries for decades now. In particular, they captured the world’s imagination with a series of programs starting with Planet Earth back in 2006. A Perfect Planet is the latest of these series, once again narrated by David Attenborough and once again stunningly photographed.
As a portrait of an artist, Frank Pavich’s film of the visionary auteur Alejandro Jodorosky’s efforts to create a 10 hour film adaptation of “Dune” is fascinating, entertaining and endearing. The 85-year old Jodorosky comes across as an enthusiastic guru, an almost cultish figure who crosses the world discovering fellow artists and dragging them into a mad campaign to create generation-changing works of art. The filmmaker behind “El Topo”, “The Holy Mountain” and “Santa Sangre”, Jodorosky was already a cause célèbre of cult film when, for reasons not really revealed, he managed to acquire the rights to Frank Herbert’s scifi epic “Dune”, at the time a huge bestseller, and determined, without actually having read the book itself, to recreate the story as a movie that would change the minds of young people forever.
I don’t remember how old I was. I was already a fan of magic and illusion, although I never pursued it as a hobby. I was surfing channels on the 10 foot satellite dish we had when I was a kid and I stumbled across a show called _”Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants”_. From that point on, through his appearances in film and television I have been a fan of Ricky Jay. The man has a sense of quiet theatricality and an immese pool of knowledge and skill, and he handles a deck of cards so well that if given the chance to play with him I’d _never_ let him shuffle.