The best video essays of 2023

Our annual poll spotlights 181 unique video essays, nominated by 48 international voters, showcasing the breadth and depth of current videographic practice.

19 December 2023

By Queline Meadows, Irina Trocan, Will Webb

A History of the World According to Getty Images (2022)

Now in its seventh annual edition, the Sight and Sound poll for the best video essays of the year surveys the online sphere, film festivals and audiovisual research in almost equal measure. Its primary purposes are to mark notable works and keep track of the various schools of thought concerning what video essays can or should be, and how they can communicate to a range of audiences.

The poll was conducted with the assistance of 48 voters from 17 countries, including academics, critics, online creators and festival curators. Together, their 260 nominations include 181 distinct titles. Given the scope and abundance of recent video essays, even an extensive poll can only provide a cross-section of the topics, forms and rhetoric of their contemporary practice – a limitation many voters noted in their submissions. Of the nominated works, 47% were created by male video essayists, 39% by female, with several from non-binary creators and mixed teams. Around two-thirds feature voiceover, with the majority presented in English, although 14 languages feature in the overall poll.

The nominations saw a relatively equal split between essays created for YouTube and those created for academic research, with 50 YouTube and 47 academic videos (or entire series). Publicly available videos’ viewership varies broadly, from 9.5 million views (for MyHouse.wad) to the low double digits; participants were keen to highlight new and underseen works as well as celebrating the achievements of established creators. Festival films or installation pieces also proved popular, with 53 arthouse shorts, features and documentaries nominated. Also present, although in a smaller proportion, were self-published Vimeo works or collaborative projects unaffiliated with a specific institution. However, within the yearly S&S poll for video essays, there seems to be a slight decline both in independently produced and published Vimeo content, and in video output by cinephile magazines, while the academic sector is slowly but constantly expanding.

The average runtime was 27 minutes, with most around the 15 minute mark – although a few marathon nominations like Will DiGravio’s Against Polish and Adam Curtis’ TraumaZone (three and seven hours respectively) stick out. Three videos were one minute long or shorter.

Leading the nominations, Maryam Tafakory and Johannes Binotto tie for 10 nominations, with Tafakory’s split-screen work chaste/unchaste and Binotto’s Practices of Viewing series coming out on top. A History of the World According to Getty Images by Richard Misek received nine nominations, the most for a single work. Returning essayists of note include Chloé Galibert-Laîné, Barbara Zecchi and Ariel Avissar, while new entrants with multiple nominations include Occitane Lacurie (three noms for Xena’s Body: A Menstrual Auto-Investigation Using an iPhone) and James DeLisio (four nominations for Cinema in Pain: Decoding “Mad God”).

It is worth noting that some videos appear in consecutive polls: among them, Misek’s History of the World According to Getty Images and Galibert-Laîné’s GeoMarkr are now available online, while in the 2022 poll they were occasionally mentioned, but less widely seen. It is often the case that videos travel in festivals or are viewed in conferences and among peers before being made public. While the current poll has several dozen videos to which we cannot presently direct our readers, we hope that in the near future many will be similarly available with unrestricted access.

Videographic collaborations make up a number of nominations in this years’ list. Once upon a Screen: Vol. 2, edited by Avissar and Evelyn Kreutzer, returns with two nominations for its second instalment. Moving Poems, also curated by Kreutzer, received five nominations, chiefly for Desiree de Jesus’ a raisin in the sun. And the 169 Seconds series, commissioned by Danish journal 16:9 to celebrate its 20th anniversary, received three nominations, including returning essayists Catherine Grant and Jason Mittell. Independent videographic community The Essay Library also features with one nomination for Lara Callaghan’s contribution to the When Essay Met Library collaboration.

A number of essays were published through new academic journals, including Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft with five videos nominated; other new entrants include Teknokultura and Feminist Media Histories. [in]Transition, Tecmerin and NECSUS are by now certified in making the works they publish visible among videographic researchers.

Independent streaming service Nebula has continued to grow its base of creators, many of whom are video essayists. Out of 50 unique YouTube videos, seven were also published on Nebula. Three of these were directly cross-posted, another three were Nebula First (published earlier than YouTube), and one nomination – We Must Destroy What the Bomb Cannot by Big Joel – was a Nebula Plus video, meaning it includes extra content beyond what is available on YouTube. Lily Alexandre’s Nebula-first essay Everything Is Sludge: Art in the Post-Human Era received three nods, bringing the total number of Nebula nominations up to nine.

Billed as a creator-first streaming service, Nebula aims to give its creators the freedom that they cannot find on YouTube. Many video essayists have joined Nebula after finding their work coming up against YouTube’s advertiser-friendly guidelines, restricting the discussion of mature topics. In February 2023, Maggie Mae Fish launched her series Unrated exploring sexuality in film, and Broey Deschanel followed suit in November with the Taboo on Screen series. There’s an oft-noted divide between ‘Vimeo-style’ essays – with their more academic leaning and longer clip length – and YouTube essays – with their quick cuts and careful stepping around automatic copyright claims. This gap may be quickly closing, although whether a Nebula style will arise remains to be seen.

Although content creators can make money through AdSense and sponsorships on YouTube, many turn to community donations and subscriptions to fund their work. Forty-one of the nominated YouTube works included a link to Patreon, Ko-fi or PayPal in the video description. One nominated video, Brad Troemel’s The Literalists, is available exclusively on Patreon, with only a trailer uploaded to YouTube.

Vimeo essayists have also encountered in greater force the problems that have plagued YouTube essayists for years. Formerly a safe haven for video essays containing copyrighted materials, Vimeo has enacted a slew of copyright claims, viewing restrictions and takedowns on well-known video essays in recent months. This brings to mind Fandor’s 2016/2017 removal of multiple video essays from their channels in response to the threat of copyright claims, ringing alarm bells about the mixed potential of the Internet as an archive for videographic work. The long-running TV Dictionary project is just one example with multiple claims, despite its clear origin in academic research practice.

Nostalgia and memory, pop culture and cinephilia – sometimes mixed together – loom large in this year’s list, due in part to some popular academic series including Indy Vinyl for the Masses (curated by Ian Garwood) and the Screen Stars Dictionary (curated by Tecmerin and Ariel Avissar). Gender as spectacle makes its appearance in several videos, from the mainstream end of the spectrum (max teeth’s The Man/Car Gender Binary in John Carpenter’s Christine) to critical discussions of star personae, cinema’s archetypal female protagonists as well as filmmaking/media practices (Morgane Frund’s short films, among other titles), to direct references to Laura Mulvey and Judith Butler at the other end.

As with all other areas of discourse this year, AI featured in multiple videos, usually more as a thematic concern than as a videographic tool (although text-to-speech and some generative techniques feature in the list). Futurism more generally, whether dystopian or utopian, was a common theme in the YouTube nominations.

Interrogation of the video essay form itself continues to stimulate discussion within the field, including the drawing to a close of Johannes Binotto’s popular Practices of Viewing series. While this self-reflexivity was first noted in the 2021 poll, it was seen more on YouTube in 2023, with videos ranging from assessing the state of the video essay landscape to dispensing advice about how to be a successful video essayist. Harris Michael Brewis, better known as hbomberguy, released a nearly four-hour exposé of plagiarism on YouTube with a particular focus on video essays. The video passed two million views within 24 hours of its publication.

While there are certainly great videos that remained unmentioned even with such dedicated teamwork on behalf of all voters, the present survey should be a solid starting point (and, in a few years’ time, a reminder) of the state of video essays in 2023. Thank you to everyone who participated.

Full list of voters

All the votes

Jiří Anger

Film theorist, curator, and video essayist, Queen Mary University of London and Národní filmový archiv

A timely meditation on how even public domain images ‘we all know’ can become unattainable when they find themselves in the thrall of commercial archives and data banks. A powerful call for paying attention to copyrights after Vimeo started taking video essays down.

Machines in Flames by Andrew Culp and Thomas Dekeyser

Part desktop documentary, part evocative experimental film, this philosophical video essay succeeds in enacting the ‘detective logic of the digital’ like few other works I have seen. By jumping between the indistinct traces of CLODO, a terrorist group that bombed computer companies in 1980s France, it denies the pretension that the desktop interface is there ‘for us’ to make content readily available and uncovers the fundamental lack and self-destructivity of contemporary visual regimes.

Twisties! by Alice Lenay

A fascinating extension of the videographic impulse into a live performance. Lenay uses Zoom software to embody the experience of participating in the 1996 Summer Olympics and shakes our notions of audiovisual archives as well as the politics of individual and collective bodies.

Notes from Eremocene by Viera Čákanyová

Who would have thought that an essay film on blockchain and artificial intelligence could be so intimate and touching? Čákanyová achieves it through a catalogue of experimental techniques that turn photochemical as well as digital images into emblems of an indistinct future in which we yet have to find our place.

Teletext Revival by Karin Spišáková and David Scharf

A whimsically inventive video essay that resurrects the early 2000s’ teletext interface not just for its nostalgic appeal but chiefly for its unique temporality and inclusiveness.

Back to the Ruins by Jáchym Šidlák

A rare piece of videographic criticism that reworks a short Czechoslovak non-fiction film from the 1940s. Images of post-war reconstruction are poetically deconstructed to give voice to overlooked details and actors that shaped the spectacle in the first place.

Divine Horror by Kryštof Kočtář and Matouš Vaďura

A truly visceral experience that makes us sense how close experimental film, horror, and videographic criticism can be.

Ariel Avissar

Video maker and media scholar at Tel Aviv University

Yazdandoost’s video, exploring the use of the arbitrary motion of fur in Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs and other stop-motion films, is an absolute treat, start to finish. It was made under the mentorship of Catherine Grant, as part of a wonderful videographic symposium held in Hanover late last year, where I first got to see it — and was published earlier this year in the ZfM blog Videography, which followed that symposium. Don’t miss it — and also check out her shorter, lovely video, Wes Anderson’s Trains.

The Accented Sound of Camp by Barbara Zecchi

In another video first presented at the Hanover conference and published this year on the ZfM blog, Zecchi offers a 4-part exploration of the use of Italian accents in Hollywood films. Starting from House of Gucci, it examines various screen representations of Italians and Italian Americans and the political and ideological dimensions of the accented voice (following Zecchi’s previous work on the subject). It is insightful, entertaining and highly inventive, experimenting with a diverse range of videographic techniques and forms of voiceover.

One of the explicit inspirations for Zecchi’s video above, O’Leary’s is a tour de force of parametric criticism, or what he calls a form of “cyborg scholarship”. It is a fascinating and highly generative piece, and remains playful throughout; O’Learly must have had a lot of fun while making it, like a child playing with Lego. It would be difficult to explain here just what the video does with its subject material (three narrative films made about the 2008 financial crash); luckily, O’Leary has already done that himself, in the accompanying creator’s statement, which you should definitely read prior to watching the video if you want any chance of figuring out what the hell is going on!

Evelyn Kreutzer’s Moving Poems collection, which pairs poems with moving images, has generated some remarkable works over the past couple of years. This video by de Jesús is one of the standout pieces. It places the 1961 adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun in dialogue with Langston Hughes’s “Harlem”, from which its title was derived. It is an intelligent and complex piece, employing multiple, dense layerings of image, sound and text, and will benefit from repeat viewings. Check it out, as well as the other pieces in the collection – and consider contributing your own.

I will not say much about Binotto’s touching tribute to his former teacher and close friend, Elisabeth Bronfen, who retired from Zurich university this summer. You should simply watch it (all the way to the very end) and smile.

Watching the Rehearsal by Jason Mittell

Why leave scholarship to chance? You’d better watch Nathan Fielder’s The Rehearsal before watching this one; and while you’re at it, watch some of Professor Mittell’s previous pieces, where he established some of the ideas and approaches he’s developed here in elaborate and unexpected ways; specifically, this and this.

Mast-del مست دل by Maryam Tafakory

This last one is unfortunately not available for viewing online, and has been making the festival round this past year – go and watch it if you get the chance. Is this a video essay? I don’t know. Here is how Tafakory describes it: “A love song that would never pass through the censors, Mast-del is about forbidden bodies and desires inside and outside post-revolution Iranian cinema.” Anyone who’s seen her previous work (and if you haven’t, you’re missing out), would recognise these themes and ideas that she has dealt with before. Here, she approaches them from a radically different aesthetic, masterfully blending clips from existing films, original footage, a scripted narrative and original score, to mesmerising and moving effect.

Johannes Binotto

Media studies scholar, bricoleur, project leader videoessayresearch.org

No representative overview, no proper summaries. But a collection of echoes, reverberations of works I have seen this year and which keep playing in my head.

“Sometimes I still picture myself.” Part of Evelyn’s fantastic Moving Poems initiative, yet a whole universe of its own. It pierces me. Everything in it. The artefacts of the video signal that devour the image, the high pitched hiss of the TV, the calm and sober voice that speaks of memories which sound innocuous but frighten you, and then the look on this face I recognise and which I have never seen like that.

“I keep thinking about gestures”.

Katie Bird’s haunting video essay and its bittersweet introduction makes us keep thinking, keep wondering, about the weight and value of labour, of film labour, scholarly labour, of what it means to hold, a camera, a child, a body, yourself, and how we can continue by letting go.

“In such places, he finds the people, the ones like my family, and friends, and neighbours from home…”

A videographic haiku, from one loving observer to the other, beautiful, personal, careful, vulnerable. It makes me fall in love with the filmmaker it portrays, with the people the filmmaker met, and with the person who made this video.

“How did you get it? I ask — They don’t know.”

An analysis of, as well as an act of resistance against visual capitalism going rampant. We need to fight a system that is already well ahead in co-opting, privatising, watermarking, and sealing the archives, depriving more and more people of their past, their collective memories. This video essay is an emergency call and a road map.

“Ain’t it beautiful?” Playful. Painful. So precise. I cannot choose among the works of Dayna but I feel particularly connected to this one because I cannot separate it from all the conversations we had around it. Here is a beautiful artist and thinker driving at high speed to where video essays usually do not dare to go. Please take me with you, I will sit on the backseat.

Super Volume – A Tactile Art by Cormac Donnelly

“Intention re-situates to the hands and fingers.” Abstract and visceral at the same time it is this experimental video essay that made me suddenly and fully understand and feel what “working with sound” could mean, how it feels to grasp what cannot be touched. When you see it, everything vibrates.

mini_essay_5 (Body Parts) by Occitane Lacurie

“Balayez vers le haut pour afficher plus.”

Occitane’s mini-essays (what an understatement!) show iPhone navigation as a method of thoughts taking shape. Scrolling, clicking, touching, feeling through images and associations, a flow of intertexts at the tip of your invisible finger. You better be careful with what you open next. In this one I feel seen by all these bodies, dismembered, scattered, commodified. Looking through the mirror stage and back again. And what about this little screen in my hand? Part of my body or not?

Philip Józef Brubaker

Video essayist/experimental filmmaker

I couldn’t pick only one video essay from this stellar series, so I nominate the entire body of work from 2023. I love the length requirement, which results in some creative interpretations of the source material.

A personal, feature-length essay film about Death Valley and its importance to the history of cinema as well as its longstanding resonance with the filmmaker. Kremer has admirably unearthed many underground and lesser known works that were filmed in this desert and included them here, to my delight. Kremer’s playful juxtapositions between the two main films is humorous and well-edited.

Memories of “It” by Kathleen Loock

Loock entwines her own experience growing up in a reunified Germany with the 1990 TV movie version of Stephen King’s It. A surprising association, but one that is fully realised and supported with her examples. Loock’s observations enrich the popular horror story as well as educate the audience about complications resulting from the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

The Thinking Machine #64: Inkblot by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

Two cosmically intertwined tragedies from different films are synchronised beautifully in this succinct video mashup.

Nelson Carvajal

Webby Award-nominated video essayist, writer and television producer

Fire Film Supercut by Daniel Pope

The supercut, often an overlooked subgenre of the video essay, is much harder to pull off than it seems. When done right, you almost don’t even notice the splice. This supercut is, pun intended, fire.

Jeff Smith has cut a lot of the New Beverly’s monthly previews and to me, they’re pure video essays, on a pure pop-level. This one for October, a la Halloween, is especially captivating.

An electric and gripping use of animation and multi-screen to really get its thesis across. McLeod understands the exciting heights of the video essay form and has all the cylinders firing here.

Ben Chinapen

YouTube creator/video editor and essayist

Scene it is a fairly new channel I came across, I found his content very refreshing as a new voice in the more standard “film essay” area.

This video came out of nowhere and blew everyone’s mind who saw it. An intriguing title, with a clearly stressed out person and also The Binding of Isaac in the thumbnail? What’s going on? Within 1 minute the purpose becomes clear; this woman who has very strong opinions and credentials will break down exactly what happened with the String Theory phenomenon while simultaneously stumbling through a playthrough of the vintage roguelike indie darling Binding of Isaac. A premise so absurd and hilarious (dare I say groundbreaking?) that you instantly want to watch and listen. It’s very informative and HIGHLY entertaining for the joke of the idea alone. I’m glad this took off because it was worth it. This is probably my most firm nomination out of the group.

Coming from very very early 2023; this one about John Boyega’s first leading role stood out for me; a beautiful look at an indie darling from one of my favourite creators breaking down the politics of crime in poor communities.

Isabel Custodio

YouTuber (Be Kind Rewind) and film critic

Art Without the Artist (and Other Horrors from the Machine) by Dan Simpson, Eyebrow Cinema on YouTube

AI became a hotly contested subject in 2023, with studios eager to capitalise on its apparent ease and speed, and artists fighting to establish guardrails for its growth and use. Dan Simpson argues for the integrity of the artist over the dispassionate, surface-level results AI often prompts. It’s a rallying cry for those of us who advocate and appreciate the work of creative human beings.

Big Joel’s essays always stand out for their fluency in art history. Here, he weaves several works together, connecting material as disparate as Jenny Holzer and Godzilla in a stunning exploration of what words mean, contradictions, and subjectivity.

The Literalists by Brad Troemel

I’ve yet to find a better interpreter of online culture than artist Brad Troemel, whose work satirises some of the internet’s most exasperating modes of expression. In fact, he so effectively mocks these aesthetics that his work often goes viral, with choruses of the terminally online taking it, well, literally (a recent post about the unionisation of the Taylor Swift fandom comes to mind). In addition to these posts, he creates video essays outlining his observations of online behaviour. In The Literalists, he takes a look at “millennial cultural liberalism” and the inclination to scrub content clean of any possible offence, connecting the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s to the modern, flawed reasoning that it is morally bad to watch films with immoral characters. His essays are available exclusively on his Patreon, but it’s well worth at least a month’s subscription to binge them. You won’t regret it.

The Four horse_ebooks of the Apocalypse by Grace Lee/What’s So Great About That?

Everything happens so much. It’s an iconic tweet, an evergreen feeling, and the subject of Grace Lee’s exploration of the apocalyptic unease of modern life. She charts the decline of the relatively literal disaster film with the rise of a looming, paralysing belief in our pre-determined doom. It’s a fascinating topic, made even more compelling given that Lee is the best editor of video essays on YouTube.  

Will DiGravio

Host of The Video Essay Podcast; assistant editor, Cineaste; PhD candidate, University of Amsterdam

Each year, it gets more difficult to be a viewer of video essays; it is a beautiful and frustrating thing. More people are making them. They are longer. They screen at festivals, and in varied corners of the internet. Below are a few of the video essays that have resonated with me this year. Rather than try and explain why I picked them, I will instead attempt to describe something in each work. Here’s hoping it might inspire you to give them all a watch.

[3:43] On the left, Joséphine Baker performs in the famous skirt made out of bananas. On the right, a clip from a 1968 CBC interview with Baker. Below, a translation on screen: “No, it’s about work. You have to work hard.” A video essay that grows richer with each rewatch.

Apostles of Cinema (Tenzi za sinema) by Cece Mlay, Darragh Amelia, Gertrude Malizana, Jesse Gerard Mpango

“I like quality films. And I like difficult films,” says DJ Black. But if it is bad, “I can’t dub it.” [04:51] An incisive documentary about film culture in Tanzania.

There’s a moment in the second minute I felt throughout my whole body. A revelation.

Void by Kevin Ferguson

The persistence of Robert Duvall’s bald head, especially at [00:13] and [04:46].

I imagine Don’s masterful montages of the internet’s response to Keaton’s artistry, and also that of Fayard and Harold Nicholas, playing on the wall of a gallery.

Water ripples. Sidney Poitier, playing with his lighter, gestures for a drink. His finger points to the text on screen, “in the sun?” Off-screen dialogue plays. [00:26] A harmonious blend of sound, image, and text.

Miss Me Yet by Chris Bell

Each episode begins with George W. Bush raising his middle finger to the camera, a gesture that becomes more grotesque and poignant the more one watches.

Flavia Dima

Film critic, programmer (BIEFF)

A fleeting list — quite heterogeneous, and I must admit I’m not sure whether all of them are “ontologically” video essays, as definitions seem to become increasingly porous — of films that I discovered together with my colleagues at BIEFF during our work for this year’s editions.

Home Invasion by Graeme Arnfied

Simply stunning. Perhaps the best zero-budget film in many years — which affords itself the very rare “luxury” of playfully engaging with the legacy of Harun Farocki. You’ll never look at a doorbell with the same eyes after this film, not ever again.

Dear Gerald by Jasper Rigole

Rarely does the perspective of film archivists — with its particular way of looking at film, and its entire universe of both material and ethical dilemmas — actually transpire in film. Jasper Rigole’s short (aside from spotlighting his delightful IICADOM archives, a true goldmine for home movie enthusiasts) does exactly that, while also bringing into question the spectatorship of archival footage.

GeoMarkr by Chloé Galibert-Laîné and Guillaume Grandjean

Galibert-Laîné, brilliant as usual.

Bliss.jpg by Emily Rose Apter and Elijah Stevens

Some of the world’s most famous (digital — in all senses of the term) landscapes, reexamined, almost à la Richard Prince, or rather, a y2k take on the method of James Benning — brought back into materiality through 16mm film.

The Film You Are About to See by Maxime Martinot

Despite all the hand-wringing in recent years, content warnings are by no means something new to cinema — and the double helix-like structure (going both backwards and forwards throughout the history) of Martinot’s incisive and irreverent short reveals this to the fullest, together with excavating the various mores and taboos that cinema was transgressing at various times in modern history.

Gods of the Supermarket by Alberto Gonzalez Morales

I’m a sucker for any and all films that use ‘Wicked Game’ on their soundtrack. Especially so if they’re found-footage essays on queerness and bodybuilding culture.

Finally, a pick from the local scene, still very much emergent — a tender exploration of personal videographic artifacts, as seen through the eyes of the child that knows how life is going to work out for those captured on a seemingly innocuous wedding tape.

Chloé Galibert-Laîné

Filmmaker and senior researcher at the Lucerne School of Art and Design

Having once again decided to nominate for this poll only makers whose work I discovered this year, I realise that the five videos that I want to highlight are works I watched in the presence of their authors. Not only did their films inspire me, but I was moved by all five Q&A sessions, for very different reasons. This may testify to a growing need for personal connection through videographic practices, in the midst of a media landscape that grows more cluttered and anonymous by the day. I also want to salute the engagement of makers who are committed to accompanying their creations in person and helping them reach an audience, even when economic or political circumstances are not favourable. My list is non hierarchical.

Artistes en zone troublés by Stéphane Gérard and Lionel Soukaz

Lionel Soukaz’s video diary Journal annales is not only a milestone in the history of French experimental cinema, it is also an essential piece of LGBTQIA+ heritage. There is something extremely moving about the care and tenderness with which Stéphane Gérard approaches this audiovisual document, as he edits a new short portrait of Soukaz’s late lover Hervé Couergou from the thousands of hours of footage Soukaz shot, making this testimony to the history of the «années sida» and the evolution of the gay movement accessible to a new generation of spectators, artists and activists.

Ours / Bear by Morgane Frund

A personal exploration of the complex power dynamics between a male filmer and female filmed subjects, when the camera is suddenly turned towards he whose gaze had hitherto remained unchallenged. Frund’s video essay is uncomfortable in the best sense of the word, and leaves its viewers with more questions than answers, providing a starting point for an essential conversation about gender, class and generational differences, and the ethics of documentary.

Personne n’était sympa / Nobody Was Cool by Hélèna Villovitch and David TV

The film is a moving and hilarious evocation of a walk through the streets of Paris on 1 May 1986, based on the filmmakers’ memories and a wide range of audiovisual archives. Images and sounds are saturated, superimposed, iridescent; facts and fantasies merge in a hallucinatory stream of real and fabricated memories, to which a final twist gives a whole new meaning.

Dreams About Putin by Nastia Korkia and Vlad Fishez

Based on a selection of actual dreams that the filmmakers collected online, this essay explores how the figure of Vladimir Putin has crept into the psyches of Russian citizens since the invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Disturbing, violent, absurd, the dreams are narrated in voice over and accompanied by a visual score created with the 3D graphics program Unreal Engine, interspersed with bizarre and equally absurd archival footage of Putin. A nightmarish response to a nightmarish war, waged both on the frontline and on social media.

A portrait of Tito’s official cameraman Stevan Labudović, this feature-length essay film exhumes previously unseen archival footage from the 1961 Belgrade conference to explore the birth of the Non-Aligned Movement. As educational as it is politically sharp, the film accounts for the difficulties faced by Turajlic in working with unprocessed, barely identified archives, and offers Labudović an opportunity to share his personal and often humorous take on this turning point in the history of world politics.

Jacob Geller

YouTube-based video essayist writing about the intersection of games, culture, art, and politics

Alexandre’s dissection of how algorithms are morphing our artistic tastes is insightful and biting. Although viewers may expect a video about AI, more time is spent on how humans are more than willing to start producing AI-esque content by hand in order to serve the tastes of their perceived audience. The real star of this video is the production, however. Alexandre speaks as a kaleidoscopic projection of Subway Surfer, minecraft montages, and other “sludge” is projected onto their face. As interesting as the essay’s script is, the viewer’s eye will inevitably slip to the endless stream of meaningless attention-grabbing clips – just as Alexandre intended, I imagine.

Equal parts essay and visual compendium, Face Full of Eyes’ video contains a dizzying amount of clips from hundreds of video games, all answering the same seemingly inconsequential question: how do the game’s characters handle guns with their dominant and non-dominant hands? The answer for any particular game isn’t important. The point of the video is instead that no decision is meaningless when creating art. In a created world like a video game, everything is a chance for storytelling— even the choice to depict how a left-handed person might have to reload a right-handed gun.

The experience of watching Ahoy attempt a perfect replication of a digital illustration from 1985 somehow captures the energy of a 21st-century sculptor attempting to re-carve Michelangelo’s David. While he starts with modern Photoshop tools, the latter half of the video is a deep dive into save file formats and 40-year old display technology; a crucial realisation in the video comes from a monitor’s changing colour tone when turned to portrait orientation. The fact that all this is in service of a delightfully whimsical picture of a burger? Even better.

Tomas Genevičius

This video essay gives additional meaning to the idea that cinema is a warehouse of memory.

The Thinking Machine #73: Revealing Leone by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

Video essay exploring Sergio Leone’s technique of “revealing”. But revealing what was hidden in the scene is also the most interesting feature of the video essay. This video “opens the doors” with a wonderful rhythm and music.

A video essay that doesn’t use any film footage, but which is still very interesting to watch and listen to. A video essay about a description technique that can make you see things better than any images.

A video essay made as a response and as a dialogue with the other four video essays, each of which uses desktop documentary form in different and unique ways.

Sensuous and Affective by Oswald Iten

Using various techniques, it explores how cinema affects us through audiovisual experiences and how video essays can reveal this.

Rain: A Phenomenal Catalogue by Stephen Broomer (Art & Trash)

Many important avant-garde films were made in 1929, Joris Ivens’ Rain being one of them. This video essay shows what an amazing and groundbreaking film it is.

Memories of It by Kathleen Loock

Relationship between collective and personal memory, It (1990), VHS, the fall of the Berlin Wall – all of these somehow connect to my personal experience, interest and history, which, as this video shows, is not entirely unique.

John Gibbs

Audiovisual essayist and professor of film at the University of Reading

Although it may not have been where I first encountered them, all of my nominations appear in two consecutive issues of [in]Transition. This is a reflection of the quality of work being published by the journal, rather than a lack of imagination on my part.

A follow up to the video essay on George Hoyningen-Huene’s work published in Movie last year, this piece again draws on archival research to sharpen our perception of production design choices, this time in relation to the potential of a muted colour palette.

GeoMarkr by Chloé Galibert-Laîné and Guillaume Grandjean

This video was mentioned a couple of times in last year’s poll but has since been published. A brilliant interweaving of gaming, Chris Marker and reflection on the politics of Google Street View.

A compelling tracing of multi-stranded connections in an end-of episode musical montage: expertly and elegantly done.

Eye-Camera-Ninagawa by Colleen Laird

Graphically striking, temporally inventive, technically dazzling, formally compelling, surprising throughout.

I downloaded this film from its dedicated website, before the option to stream became available, and watched it without reading anything about it, thereby experiencing the full impact of its dramatic payoff.

Libertad Gills

It is exciting to finally be able to engage with Joséphine Baker’s media presence through film historian Terri Francis’ research and video essay. I had been waiting to see this video essay for some time so I was very happy to see it published in the journal Feminist Media Histories this year.

The Accented Sound of Camp by Barbara Zecchi

“Why this accent?” Barbara Zecchi takes a closer look -or listens more carefully- to the accents employed in House of Gucci (Ridley Scott, 2021) in order to explore (and undo) Hollywood representations of Italians. This video essay builds off her previous work on the subject of the accented video essay, with a once again playful and creative, as well as thought-provoking result.

This video essay is part of the Screen Stars Dictionary, published by Tecmerin and edited by Ariel Avissar and Vicente Rodríguez. Although there are so many great ones to choose from, I am highlighting this one because in it Catherine Grant gives us the special opportunity to remember and rediscover the “rare” and wonderful late Mexican actor Roberto Cobo (1930-2002).

chaste/unchaste by Maryam Tafakory

A beautifully crafted and compelling video essay from filmmaker Maryam Tafakory which cuts together images from 32 films, spanning three decades, in order to dissect the binary of chaste/unchaste women in post-revolutionary Iranian cinema.

Practices of Viewing: Ending by Johannes Binotto

The final video essay in Binotto’s series titled Practices of Viewing. These videos are made with so much care and love for the artistry of filmmaking that we will surely come back to them with time, as these gestures of film viewing begin to transform and, in some cases, even disappear.

Nitrate: To the Ghosts of the 75 Lost Philippine Silent Films (1912-1933) and National Anarchist: Lino Brocka’ are two masterful works made by filmmaker Khavn De La Cruz about Filipino film history through the recycling of archival materials. Both are fascinating films, made in a video-essayistic spirit, that will hopefully circulate widely after their premiere this year at IFFR.

A fresh take on the beloved film Thelma & Louise by video essayist and artist Dayna McLeod in which the final suicidal leap is transformed into a deep dive of the vagina (using an endoscopic camera)! Soon to be published in the special issue, ‘Right to Rage: Subjectivity and Activism’ edited by Barbara Zecchi and Diana Fernández Romero, in Teknokultura: Journal of Digital Culture and Social Movements (forthcoming). Final note: I promise to see everything that Dayna McLeod makes (which also goes for everyone else on this list).

Catherine Grant

Freelance film scholar and video essayist

In my opinion, it was an excellent year for video essays and so it was especially hard to make a selection for this poll. I used three parameters in the composition of my list: I had to choose works by different essayists from those for whom I voted in 2022; and my selection could only feature personal favourites in the field of videographic criticism, that is, a specific film, television and screen studies subset of the “video essay”. The videos also needed to be already published and freely available online, which ruled out a lot of great works for which I will undoubtedly be voting next year. I’m betting that 2024 will be an even more excellent year for video essays!

This was the video essay I most enjoyed watching in 2023! It was part of a joint venture inaugurated this year in which I was delighted to participate - The Screen Stars Dictionary, launched by the Spanish audiovisual essay journal TECMERIN in conjunction with video-essay entrepreneur extraordinaire Ariel Avissar, whose own contribution to the dictionary (on Tom Cruise) I also really loved.

An ambitious and highly significant work, published in Movie, that is the perfect match of videographic critical form and content. I am simply in awe of John Gibbs’ audiovisual research and composition here. A great and powerful model for future work on the performativity and facticity of film and television locations.

Fowler’s magnificently inventive video essay on the two television series The Morning Show and I May Destroy You compared the relational technique that each takes to sexual abuse using a ‘feminist videographic diptych’ method. Her video formed part of a brilliant special issue on that method that she proposed, produced and guest edited for [in]Transition, the peer-reviewed journal I co-edit, which was full to the brim with similarly urgent and powerful feminist works using multiscreen and other juxtapositional procedures.

Watching the Rehearsal by Jason Mittell

This was the most original work of those I loved this year, and one I was fortunate to follow the making of while it was in progress. Academic film and TV studies video essays have taken a very performative and embodied turn in recent years, but Mittell characteristically pushes this even further into the realm of extremely ambitious, very entertaining and deeply insightful pastiche. I can’t wait to see where his videographic approaches to televisual reflexivity will take him, and us, next.

A superbly made, genuinely risk-taking work that asks and answers ongoing urgent questions about the circulation of public domain images and films. We were delighted to publish Misek’s work at [in]Transition, where it headed a huge and very strong issue featuring numerous other works I would have loved to select for my best-of-the-year videos had it been a Top Twenty list, rather than a Top Seven one.

Zecchi gets my vote for Video Essayist of the Year for her prolific, always brilliant videographic work. This particular video, published in issue 9(4) of the journal Feminist Media Histories, is extraordinary. As the editor of that journal Jennifer Bean wrote of it in her marvellous introductory essay for the issue of FMH, “[Zecchi’s] voice as well as her embodied, emotive presence on the screen are intrinsic features of a project that deploys videographic tools to sustain what she calls a ‘practice-based counterarchive’ capable of reversing the ongoing ‘dispossession’ of women’s contributions to media history.” Terri Francis’s remarkable 2019 video essay Joséphine Baker Watches Herself is also published in the issue’s exploration of the potential of videographic criticism for feminist media historiographies, alongside powerful new work by Celia Sainz.

Katie Bird’s virtuosic exploration of the affordances of desktop filmmaking to access the sensations of using a physical camera (and its highly original and moving audiovisual maker’s statement) made a magisterial contribution to Kevin B. Lee and Ariel Avissar’s audiovisual essay dossier on the desktop documentary, for the Spring 2023 issue of NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies. The other entries in the dossier were of excellent quality across the board, and I would particularly point to Ritika Kaushik and Brunella Tedesco-Barlocco’s great video essays for the ways in which, like Bird’s, their work points to how screen capture techniques can be harnessed to investigate very important and highly diverse screen studies research questions. 

Maria Hofmann

Film scholar and video essayist; University of Minnesota

Kiss me softly | crackly | sharply by Lucy Fife Donaldson

The combination of visuals and sound in this intriguing video forces the viewer into attention, listening and watching carefully while examining one’s own expectations and intimate reactions to individual moments.

Nebular Epistemics by Alan O’Leary

Incredibly dense on a theoretical level, performatively innovative, and yet still accessible and hilarious — what an accomplishment to combine these elements into a coherent whole and convincing argument.

A dazzling watching experience that masterfully interweaves critical argument with audiovisual spectacle; a prime example of Zecchi’s superior sense of rhythm that permeates all her work.

With Yatci’s piece too, rhythm is what captures my fascination. An examination of the home in Turkish films by female filmmakers takes shape by meandering between different film scenes, tied together by beautifully selected sound.

While I’m a fan of Passion of the Nerd’s entire series on Buffy, the episode on “The Body” weaves together such powerful narratives and meditations on grief and, at the same time, on the effect and personal meaning of media objects and their embeddedness not only in a cultural context but in our own private archives of (media) memories.

The second part of Once upon a Screen Vol 2 (edited by Ariel Avissar and Evelyn Kreutzer) seems to have a much more sombre atmosphere in comparison to Part 1 and features another inspiring array of videos based on other creators’ written screen memories. To me, Avissar’s The 39 Shots, Oswald Iten’s Recreated Memories, and Johannes Binotto’s Down a Dark Spiral stand out in this collection of amazing works.

Oswald Iten

Film scholar, video essayist, animator, PhD researcher

Inventive videographic research about stop motion animation is still rare, but Farzaneh Yazdandoost finds striking images and sounds to draw our attention towards the arbitrary motion of animated fur.

A pamphlet, an act of deliverance, and a moving found (and partly licensed) footage film.

When we see the same film, we each see a different film, especially when that film invites us to inhabit it ourselves. Inge Coolsaet’s refreshingly minimalist take on this idea did the same for me.

The wonderfully muted colour schemes of Technicolor movies have always fascinated me. Thanks to the well-researched video essays (the first one came out the year before) by Lucy Fife Donaldson I am now also aware of one of the creators and proponents behind those concepts.

The Accented Sound of Camp by Barbara Zecchi

Overflowing with ideas and hilarious moments, this personal multi-part investigation of Italian accents in American mainstream cinema feels a lot shorter than it actually is.

The notion of what videographic criticism can do has been constantly challenged for a few years now. Alice Lenay is pushing the boundary further with her fully embodied live video essay performance in which she inserts herself into television footage from the 1996 Olympics, obscuring bodies, revealing camera angles, and the setup’s inherent dissociation.

Delphine Jeanneret

Lecturer at University of Art and Design HEAD – Genève, co-director Festival Cinéma Jeune Public, curator at Locarno Film Festival and Int. Short Film Festival Winterthur

La Maison by Sophie Ballmer

Sophie recounts the renovation of a house inherited by her partner Tarik in the Vallée de Joux. Attracted by the potential, they began by destroying everything. Then it was time to rebuild. To the weight of the rubble cans was added the weight of their families’ dreams and values. With affection and humour, Sophie deconstructs patriarchy, capitalism and inheritance in an attempt to make room for achievable utopias.

Marungka Tjalatjunu (Dipped in Black) by Derik Lynch, Matthew Thorne

The film follows Yankunytjatjara man Derik Lynch’s road trip back to Country for spiritual healing, as memories from his childhood return. A journey from the oppression of white city life in Adelaide, back home to his remote Anangu Community (Aputula) to perform on sacred Inma ground. Inma is a traditional form of storytelling using the visual, verbal, and physical. It is how Anangu Tjukurpa (story connected to country / dreaming / myth / lore) have been passed down for over 60,000+ years from generation to generation.

Æquo by Eloïse Le Gallo, Julia Borderie

The sound of an alphorn echoes in the mountains while glaciers are dripping. Far away, on an oceanographic boat, researchers probe the invisible seabed. Geological bodies of salt and ice emerge from the digital depths of a software. They melt and disintegrate in the hands of scientists. The filmmakers place encounters at the heart of their approach, anchoring their creative process in a poetic approach.

Pacific Club by Valentin Noujaïm

In 1979, the Pacific Club opened in the basement of La Défense, the business district of Paris. It was the first nightclub for Arabs from the suburbs – a parallel world of dance, sweat, young love, and one-night utopias. Azedine, 17 years old at the time, tells us the forgotten story of this club and of this generation who dreamed of integrating into France but who soon came face to face with racism, the AIDS epidemic, and heroin. The film gives visibility to the forgotten, the invisible and reflects on the power dynamics and dominance system within French society. 

Out of the Blue by Morgane Frund

In 2013, an auteur film causes a scandal due to its sex scenes. The filmmaker is 16 and one of the angry viewers. Ten years later, she is ready to settle the score with this film in the form of a video essay. Her film visits ways to tame the ‘male gaze’ and understand her position in a still man-made/thought world.

Tierra de leche by Milton Guillen and Fiona Guy Hall

On New England dairy farms, daily life orbits around the milking parlour. Here, machinery and cows come together as an exploitation mechanism of migrant workers from Central America, consuming their every waking hour and even infiltrating their dreams. The film denounces a terrible reality told in the most poetic and respectful way. 

Radu Jude

Not sure what a video essay is, so my choices might be slightly off-topic.

Mickey Takes Acid by AI Generated Nonsense

It is great, very funny, and not sure a human could find all those weird connections.

TraumaZone by Adam Curtis

I heard many people complaining that Adam Curtis’s essay is simplistic, you cannot express the collapse of the USSR in such a short time etc. Maybe it is so, but it is exactly because of this method that he achieves a kind of poetic truth, if I may say so.

Der Elvis by Joe Moritsugu

It is older, but since I never have heard of it, I consider it new. I heard of this filmmaker because two of his films were freeleech on karagarga. This short essay is ahead of its time and has a punk energy not so easy to find anymore.

Sam Kern

Video essayist and Subaru nomad. Co-moderator of the wonderful Essay Library.

I’ll start my list off strong by fudging the numbers – this video came out in the last months of 2022, and yet Carlos Maza’s work demands a spot in my recommendations. Maza is an online video veteran, previously creating for Vox. His independent work allows him to flex his style: a blend of professionalism that says “this is worth taking seriously and I’ve put in the work” and casualness that says “we’re still going to make a tough topic go down easy.” He tackles some of the most contentious topics affecting our political landscape – this video covers the manufacturing of the “debt crisis” in the minds of the American public. The heart of each video lies in the wrap-up: Carlos has a knack for leaving viewers off with a perfect mix of “this sucks,” and “but I believe in us” and finally, “fuck yeah.”

“Physical pain does not simply resist language but actively destroys it.”

This thought-provoking video is an approachable look at a notoriously repulsive film (which I do not say lightly, as a squeamish viewer myself!). It proposes one lens of interpretation: what if a film like Mad God is our best chance as an audience to experience an articulation of pain through art? If pain is incommunicable through words, what sights and sounds, what deviations from expectation, can bring us into that headspace? This examination of the non-straightforward means through which cinema may operate has bent my brain, and I must recommend that you experience it for yourself.

“Men are of course men and cars are cars but women are also cars.”

In the vein of Women Are Not Objects, but Objects Are Still Women, Max takes us through the special cinematic relationships between a man and his car, a man and his car who is also a woman, and a man and another man and a car which is somewhere nearby. The point: how have we learned to signify masculinity on screen? And how does John Carpenter’s Christine induce horror by perverting those signifiers? A cherry on top: this video is hilarious.

As a bonus, I’ll also recommend their video on Hereditary for its crisp, creative, and playful visual style.

“Hey Josh, you’re white. Who sang Tainted Love? I answered easily and without thought: ‘Soft Cell.’ But a few have offered me a truth that I, in my whiteness, did not know then, but do know now. Soft Cell’s Tainted Love is a cover.”

This is a tale as old as time, and yet even if you think you know this story, this video is a journey worth taking. Josh from The Nukes takes us on a personal musical tour through the many, many hidden (and not so hidden) ways that the music industry has historically catered to white sensibilities. Interesting, frustrating, and relentlessly funny – make sure to read the chapter markers for an extra dose of “this creator is having way too much fun.”

(Another bonus recommendation: Josh’s “Is it Impossible to Dad” is a heartfelt, prescient examination of the gap we attempt to bridge in parenthood – and in all relationships, really. Watch both, enjoy!)

You might’ve noticed that I lean toward thoughtful, exploratory content that pulls you in with a premise, then surprises you with a run of jokes. Well, in that vein, Kendra’s channel has been a fantastic discovery for me this year. Kendra talks about architecture the way I talk about That One Funny Thing My Friend Did That One Time. Her style feels comfy and inclusionary, like you’re both laughing together.

It’s always fun letting someone take you on a journey through their random obsession, and watching all 151 Architectural Digest home tours probably enters “obsession” territory (and yet, one gets the sense that if not for the video, Kendra still would’ve done this anyway). The impression is less “I self-flagellate for content,” and more “let me give you my best takeaways from a task that you will likely never do yourself.” The difference between the two, I realised, is surprisingly important to me!             

This video is a lovely exploration of the importance of personal connection to space, the ability to self-actualise through space, and connection to history through space, which all feel especially prescient to a generation of young adults who have been gatekept from home ownership.

It feels like listening to a guided meditation tape; Kai is, as always, soothing in their delivery, punctuated by perfect music choices and encapsulated within a flawless structure. This is the essay equivalent of sitting back in a field, relaxing, letting ideas wash over you.

Also on the topic of spaces, Maggie explores a trend that may seem like a dream to young people growing increasingly unsure that they will ever be able to afford typical homeownership: off-gridding. Specifically, she calls attention to the way that people discover new lifestyles through the Internet, and whether the people selling that lifestyle are leaving out important details (and why they may be incentivised to do so!).

Following up on her 2022 video on the Netflix show Motel Makeover, this video continues Maggie’s deep dives into the ways in which the lens of “content” turns building and designing spaces into a sales pitch, while unearthing the hidden costs that these shows are not incentivised to reveal.

Miklós Kiss

Trying to have a full grasp on a year’s videographic output is increasingly becoming an impossible effort. This inevitably leads to a highly personal selection (and possibly less overlap among the featured videos – perhaps Kevin B. Lee will figure that out for us), but it’s also great news as it is due to a rapidly expanding videographic scene and community.

Sensuous and Affective by Oswald Iten

From what I’ve seen, this was one of this year’s most eloquent videographic ruminations on the theory and then applied practice of audiovisual t(h)inkering, brilliantly marrying an appeal for the exploratory research method with its explanatory mode of clear presentation.

Mind Autopsy by Johanna Vaude

(One of the) best producer(s) of supercut mashups these days is Johanna Vaude. Fans can watch her treatment of variously similar criminal investigations in Fincher’s oeuvre until we get our 3rd season of Mindhunters.

Sound Before Picture by Cormac Donnelly

I always enjoy it when someone finds an unexplored cinematic niche (in this case the sounds, full with clues and anticipation, leading the movies in before they even begin) and makes the most out of it through engaging audio(!)visual presentation.

Imagine how challenging it would be to argue for the functioning of abstract dynamic patterns as fundamentals for representing a variety of cinematic drama – a challenge Coëgnarts himself is dealing with in his excellent writing. Beyond its inevitable scholarly qualities, this video’s virtue is how simple it makes such (textually) difficult concepts understandable (in videography).

Rain: A Phenomenal Catalogue by Stephen Broomer

Making me want to view the movie they’re studying is one of my (very personal) benchmarks for evaluating the quality of video essays. A 27-minute contemplatively thorough dissection of Joris Ivens’ 12-minute short film Regen [Rain] – that creates an ‘archetypal rainstorm’ out of an 8-month sampling of rainy images – is exactly such a videographic work.

An attentive response, in desktop video form, to the four desktop videos (by Johannes Binotto, Katie Bird, Brunella Tedesco-Barlocco, and Ritika Kaushik – wish I could include all these videos in this best-of selection) that were part of the audiovisual section of the Spring edition of the Necsus journal. It does the work viewers normally do when watching and assessing video essays.

Koker in Fragments by Ardeshir Shirkhani and Arshia Shirkhani

A student project for my videographic criticism class, this little ‘screwmeneutic cinemagraph’ pauses the main action and keeps running the peripheral happenings and sound around it. Such tender intervention is not only a lovely tribute to Kiarostami but in fact a brilliant way of illustrating his characteristic “gentle humanism … that reveals the cosmic majesty and mystery of ordinary life” (The Criterion Collection for Kiarostami’s The Koker Trilogy).

Jaap Kooijman

Associate professor Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam

Natalia Oreiro by Jiří Anger and Veronika Hanáková

Part of the innovative Screen Stars Dictionary series published by Tecmerin, “Natalia Oreiro” by Jiří Anger and Veronika Hanáková stands out in both topic and aesthetics. The essay breaks with the US-dominance in the study of (global) stardom by focusing on a Latin American star who becomes famous in Russia, Israel, and Central-European countries, thereby calling attention to a transnational movement that is not often addressed in star studies. The playful aesthetics of early 2000 digital culture highlights the importance of the internet in this transnational movement between “periphery” and “periphery.

Published in Feminist Media Histories, “Joséphine Baker Watches Herself” by Terri Francis shows the added value of videographic criticism to more conventional academic work. By connecting archival footage of early stage performances by Joséphine Baker to televised interviews with the iconic star in which she looks back and comments on her own star image, provides space for the Baker’s agency and voice within the narrative of her stardom in a way that could not be done so effectively (and affectively) in a written essay.

chaste/unchaste by Maryam Tafakory Published in [in]Transition, “chaste/unchaste” by Maryam Tafakory effectively challenges the binary that is spelled out in the title. Starting with a four-way split screen and a graphic that looks like a target finder from a rifle (or like a measuring rod), the audiovisual essay presents images of women from Iranian cinema, thereby highlighting how they are continuously scrutinised and policed, yet also how they challenge the omnipresent gaze. Using mirroring and repetition, combined by an uncanny soundtrack, the essay forces viewers (at least me) to question their preconceived notions and binary thinking. And what a surprise when the credits reveal that the footage comes from 32 films! As Maria Walsh concludes in her peer-review of the essay: “This is brave work.”

Evelyn Kreutzer

Just like in past years, I want to emphasise that I do not consider this a or my “best of” list but rather a list of video essays from different sub-genres and platforms that I found particularly interesting this year and with which I aim to hint at the breadth of video essay production.

An evocative and very layered meditation on poetry, drama, film and their (cross-)adaptations. A wonderful contribution to the Moving Poems project, which I’m running on Vimeo.

A dense, rich audiovisual analysis of the two Candyman films (1992 and 2021) that delves deeply into the films themselves but at least as much into questions of urban planning, architecture, and racial segregation in Chicago and beyond.

A fascinating analysis of a commonly overlooked type of film labour and performance — extras — that starts and returns to a rich microanalysis and in the meantime provides a thorough historical and conceptual discussion of this form of acting. The video also includes one of the best “plot twists” I’ve seen in video essay work so far!

A highly entertaining and evocative video on contemporary absurdist, dark, “meme-y” comedy that asks questions like “Why are we so weird and sad right now?” and ponders on realisations like “When I’m alone with my thoughts, I’m alone with y’all’s thoughts.”

Another great piece from Binotto’s Practices of Viewing series – one that I referred to as an “anti video essay” when I first saw it.

Hello Dankness by Soda Jerk

An impressive assemblage of excerpts from all kinds of Hollywood films from the past ca. 40 years, sampled into a dark comedic take on the 2016 US elections and the Trump presidency.

An unconventional pick since it’s not a video essay itself but a video about how to make (specifically pitch) video essays but one that I find useful to include here (perhaps as a bonus pick) because it provides insights into the ways in which video essayists produce and monetise their work outside the direct infrastructures of academic institutions.

Occitane Lacurie

Video essayist, critique and researcher in visual culture

Cycles of Labor: In the Metaverse, We Will Be Housewives by Veronika Hanáková, Martin Tremčinský, Jiří Anger

Using interfaces familiar to anyone who grew up in the 2000s and 2010s, the authors reedit a film that recently won the votes of the Sight and Sound Greatest Films of all Times poll: Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman. I really loved how they manage to produce a feminist and environmental analysis of the film using these layouts, subverting our video-essayistic habits (using cinema as a hermeneutic tool) by calling on videogame grammar to study film.

Daryna Mamaisur is a Ukrainian artist and a refugee in Portugal. In her essay, she films closeups of her Portuguese handbooks, finding echoes of dispatches her friend sends her from their country – the dots and shapes of the three-colour printing of the old-fashioned books resemble the low-quality videos. I was fascinated by the way Mamaisur films her hands hovering over her desktop covered by childlike images, and how as soon as the editing flips them, the war and its trauma appears.

The Syrian filmmaker collective Abou Naddara conducted this year a multimedia investigation about an image and a corpse, both hidden underneath layers of French colonial propaganda. The images come from one of the first silent fiction films, The Assassination of General Kléber (Georges Hatot, 1897), depicting the murder of the Napoleonic officer in 1800 by a Syrian student in Egypt. Abou Naddara discovered the remains of the presumed perpetrator, Soleyman El-Halebi, are kept by a French Museum, in its colonial collection and decided to take action: he wrote both a written and a videographic letter to French authorities, asking them to return the body as well as renounce the racist cliché, first printed in visual culture by the 1897 film, of the fanatic Syrian.

This video is part of a series created by the French videaste Usul and Ostpolitik, the “Portraits” telling the stories of central figures of French political history in a critical perspective (the series is published for the online channel Blast, continued by Ostpolitik and another youtuber, Modiie; meanwhile, Usul started another series, “Rhinoceros” about the rightisation of media). Together, they also produced “Ouvrez les guillemets” (“Open the Quotes”) (for the online journal Mediapart) about political news. I wanted to cite one of their works for several reasons. One of them is that I find it very interesting how a video essay can engage with social and political criticism through mediatic images – the way Serge Daney, for instance, used to do it in a textual way in Libération. I also wanted to pay a specific homage to Usul, who for the last ten years, is, in my opinion, the most stimulating political video essayist of the French YouTube landscape and draws me to the art of montage and media criticism with his latest series “Mes chers contemporains” (“Dear Contemporaries”).

I Would Like to Rage by Chloé Galibert-Laîné

Finally and above all, I wanted to mention a piece by Chloé Galibert-Laîné, whose work in general is of crucial importance to me, and whose I Would Like to Rage, in particular, touched me enormously. As I had the chance to tell them, their work navigates brilliantly the tricky art of self-memeification to address gendered and intimate political issues, escaping every trap set by the internalised (patriarchal) injunctions of concealing the “I” and its revolts.

Colleen Laird

Assistant professor of Japanese cinema, The University of British Columbia

With this righteous and riotous very close look at Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise (1991), Dayna McLeod continues to be one of the boldest and bravest new practitioners of the video essay. Constructed in three acts, the piece highlights the interplay between actions and reactions, both in the film and beyond to the discourse surrounding it. The end result, and in particular the resulting ending, is a thought-provoking dive into videographic criticism and film scholarship.

chaste/unchaste by Maryam Tafakory

Every time I watch a piece by Maryam Tafakory, I am overwhelmed by contradictory emotions. “chaste/unchaste,” Tafakory’s contribution to the ‘Feminist Videographic Diptych’ special issue of [in]Transition, is no exception. The use of uncanny repetition and graphic matches is both mesmerising and agitating, familiarising and defamiliarising, grounding and destabilising. And as always, I’m stunned by the quantity of films Tafakory uses to create the illusion of effortless coherent cohesion.

A Tactile Art by Cormac Donnelly

It’s worthwhile to access Cormac Donnelly’s “second iteration of the Super Volume project” on his Deformative Sound Lab website to read about the process of making a video that is very much about process and processing. While Donnelly considers the piece a representation of a tactile art, what haunts me about the video is the juxtaposition of the ephemerality in the piece—both of the transparent layering of the participants’ hands as well as the audio track itself—with the technology at the intersection of the two: the artefact of interaction. I find this work unsettling in the very best of ways.

Cycles of Labour: In the Metaverse, We Will Be Housewives by Veronika Hanáková, Martin Tremčinský, and Jiří Anger

With each collaborative work, I find the dynamic duo of Veronica Hanáková and Jiří Anger increasingly enchanting. I can’t help it; I like their style. I was torn between this video and their entry in Ariel Avissar’s new Screen Stars Dictionary project which has some similar formal conceits, but the tongue-in-cheek nature of reframing Jeanne Dielmann’s daily routine as a “The Sim’s”-esque video game was the deciding factor. All too often, scholarly videographic criticism can feel heavy and bleak, particularly with trends in exploring thematised trauma. Here, along with Martin Tremčinský, Hanáková and Anger make a case for serious fun.

Crochet Is Sick by Alison Peirse

A companion piece to last year’s award-winning and frequent festival feature “Knit One, Stab Two,” here Alison Peirse shifts a feminist lens from the needle to the hook, and from the voice-over to the visualised voice, in this work on the role of crochet in horror. Peirse is developing a distinct videographic style and “Crochet” is a prime example of this aesthetic that takes the video essay (and what we think we know about horror) delightfully and impishly up a notch (or three). Note the original soundtrack created especially for the work.

I Would Like to Rage by Chloé Galibert-Laîné

Currently only available on the festival circuit, Chloé Galibert-Laîné’s most recent work is a deeply personal performance of catharsis years in the making. It is also, thankfully, very funny. The video is an inspiring whirlwind through multiple media objects and platforms, a flurry of failed and forced expressions of rage, that sticks its landing and compels us, once again, to rethink what we know about the potentials of the video essay. Details about forthcoming availability are likely to be found on their website in the future.

I had the pleasure of seeing this video as a work in progress piece at the ‘In the Works: Makings and Unmakings of the Video Essay’ conference held at the Lucerne School of Art and Design at the beginning of November of this year. Even in an unfinished form, it was still one of my favourite videos I encountered this year, as well as one of the most timely. A desktop video in cell phone portrait mode, and perhaps even edited on one, Lacurie’s remarkable production brings together the personal and the political through the act of “doom scrolling” that involves, among other things, an episode of “Xena: Warrior Princess,” the iPhone menstruation application, text messages, online message boards, demonic imaginations of cell phone home screens, website searches, and an online tarot reading. Forthcoming and not soon enough.

Kevin B. Lee

More than ever, the video essays that left their imprint on me were ones which staked a position not only within film and media objects, but in the world at large.

Dreams Have No Titles by Zineb Sedira

When I first saw this at the 2022 Venice Biennale, I didn’t recognise it as videographic, using physically reconstructed movie scenes for what might be called “spatial remix”. Seeing it again this year at the Hamburger Bahnhof, I could appreciate how much care it takes in reconstructing sites of Algerian cinema: not only sets from films set in Algeria, but also spaces where Algerian cinema is screened, preserved and contemplated. The video essay as artistic theme park, in the best sense possible, film history playfully resurrected. (See also: Goddess of Speed, Frederic Moffet)

Pictures of Ghosts by Kleber Mendonça Filho

A deeply personal psychogeographic exploration of film as home, even in the face of a looming societal ruin. Even while keeping within the format of a feature film, it is as expansive as Sedira’s installation, bravely projecting itself into a post-cinematic, post-human finale. (See also: Mast-Del, Maryam Tafakory)

As excellent as — and somehow longer than — the video essay it introduces, it is also a radical new proposition for videographic scholarship. Creator statements are usually written, but instead we have an experimental selfie-video layered with reflections — academic, political, personal — on women’s labour in cinema. (See also: Jill, Uncredited, Anthony Ng)

Watching the Rehearsal by Jason Mittell

A scholarly video essay that pursues its research object so thoroughly that it becomes its mirror reflection, art and life entwined in an inextricable dialogue. (See also: Laterally, Maria Hofmann)

The Accented Sound of Camp by Barbara Zecchi

An inspired series of interrogations of the Italian accent in Hollywood movies as a contested site of cultural identification. This video asks who cinema really speaks for, and in doing so speaks its own truth back into cinema. (See also: Dressed to Kill Cis Hetero Patriarchy, Nicole Morse)

This vlog-style essay brilliantly links two phenomena from the summer — Barbie and the Hollywood strikes — to critique media capitalism’s insidious strategies for possessing and exploiting the cultural imaginary. (See also: A History of the World According to Getty Images by Richard Misek)

Among the video essays occupied with audiovisual form, I especially admire Geller’s vast research and deft navigation through the surprising spatial environments found in video games. (See also: Sensuous and Affective by Oswald Iten)

Adrian Martin

In this list, I have tried to avoid simply listing my friends, and instead tried to cover a little of the diversity of audiovisual essay venues existing today.

Performance: Divine Horror by Kryštof Kočtář and Matouš Vad’ura

Puts the destruct in deconstruction.

The Mechanics of Fluids by Gala Hernández López

A deep dive into online incel culture.

An inspired assemblage of awkward moments in a live-but-not-living world.

Searching for Incognita by Johanna Vaude

Another stunning work by this master of the form: the motif of ‘adventuring’ in film, deftly gathered and revealed.

An extended, thoughtful reflection on ‘metamodernism’ in recent popular cinema.

Mortimer illuminatingly relates her own filmmaking work to that of other women, films in which ‘spectrality’ is hauntingly tied to historic, socio-political traumas.

Nash, among Australia’s greatest artists, would probably prefer this to be known as a film, but it has a special relation to the audiovisual essay: a montage from her previous works, it forms a powerful, urgent poem for our times.

Daniel Mcilwraith

Video essayist, filmmaker

A beautifully crafted video. It got me lost in the images of Costa’s films all over again.

Sound Before Picture by Cormac Donnelly

Great concept, better execution. A very satisfying watch and listen.

Kiss me softly | crackly | sharply by Lucy Fife Donaldson

Takes me back to my days in foley classes. Brought a smile to my face watching and the odd grimace.

Dayna McLeod

Queer performance-based media artist

chaste/unchaste by Maryam Tafakory

What an incredible video essay! This enthralling and meticulously edited piece uses a binary of chaste vs. unchaste to collapse in on itself as a gendered structure of representation in Iranian cinema. Tafakory uses repetition and juxtaposition to emphasise this undoing and mirrors clips of women in grids of four where they are (now) engaged with each other onscreen. She overlays certain clips, which seep into and onto each other as a form of touching, as if to queer the materiality of these clips as well as the newly formed relationships she has created through her editing.

Xena’s Body: A Menstrual Auto-Investigation Using an iPhone by Occitane Lacurie

A masterful and hypnotic piece that is seemingly edited on a smartphone that simultaneously demonstrates the source materials and inspiration for the work, while showing the methods and thinking of its construction. Lacurie takes us on an expansive menstruation journey that is personal and political—navigating apps, memes, video clips, and a tarot card reading through the analysis of a fatal penetrative wound on Xena Warrior Princess’s body. A mesmerising video essay from, In the Works: Makings and Unmakings of the Video Essay, Lucerne School of Art and Design, Switzerland. See Lacurie’s other work: https://vimeo.com/lacurieo

I Would Like to Rage by Chloé Galibert-Laîné

A video essay with an ending you can dance to, I Would Like to Rage is smart, tender, and funny. Galibert-Laîné’s thorough and thoughtful practice is fully on display as they take us through various machinations of online and mediatised rage, its performativity, expression, and ownership, and how they experience or rather, attempt to experience rage authentically. A triumph of intelligent vulnerability expressed through an assemblage of self-reflection, video clips, memes, gifs, and Leslie Knope homages, this endearing delight of a video essay is surely coming to a film festival near you.

Kiss me softly | crackly | sharply by Lucy Fife Donaldson

An impeccable experimental video essay that exaggerates and emphasises the uncanny through foley and feminist intervention. Fife Donaldson aptly mixes and amplifies the sharp edges of ASMR sound artist Julie Rose Bower’s work by replacing the soundtrack for the knife scene in Kiss Me Deadly. Switchblades pop and fist punches snap and crack onscreen through Fife Donaldson’s use of this unique collection of sound, and her use of visual repetition and slow motion. I am particularly drawn to how she lingers on sound during a slow motion shot of the would-be attacker’s descent to the ground as he slides down a wall after the attempted knife fight.

Practices of Viewing: Ending by Johannes Binotto

A gong repeatedly sounds as ‘The End’ title text from a variety of films are shown onscreen in several languages. We hear a tapping—a soft clicking that is perhaps his keyboard, our viewership guided by his hand. The way that Binotto has arranged these endings and silenced their corresponding soundtracks are filled with loss as they each mark an ending to a specific film as well as the end of his incredible Practices of Viewing series. Binotto cites Roland Barthes while seemingly articulating his own work ethic: “writing as absolute brings with it a particular existential movement: the drive to finish the work in order to start again”. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Using Evelyn Kreutzer’s Moving Poems prompt that asks makers to pair a poem with a media object, moving poems: a raisin in the sun (1961) is a poignant and poetic work that capitalises on affecting performances from the 1961 film adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun. De Jesús engages Langston Hughes’s short poem Harlem in onscreen text while expertly and artfully using opacity, repetition, movement, dialogue, and match cuts to sound in this stunning and layered poetic video essay.

A sublime supercut of every time the title character of Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles turns on and off the lights. Noall jumpcuts us through each of the rooms of this film and the quiet bland domesticity of house and sex work with this simple task. Only fans of this iconic film will recognise the importance of Noall’s final shot where Jeanne turns off the light of the kitchen while firmly grasping her silver scissors and shutting the door behind her with a thud.

Queline Meadows

Video essayist (as kikikrazed) and community manager for The Essay Library

Kirby Ferguson has revisited this project multiple times since it debuted in 2010, remixing his own work to create new iterations. The 2023 edition, described as “the definitive Everything is a Remix experience” by Ferguson, includes a new part about AI art, also released individually in 2023. Unfortunately, the video currently sits at under 100,000 views on YouTube due to unjust copyright claims that contradict fair use and the remix philosophy.

The PS1 Start-up Tells a Story by Dennis Gallagher

Gallagher’s 40-second essay (really only 30 seconds if you forget the credits) is a perfect example of a video essay with zero fluff. He narrates alongside the PlayStation startup sequence, guiding us through it with a sense of awe. The fantastic digital portal metaphor doesn’t overstay its welcome in this bite-sized treat.

Four-Byte Burger by Stuart Brown (Ahoy)

Brown documents his faithful recreation of his favourite piece of Amiga art, Jack Haeger’s Four-Byte Burger. In the process, he reveals how technological constraints can foster creativity. His passion and personal investment in the original artwork is clear throughout this journey.

Custodio explores the production of The Wizard of Oz through each of its four directors, balancing substantial research with personal evaluations of their filmographies. In my own video essay work, Be Kind Rewind is one of my biggest inspirations. Every video amazes me with the sheer knowledge and passion for film on display. This essay is no different as it juggles the interconnected careers of actors, producers, and directors within the studio system at the time.

Some video essays that rely on literature to examine a film can become too text-heavy, but this essay never feels like that. DeLisio’s careful narration and textured sound design allows him to speak with the film instead of over it. This intelligent, well-edited video cements James DeLisio’s status as one of the most exciting emerging video essayists.

Carlos Natálio

Film teacher and researcher at Escola das Artes in Católica University (O Porto); film programmer at IndieLisboa Film Festival; film critic at À pala de Walsh website.

Exotic Words Drifted by Sandro Aguilar

At the edge of the word lies silence, hesitation. On the other side of colour, there are bright colours, gray, black and white. This is a film that sits on the other side of the mirror and takes us through the tense and enigmatic reverse side of classic cinema. In Aguilar’s audiovisual essay, everything floats, expectantly, waiting to happen, inaugurating a new order, like a tense relationship between day and night, between the negative and the positive of a film stock.

Audiovisual essays are tools to unlock the imaginary and highlight possible paths and barriers. Misek’s work invites us to understand the struggles to show and hide images in contemporary digital agoras, where public versus private ownership is at stake in order to disseminate controlled versions of history.

Réseau des sens by Mirjam Leutwiler

For each contact, each touch there is a split “I”, a network of sensation. Mirjam Leutwiler’s short audiovisual essay is not only interpreting Michel Serre’s text “The Five Senses. A Philosophy of Mingled Bodies”, but also telling us how that network about touching and feeling is underway in the cinematic phenomenology.

Kinoapparatum Remade. A Videographic Montage Experiment. by Johannes Binotto, Maurice Dietziker, Linus Bolliger, Arseni Gavrilov, Kilian Frei, Andrina Moos, Cécile Brossard, Sven Friedli, Mirjam Leutwiler, Jana Schlegel, Melina Hofer, Anja Hubmann, Fynn Groeber, Nora Gruetter.

Kinoapparatum Remade is not only an homage to Vertov, Kaufman and Svilova’s seminal film Man with a Movie Camera. And also not only a reflection on Manovich’s ideas on the film regarding new media. It is all of this but it is also a collective collaborative effort in which we can see that recreation it also followed by actualisation, complementation and creative choices based on movement and form. And these particular choices of the “collective with the moving images” tells us that it is not only a question of past versus incoming future when we look at 1929’s masterpiece.

Digravio’s original audiovisual essay may work against the idea of perfection and neatness as a possible disguised style. But it is also an exposition of the work involved in the audiovisual essay. In this sense, it enters a loop, a mise-en-abîme where a “meta worker” develops a similar “meta mirror” to better highlight the nature of what is involved when reworking the images and sounds of a film. 

Clare O’Gara

Media and cultural studies graduate student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison

Another long-form triumph from the creator of Line Goes Up – The Problem with NTFs and In Search of a Flat Earth.

Searching for Humanity in Fortnite’s Battle Royale by Jonathan McIntosh (Pop Culture Detective)

A fusion between a “Let’s Play” and a conventional YouTube video essay, this moving autoethnography finds optimism and community in one of the most unlikely online gaming spaces.

Alexandre’s cleverly profound work on gender, sexuality, art, and digital culture never disappoints. Everything Is Sludge, which interrogates the rise of split-screen “sludge content” on TikTok, is yet another home run, and takes particular advantage of the traditional YouTube format. 

Alan O’Leary

Associate professor of film and media in digital contexts at Aarhus University, Denmark; visiting researcher in the Centre for World Cinemas and Digital Cultures, University of Leeds, UK; author of Workshop of Potential Scholarship: Manifesto for a Parametric Videographic Criticism, NECSUS 2021.

There has been so much exciting work to learn from in 2023 that I found it near-impossible to make this selection, even limiting myself (as I have) to ‘scholarly’ video essays. Let me name some makers in addition to the many mentioned below that have impacted my understanding of the practice this year: Ariane Hudelet, Cormac Donnelly, Dayna McLeod, Irina Trocan, Jemma Saunders, John Gibbs, Kevin Ferguson, Liz Greene, Maria Hofmann, Maud Ceuterick, Oswald Iten, Richard Misek, Susan Harewood… My point with this list, which could have been indefinitely extended, is that investigating the possibilities of the video essay is a collective endeavour. Brian Eno has a notion of collective ‘scenius’ (as opposed to individual ‘genius’) which refers to “the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene”: it’s this boisterous collective intelligence that I think we’re witnessing with the explosion of the video essay. Can it last? I do worry that the period of expansion, exploration and experimentation will exhaust itself, and that a single preferred mode of audiovisual rhetoric will be asserted or be insisted upon by the journals. I’m relieved this hasn’t happened yet, not in 2023 at any rate. And so my selection (which could easily have been several further sets of seven videos) is intended to indicate some of the striking variety, as well as the quality, of the work being done.

Memories of It by Kathleen Loock

‘Memories of It’ mixes film, trailer and documentary footage with personal reflection and interview in order to tease out Kathleen Loock’s traumatic memory of watching (and fast-forwarding) the 1990 adaptation of It on VHS as a child. She links this memory with the condition of the Wendekinder, children like her of the former GDR forced to cope with a new world after German reunification. Does Kathleen over-sociologise her act of retrospectatorship by invoking shared generational experience? Is the video an attempt to contain as well as explain the threat of traumatic eruption? I’ll just have to watch ‘it’ again…

Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime by Drew Morton

Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland is my favourite novel and one joy of my 2023 was encountering Peter Coviello’s Vineland Reread, a book that mixes literary criticism, cultural theory and autobiography to evoke the presence of Vineland in Coviello’s life and teaching. Drew Morton’s account of re-viewing and teaching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind at intervals since that film’s release is a similarly rich and joyful intellectual experience – Drew even shares some hard-earned lessons in love. (I recommend comparing the earlier version of the video linked in the creator statement, to see how an adept maker engages with challenging peer review.)

Desktop Documentary by Johannes Binotto

Johannes Binotto’s literally/ironically titled ‘Desktop Documentary’ is expressly a “call to clutter”. As such, it makes me terribly anxious. But this is a brilliantly conceived and engagingly performed piece of explicatory and programmatic rhetoric that draws on YouTube how-to videos even as it nods to the opening of Cléo de 5 à 7. I am happy to grant Binotto’s fiction that his desk has not been curated because I am persuaded by his account of the desktop as recalcitrant technology. And I am especially seduced by his call for productive accident and a-rational research methods that look back to surrealism.

True Enough by Chloé Galibert-Laîné

True Enough might seem a jeu d’esprit compared to Chloé Galibert-Laîné’s longer video essays. But even as it draws on the functional aesthetic of the karaoke video, this adaptation of a text by Will Webb, made for Ariel Avissar and Evelyn Kreutzer’s Once upon A Screen project, is a work of great refinement. Galibert-Laîné creates a “fictional offscreen space” with beautifully composed filmed footage enlivened by dancing light from an unseen television. The cheerful font and sung accompaniment extend the possibilities of onscreen text and voiceover. As an added bonus (or intrinsic moment), it contains the best Simpsons allusion ever.

chaste/unchaste by Maryam Tafakory

This has been a vintage year for multiscreen. Like the videos by Mittell and Arlander discussed below, Colleen Laird’s Eye-Camera-Ninagawa and Adam Cook’s A Cinema of Bodily Sense deploy multiscreen in powerful but contrasting ways. Maryam Tafakory uses it differently again in ‘chaste/unchaste’. The video is a supercut of female faces (plus one big cat and a gas hob) made from thirty-two Iranian films. It stages its imagining of queer desire as a progression from multiscreen to single screen to superimposition. ‘chaste/unchaste’ is a condensed masterclass in how argument can be made in formal terms without the aid of voiceover.

To celebrate its twentieth anniversary, the Danish film journal 16:9 has been publishing 169-second video essays in a series that features makers like Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin, Jaap Kooijman, Catherine Grant, and Barbara Zecchi, with two impressive videos by my Aarhus colleague Mathias Bonde Korsgaard. My favourite is Jason Mittell’s cheeky afterthought to his videographic project on Breaking Bad (it traces Walter White’s story arc through his hairstyles). I like how the application of strict but ludic formal parameters, which Mittell derives from the journal name and video duration, generate a cryptic visual tapestry of the entire series.

Revisiting the Aspen Tree by Annette Arlander

Between 2002 and 2014, artist Annette Arlander recorded weekly visits to locations on Harakka Island near Helsinki in a series of videos. In Revisiting the Aspen Tree, she returns to one such site and embeds those videos in the video document of the more recent visit. Differently from Mittell’s Trimming Time, Arlander uses parameters to dictate a practice that is physical, repetitive and durational. But it reminds me of Will DiGravio’s Rio Bravo project, and like DiGravio’s four-hour Against Polish, it suggests the value of an ‘ambient’ scholarship, in which iterative academic labour is presented in something like real time.

Michael O’Neill Burns

Host and producer at Wisecrack

My selections focus on creators who are pushing the critical boundaries of the video essay format. In particular, these are creators who both utilise critical theory, social theory, and philosophy while also producing videos that are entertaining and accessible. They also make the types of videos that leave you feeling like more questions have been opened than answered. Which, especially on YouTube, is an increasingly rare thing.

This video might be Nicholas’s magnum opus, and it feels more like a digital documentary than it does a traditional video essay with a runtime of almost two hours. But he earns every minute of the video by not only exploring the growing phenomenon of digital grifters, but by showing how the logic of grifters exists in an ongoing dialectical relationship with the larger economic structures in our world. In this way he arrives at the logical core of the modern digital grifter, and shows how this same logic is at the heart of much of modern culture. He balances this out by also exploring the psychological factors that have made grifter scams and content so popular. Nicholas also deserves credit for working a level of theatricality into this video (and all of his videos) that’s visually engaging without being distracting. In a world of sad ex-grad students making videos about capitalism ruining our world, Nicholas is the relatable and entertaining lad that takes you just as deep without any performative nihilism.

2023 was a banner year for content made by reactionary young men utilising various philosophical and political ideas to justify a sense of growing alienation. While it’s easy to dismiss this contingent of creators completely, the harder task is to engage with these trends, openly interrogating their ideological core. And this video does an exemplary job at this task, taking red pill philosophy to task, and in the process, exposing how it offers a shallow simulacrum of actual philosophical responses to complex social problems. The video acknowledges the alienating cultural conditions that produce the “manosphere” while exposing the illogical core at the heart of these ideas. In doing so, Then & Now has created a video that pushes the viewer to not simply dismiss the modern reactionary, but to understand the logic of this movement, and see how this manner of thinking is more common than we might realise. Ultimately, it’s a video that skillfully uses seemingly esoteric and academic ideas to re-frame the contemporary crisis of masculinity while showing us all why we should care.

the parasite class is killing us. by Alice Capelle

In this video, Alice Capelle uses the logic of vampire capitalism to show how the modern digital economy increasingly depends on acts of parasitism. She shows how the type of parasitic class relationships exemplified in Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is replicated in digital spaces, and in particular, among self-styled business gurus using YouTube videos as a way to repeat the logic of class exploitation in the guise of self-help and business advice. Like most of Capelle’s work, this video utilises her ability to synthesise a French brand of critical social theory with an English-language based digital cultural space. This video feels like a sort of ethnography of the contemporary digital parasite, one that both exposes the exploitative core of their content, while hopefully encouraging us to undermine this logic however we can.

Julian Ross

Assistant professor, Leiden University, and film programmer

Ross’s recommendations were submitted without comment.

El juicio by Ulises de la Orden

Dau:añcut // Moving Along Image by Adam Piron

Silence of Reason by Kumjana Novakova

Mast-del by Maryam Tafakory

Limitation by Elene Asatiani, Soso Dumbadze

Still Film by James N. Kienitz Wilkins

José Sarmiento Hinojosa

Film critic and curator of The Moving Image from Lima, Perú

This year has been particularly scarce in terms of what I’ve seen or experienced in cinema due to various reasons. But here is a small selection of works I deem worthy to be mentioned, all from the fantastic [in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film & Moving Image Studies.

chaste/unchaste by Maryam Tafakory

A magnificent view on the dual nature of the portrayal of women in Iranian cinema.

GeoMarkr by Chloé Galibert-Laîné and Guillaume Grandjean

Through the spirit of Chris Marker, this playful video essay runs the gamut of exploration via the Geo Guesser application and Marker’s cinema.

“Visual capitalism.”

Jemma Saunders

Audio-Visual PhD student at University of Birmingham

Elegantly simple in their conception and execution; and cumulatively damning.

I listened and I learned. A truly audio-visual piece.

An extensively researched and engaging exploration of this fictional city’s screen history.

A fascinating, haptic, personal inquiry that I couldn’t stop thinking about afterwards.

Indy Vinyl for the Masses: Lollipop by Ariel Avissar (curator) Matt Payne, Mingyue Yuan and Charlotte Scurlock

Pure fun and a wonderfully cohesive melding of song, theme (walking) and chosen keyword (kids). Hats off to Ian Garwood too for conceiving this project!

Dan Schindel

I was flabbergasted last year when I somehow missed Mark Brown’s Platformer Toolkit, which I’m noting here because I think it absolutely represents a vital step forward for this art. I hope to see more work in interactive essays in the future.

Plenty of essays are about specific issues. This one manages to also embody its own ethos by acting as a conduit to get good-quality public domain imagery into the actual public.

I Would Like to Rage by Chloé Galibert-Laîné

A great rumination on acceptable expressions of anger, mediated through the desktop form in the same way that our emotions are mediated through technology.

I think at this point Jon Bois just has a permanent spot in my ballot each year. He continues to innovate and refine his form. No one is making documentaries like this.

Pictures of Ghosts by Kleber Mendonça Filho et al

A beautiful meditation on memory as channeled through both personal and public archives, and the relationship between cinema spaces and their communities.

chaste/unchaste by Maryam Tafakory

Brilliant in its simplicity, a Rorschach test that reveals the underlying absurdity of its own premise, and in turn the entire premise of censorious morality.

Ben Spatz

Nonbinary scholar-practitioner working at the intersections of artistic research and critical theories of embodiment and identity; reader in media and performance at University of Huddersfield; founding editor of Journal of Embodied Research.

I am a performance theorist and practitioner who has been working for several years to educate myself in the ways of videographic thought. My selection is eclectic and formally diverse, mostly coming from outside film and media studies.

Peribiophoty by Tom Murray, Karen Pearlman, Stephanie Russo, Hsu-Ming Teo, Rowan Tulloch, Rachel Yuen-Collingridge, Malcolm Choat

This item is from the journal I edit. I chose it from our 2023 video articles because of how it uses a formally simple concept to stage a deep dive into a range of scholarly projects. This is a co-authored video article sharing the research of five academics, who not only speak to the camera about their work but also interact physically with various objects on a sparse kind of set. It is elegantly produced and designed to examine “the personal and intellectual contexts (peri) surrounding academics and their biographies (bio) through audio-visual representation (photy).”

This film is technically from 2022 (I don’t know which month), but since this is my first Sight and Sound poll, I have decided to include it. As far as I can tell, it has primarily been screened in 2023. In the film, scholar Ariella Aïsha Azoulay explores the complex history of colonialism between Algeria and Israel, with an emphasis on the gradual erasure of the important figure of the Arab Jew. Azoulay manages to put this history in the broader context of European colonialism in Africa and to interrogate the ongoing practices of colonial museums, all through the simple action of touching and talking about a wide array of books, photographs, mezuzot, and other objects on her desk. When I first saw this film, I immediately felt that it brings an extraordinary depth and power to the concept of the “desktop documentary.”

Familiar Phantoms by Larissa Sansour and Søren Lind

I have to confess that I have not seen this film, only the trailer. I recently got a chance to see In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain (2016) and In Vitro (2019) by the same creators. One of the challenges in selecting the “best” video essays from a given year is that so much videographic thought still takes place within the economy of fine arts and is therefore not made available online because it would thereby lose its aura. Larissa Sansour is a Palestinian video artist and filmmaker whose work is powerfully situated and discussed in Gil Z. Hochberg’s book, Becoming Palestine. I am including Familiar Phantoms on my list of selections as the 2023 video work I most wish to see.

I have been able to find very little about Pouria Kazemi online and nothing about this film, which I had the chance to watch when it was submitted to a video festival I co-curated. This short animated video essay is a perfectly composed, brilliantly understated autobiographical statement about the necessity of petty theft under late capitalism. Among the more delightful and poignant touches is that the author’s friends, to protect their anonymity, are given as pseudonyms the names of the Norwegian royal family.

Hold On, This Matilda Musical Snapping was a TikTok / Instagram trend in which a scene of dynamic choreography from the movie version of the musical Matilda is overlaid by various alternative musical tracks. While putting forward a 25-second social media remix as one of the best video essays of the year is certainly pushing the limits of the form, all the key elements are there: a creative and incisive juxtaposition of a video track with a distinct audio track is contextualised by the critical commentary of a textual annotation. The version I have chosen to link uses @wonder_kidd’s remix of Beyonce’s ‘Cuff It’, a choice that (as many of the Instagram commenters noted) effectively brings out the black cultural roots of Ellen Kane’s choreography, in sharp relief against the massively predominant whiteness of the British schoolchildren who perform it. In just a few seconds, this remix gives us both a snapping new version of Matilda and a cultural critique of how black dance knowledges circulate in predominantly white cultural fields.

Shannon Strucci

Video essayist at StrucciMovies, actual play host on Oddity Roadshow

Ro Ramdin’s work is incredible. Always sharply written, insightful, very funny, beautifully shot, and deeply thoughtful under the meticulous aesthetic and entertaining editing style. She’s one of those essayists I am more than happy to watch even if I have zero interest in the subject matter. I chose this video of hers in particular because I found her reflection on her place in the commentary channel ecosystem navigating the “algorithmic nightmare” of YouTube (as she puts it) especially compelling.

Ethan Chlebowski has made several videos posing the question of whether more expensive versions of the same ingredient are worth it and why, including on balsamic vinegar, olive oil, parmigiano reggiano, vanilla, and, here, garlic. Each video is a deep dive on the cultural history of how the food is used and why, the basics of the culinary science behind it, and Chlebowski doing several taste tests and then giving recommendations at varying price points. While some of his conclusions are down to personal preference, his videos are nevertheless fascinating and done without judgement or pretension. I’d consider them a must-watch for new home cooks or those looking for a great example of engaging educational content that doesn’t condescend.

I started a Neopets account in elementary school, over twenty years ago. My interest in Neopets or other pet sim sites has long since waned but I’m still fascinated by the work of Pet Simmer Julie, who crafts in-depth videos on virtual pet games. Her depth of knowledge and passion for these games and communities is immediately evident with any of her videos. This video, for example, helped me understand my own problems navigating real-world attractions that had poor wayfinding, and I’ve thought back to it many times after watching.

Scout Tafoya

Filmmaker, author, video essayist, critic

A perfect capper to Johannes’ indispensable series

Daniel finally makes his epic, a great odyssey about why we get lost in movies.

With the insouciance of late Godard or Leos Carax’s New Order music video, Will disassembles our need to assemble.

Ozu Without Ozu by Green and Red

Deliciously busy exploration of auteurism.

A recontextualisation of what’s in plain sight.

Terence and co’s vibrant and deeply necessary attack on commerce and media’s hideous parasitic relationship is an inspiration to all creators. One of the best to ever do it.

Max Tohline

Independent scholar, video essayist

Practices of Viewing by Johannes Binotto

I remember where I was, shaking my head, beaming, and stifling a gasp, when I realised that Practices of Viewing is our generation’s Ways of Seeing or Histoire(s) du Cinema. A project of this scope, originality, insight and depth of audiovisual thinking may never happen again.

Jill, Uncredited by Anthony Ing

The log line says it’s a subtle, masterful tribute to the nearly-invisible labour of a background actress you’ve never heard of. But really, it’s a ground-up retraining of your whole visual cortex. Squint between the film grains, and you might even find a remake of Rose Hobart that outdoes Cornell.

I’ve been meaning to include a mathematics video essay for years, and this one’s a revelation. A horror film starring an AI image generator lost in its own vector space, trying to remember enough matrix algebra to escape from the ‘dream’ of a grotesque face that it can’t stop making.

Full disclosure: I was a participant in the group project that this essay belongs to, but I had nothing to do with this inspired entry. Unfortunately. I’m so jealous that I never realised that a video essay could parody other genres – in this case, the infomercial – to enclose its insights into an envelope of fleet-footed wit that belies their depth.

Elaine Scarry says pain can’t be expressed in words, but this essay claims that Phil Tippett’s film Mad God offers a counter-argument: maybe using a different system of signification CAN express pain. Magnificently, this essay doesn’t assume that scholars have more authority than artists, and opts instead to orchestrate a coequal conversation between two of them.

A time-capsule doc from 1967 resurfaces recut online and inspires a bevy of reaction videos. Why’d that happen? If we can’t explain why, maybe we can at least reproduce the effect, but with all the tools out in the open. And that’s what this essay does. After a forensics of the recut itself and a cataloguing of the reactions, a little zoom and slow motion unexpectedly imbue me with the same fascination with wonder and impermanence for contemporary online culture.

This is ground zero of visual culture now, and most of us are either too tired to catch up or hoping it’ll just go away. If you don’t know where to turn, turn here. It’s rigorously researched, historically grounded, theoretically canny, sardonically wise, and as quotable as Casablanca. “We need to choose between building a world for money to live in or building a world for people to live in.”

Irina Trocan

Freelance film critic, film studies lecturer at UNATC Bucharest

In retrospect, I seem to have compiled a mostly glum list, if not directly referring to contemporary events, at least haunted by them:

Scenes of Extraction by Sanaz Sohrabi

This installation work surveys the history of Iran over several decades, focusing on oil extraction by the foreign company soon to be known as British Petroleum, through a technique called reflection seismography. The challenge, of course, as postcolonial scholarship taught us, is to look beyond the audiovisual self-representation of the company – and the artist accomplishes this extraordinarily well. A voiceover accompanies a collage/montage documenting industrial processes, while the collage in itself operates on the images – which sometimes look like spectral cutouts – workers disconnected from the background, initially black, that slowly takes shape behind them), while at other times these images show their age (for instance, when 1930s maps are juxtaposed with recent CGI).

Between Revolutions by Vlad Petri

Films about revolutions often – and quite paradoxically – treat the event like a solidly contained point on the historical axis, with a beginning and an end, missing exactly their transformative potential and their collective character. One way to avoid this is to resort to the not-entirely-manipulable archives from the depicted era (and not just in short clips to lend the veneer of truth to fictional reenactments), and Between Revolutions is a pretty convincing demonstration of this strategy. Maria and Zahra are fictional med students from Romania and Iran, trying to figure out life amid social turmoil – but the footage, poems and songs that illustrate their journey existed in the world long before the making of this film, and even when made with obvious artistic or educational intent (not to mention elaborate choreography!), these reworked materials contain some trace or emotional truth of their times.

This Is the End by Vincent Dieutre

By the most expansive definition a “videographic” work, Dieutre’s Los Angeles pandemic film has, I would argue, a family resemblance with Thom Andersen’s survey of polysemic Californian cityscapes. Love, longing and poetry readings (with actors’/directors’ cameos!) interrupt the grim silence of lockdown.

I reviewed this short film for Kortfilm.be.

Incident by Bill Morrison

Bill Morrison is known to be interested in film only when it is analogue and beautifully degraded, and in this respect the CCTV/bodycam-sourced Incident is a long distance from Buried News. The killing of Harith Augustus by the Chicago police was previously examined by Forensic Architecture to persuasively oppose the authorities’ version of the event, but Morrison and Jamie Kalven at the Invisible Institute set out to do something else. The 30-minute film, often showing in split-screen multiple angles and parallel events, only tracks a short span of time, although 1) it seems dispiritingly endless and 2) it already anticipates the community’s reaction to seeing yet another African American killed, while the policemen, in an onlooker’s phrasing, “get their story straight”. Augustus’s lifeless body is present in the frame for a long stretch of the runtime, contrary to the CPD’s attempt to erase the “accident” from memory, while the eloquent rage of everyone in the community seems tragically rehearsed in similar prior events. The victim’s neighbours don’t get to express solidarity, but the colleagues of the policemen who fired the gun can, and do, help erase criminal guilt.

Makeover Movie by Sue Ding

You’d think this is the second-oldest topic in the feminist book (immediately after suffrage), but makeovers seem here to stay. Just look at what the too-radical teen in Barbie has to go through, or scroll down any social media app on a new account. Luckily, well-informed critiques, spanning many decades of US films, and listing all the problematic tropes implicit in the “makeover” are also competing for our attention. I can only hope that more young spectators see “The Makeover Movie”, where Sue Ding conjures a multiracial telephone slumber party with her girlfriends to understand how these films taught them “not only how to be a woman, but also how to be American”. Teen classics provide most material, but a handful of musicals plus Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale and Vertigo also fit the bill.

Screen Stars Dictionary. Natalia Oreiro by Jiří Anger and Veronika Hanáková

I grew up with Natalia Oreiro in her many disguises on my TV screen only to realise that nobody referred to her in the many pop surveys of Film and Media Studies. Therefore, I owe Veronika and Jiří many thanks and a loud high-five for allowing me to mention her again as a media scholar in my 30s. Autobiography aside, this playful video is a throwback to 2000s TV series, music clips and shows, computer interfaces, and a persuasive argument about how the model-periphery theory of dissemination is a far from rigorous model.

Ilinca Vânău

Where Is Little Trixie? by Carlos Baixauli

A very moving work that packs a lot of wonder and attentive detail in under four minutes, building a bridge between the works of two women filmmakers more than a century apart.

It points the way to new possible intersections between philosophy, film research, and video essay formats.

Packs surprise and captivating visuals into a video essay able to pleasurably unpack original academic and archival research.

Ricardo Vieira Lisboa

Film critic (À pala de Walsh) and film programmer (Cinemateca Portuguesa, IndieLisboaIFF)

Still Film by James N. Kienitz Wilkins

The latest film by James N. Kienitz Wilkins is an intriguing and exhausting audio play voiced by the director, who plays the four main characters in a court inquiry about film memories, film still photographers, Kodak as a pharmaceutical enterprise, the negative aura of Tom Hanks, boom operators, and the elusiveness of Hollywood as a cultural agent. All of this is put together with a seemingly random selection of film stills. As usual, in Kienitz Wilkins’ work, discourse is moving and images are ecstatic.

Le film que vous allez voir by Maxime Martinot

Maxime Martinot’s 11-minute film is an immensely funny compilation of disclaimer cards presented at the beginning of films throughout history. Edited as a frantic accumulation of non-images, we expect the worst and suffer the anticipation of immoral, violent, or graphic images. Without the images themselves, we are left with an essay on morality and sensibility as they evolve through time and shape the way we see the world around us and ourselves.

A 20-minute meditation by the greatest living filmmaker on back pain, the pleasure of sitting, the beauty of chairs and how to paint them.

Chambre 999 by Lubna Playoust

A conceptual remake of Wim Wenders’ Chambre 666, made 40 years later. Cinema has changed, and today’s issues concerning viewership, distribution, and production are radically different from those of 1982. An uneven collection of thoughts that includes a wonderful opening act by Wenders himself as a burlesque doomsday prophet.

From a few minutes of film, shot in 1913, Leonor Areal loops, zooms, pans, and examines every detail (as in Ken Jacobs’ Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son), looking for the poet Fernando Pessoa, who was a cinephile, designed the logo of a movie company, wrote several film scripts, and was never caught on film. Or was he?

Mast-del by Maryam Tafakory

Even if Godard is dead, he lives in Maryam Tafakory. Mast-del is a collage of post-revolution Iranian cinema that produces mesmerising film compositions of gestures, textures, sounds, and words. A thin narrative line runs through public images and intimate feelings, delineating a complex web of recollections where memory and film history merge together.

Will Webb

Filmmaker, video essayist. Commissions include Sight and Sound / BFI, Little White Lies, Curzon and Arrow.

As ever, excited to see constant variety within the video essay world. My picks prioritise new creators and formal inventiveness.

A masterpiece of recapping, Power Pak’s video is essentially a narrated journey through an ingenious mod. A good recap doesn’t just communicate plot, but also the point of the essay; this does both. Excellent pacing and vocal delivery communicates the tone of the map, and becomes a jumping off point for an analysis of horror in gaming / the oft-discussed topic of liminal spaces. And, a special shoutout to an almost unedited six-minute segment of black and silence in the middle. Commitment to the bit!

Interrogating one of the strangest releases of last year, this essay takes on the unenviable task of articulating how the film articulates the inarticulable (via Elaine Scarry). DeLisio’s commentary includes text elements that are ingeniously expressed in a similar visual language to the film’s (faded, grainy, blurry). As commenter Max Tohline puts it, “not under the knife of Scarry, but in coequal conversation with Scarry”.

A trademark The Nukes / Josh Geist essay in its analysis of a throwaway family animation property through a serious academic viewpoint – not (just) for the comedy of applying highbrow to lowbrow, but to recognise that even (and maybe especially?) the forgotten parts of pop culture express truths about humanity. Josh reorders his text via its characters’ viewpoints to tell a story about father-son communication – and, perhaps, the impossibility of communication itself.

Alexandre investigates ‘sludge’ content – those splitscreens of a narrated reddit post and a Subway Surfers video, for instance – through a clever visual device. Talk about ‘embodied practice’: hard for me to imagine a more clear example than Alexandre projecting the edited video text onto their own body for the entirety of this video. An interruption a few minutes in from YouTube’s algorithm –a split-screen beer advert no less– just added to the gag on my viewing. And throughout the to-camera presentation, I found my eye drawn off to the Minecraft parkour constantly, in a clever proving of Alexandre’s argument. Behind the overstimulating presentation, Alexandre’s analysis offers an insightful categorisation of a media type inexplicable on the surface but ever-present in the developing digital landscape.

The breezy recap of the man/car binary in the opening moments of max teeth’s essay is authoritative, funny, and thought-provoking – everything a video essay can be, especially on YouTube. And the speed with which that’s just assumed and dropped as we speed into the main matter is a great example of how to explain succinctly. YouTube’s got too many 1hr+ essays – more like this, please.

Seinpeaks by @seinpeaks

There’s a fine line between a shitpost and a videographic work; ironically, the more academic end of video essays (with their lack of in-video explanation due to abstract support, and leaning towards supercuts and split-screens) are more like this than popular YouTube works. Seinpeaks illustrates the fine line beautifully. It’s a long-running project mashing up Twin Peaks and Seinfeld (with guest appearances from other stalwart shows like Always Sunny and Friends). These two shows aired simultaneously and their shared visual language provides a jumping-off point for a surprising collab that draws out the humour in Twin Peaks and the absurdism in Seinfeld.

Adam Woodward

Editor-at-large and YouTube channel manager at Little White Lies magazine

This was an idea pitched to me around focusing on the image of the woman on the street in cinema, especially at night, and especially in films directed by women. It took a little bit of back and forth to nail the structure and pacing, but the tone and central thesis of the piece was rock solid from the outset. I was delighted with how it turned out, and am really excited to see what Carly comes up with next.

There was a lot published around Nolan’s atom bomb opus, but I’m not sure anything I’ve seen has managed to tap into his preoccupations as a filmmaker as astutely as this.

Adam Driver Driving by Luís Azevedo

This video stemmed from a silly conversation Luís and I had, but I think the result – aside from being superbly edited – speaks to something more serious about how actors choose to present themselves in certain ways on screen.

Barbara Zecchi

Professor and director of the film studies programme, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Very hard to limit myself to these nominations only.

Practices of Viewing series by Johannes Binotto

By all means this is the major project in videographic criticism of the year – or I should say of the last three years, since FFW, the first one (I believe) was produced in 2020. A work of art that redefines the boundaries of what’s possible in the medium. Its richness, originality, and creativity combine to create an experience that truly blows the mind. This videographic project is a testament to the limitless potential of form, its academic rigour, and artistry. It’s a visual and intellectual rollercoaster that will leave you in awe from start to finish.

RAWR by Maud Ceuterick

Beginning as a creative spark in an Aarhus workshop, it expanded at Middlebury College to become a true gem. Drawing from Judith Butler’s groundbreaking work, Ceuterick passionately interprets and deforms scenes of female rage, challenging gender norms. This transformative journey echoes Audre Lorde’s call for a radical change through the expression of rage. It’s a brilliant fusion of scholarship and creativity.

This is THE video essay of the year. A bold departure from convention, this video defies expectations with its remarkable layers of provocation. Meticulously edited and expertly crafted, it pushes the boundaries of videographic criticism, skilfully weaving a captivating tapestry of thought-provoking insights in the field

Sound Before Picture by Cormac Donnelly

One of the most captivating sound projects I’ve ever encountered. This video essay ventures into uncharted territory, pairing the audio from the beginning of films with the closing images, creating an extraordinary mosaic of sound and visuals. The result is an auditory and visual tapestry that defies conventional expectations. It’s a seamless blend of the familiar and the unexpected, challenging our perception of film narratives.

In this brief but profoundly impactful exploration, Catherine Grant manages to distil the essence of the film’s themes, performances, and significance with remarkable precision, a testament to the art of succinct and effective storytelling. It’s a research gem that demonstrates the power of brevity in conveying complex ideas. In just 169 seconds, this video essay is the best piece of research ever “written” on Sebastián Lelio’s film.

This provocative video essay skillfully employs desktop editing on an iPhone to present a feminist perspective on the enduring control of women’s bodies through the dissemination of misinformation about menstruation and the menstruation apps. It is an awe-inspiring blend of resourcefulness, scholarly research, activism, art, exceptional editing skills, and creativity. 

A beautifully edited and profoundly insightful exploration of the dynamic interplay between sight and sound.

Emerging voices

The voters had the option to nominate essayists to the ‘Emerging voices’ section as a way to highlight new and exciting talent in the video essay space.

acollierastro (nominated by Ben Chinapen)

[Ben also nominated this creator’s video on string theory in the main poll, and resubmitted his explanation from there to clarify why he was nominating them for Emerging voices.]

This video came out of nowhere and blew everyone’s mind who saw it. An intriguing title, with a clearly stressed-out person and also The Binding of Isaac in the thumbnail? What’s going on? Within one minute the purpose becomes clear; this woman who has very strong opinions and credentials will break down exactly what happened with the String Theory phenomenon while simultaneously stumbling through a playthrough of the vintage roguelike indie darling Binding of Isaac. A premise so absurd and hilarious (dare I say groundbreaking?) that you instantly want to watch and listen. It’s very informative and HIGHLY entertaining for the joke of the idea alone. I’m glad this took off because it was worth it. This is probably my most firm nomination out of the group.

Morgane Frund (nominated by Delphine Jeanneret)

Morgane Frund was born in 1997 in Lausanne, Switzerland. She studied Film Studies, English and German at the University of Lausanne. From 2019 to 2022, she studied Video at Hochschule Luzern, Design and Kunst, graduating with a Bachelor degree. BEAR (2022), her graduation film, screened in numerous festivals and won several prizes. OUT OF THE BLUE (2023) premiered in competition at the Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur. She is active in the fields of documentary film, video essay and performance arts.

Eloïse Le Gallo and Julia Borderie (nominated by Delphine Jeanneret)

Born in 1989, Julia Borderie and Éloïse Le Gallo have been a duo since 2016. They graduated from Le Fresnoy in 2023. In an exploratory mode, they approach water as a substance that influences the territories it flows through and the bodies that live in it. Taking a poetic, documentary approach, they make the experience of otherness a condition of artistic creation. The camera eye acts as a catalyst for encounters, while questioning the human gestures that shape materials and territories.

At the heart of a mesh of viewpoints and disciplines (craft techniques, geology, chemistry, marine biology, etc.) and at the crossroads of sculpture and cinema, they are interested in the origin of the materials that form a landscape. Recently, their research has led them to question more specifically the complementarities between learned form and sensitive form, working with scientists on objects generated by their cutting edge technologies. [Bio from Le Fresnoy]

Rodrigo Campos (nominated by Evelyn Kreutzer)

Campos participated in a mentorship program I co-organised with Anna-Sophie Pilippi, Maike Reinerth, and Kathleen Loock, as part of the Videography conference in Hanover 2022. There he worked with Barbara Zecchi. The resulting video, published in the ZfM Videography blog this year, is a deeply poetic, affective, and analytically profound investigation of Brazilian colonial screen history.

A collaboration of 30 makers, the Doing Women’s Global Horror Film History project has been in the works since an original call for proposals in February 2022. Although just a few of the participants are experienced (full disclosure: myself included), the grant-funded project was designed by Alison Peirse to train and mentor new talent from around the globe through a series of online videographic workshops over the course of approximately six months. Thereafter, participants would produce their first video essay and would refine their edits through online peer feedback. As one of the collaborators, it has been my great privilege to see the works of so many new creators grow and evolve and I am excited for their collective debut. The collaboration will be published online in the first quarter of 2023 in the journal MAI: Feminism & Visual Culture.

Carlos Baixauli (nominated by Adrian Martin)

Sometimes, audiovisual essays can do a simple thing very well. Baixauli’s ingenious mix of the silent Falling Leaves (1912) by Alice Guy with Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman (2021) hits that spot.

These Iranian cinephiles pursue very original film analyses.

Martín Vilela (nominated by Adrian Martin)

Like Cooper in Twin Peaks: The Return, Chandler from Friends is multiplied and interacts with himself, uncannily. In Argentina, Vilela’s country!

May Santiago (nominated by Dayna McLeod)

A queer Puerto Rican feminist filmmaker, May Santiago’s unique voice and perspective makes her a video essayist to watch out for. She will have new work in Alison Peirse’s Doing Women’s (Global) (Horror) Film History (DWGHFH) project which will be featured in a special issue of MAI Feminism & Visual Culture in 2024. I was lucky enough to see May’s practice first hand at Embodying the Video Essay, a videographic workshop in Maine this summer and was blown away by May’s spectacularly intricate and layered work. She crafts soundtracks to complement a unique and riveting visual language, combining archive and horror while using herself as narrator and performing subject in front of the camera. Do keep an eye out for May’s work at film festivals and online: https://www.maillim.com/

Svanik Surve (SUAVE, SUAVE cinema, svanik SUAVE) (nominated by Queline Meadows)

Svanik Surve has been making video essays steadily for a few years now, but expanded his output in 2023 when he created two new YouTube channels. This year, his work explored Indian culture, international art cinema, and philosophy. His creative, intelligent, and funny videos deserve a much larger audience.

framemygaze (nominated by Queline Meadows)

In my eyes, there is nobody more immersed in the YouTube media and culture video essay landscape than framemygaze, and I say that as someone who runs a Discord server for video essay creators! I’ve found her in the comment sections of countless videos writing detailed notes that reflect her care and close attention to everything she watches. Framemygaze has only released one video so far, but if her deep understanding of the video essay community is any indication, there will be many more great videos in the future.

Alice Cappelle (nominated by Michael O’Neill Burns)

Alice’s videos offer an intriguing perspective at the borders of Francophile and Anglophile culture. She’s a French creator making videos in English, often about topics and phenomena specific to English language digital spaces and culture. This perspective allows her to use the critical force of a French leftist theorist to tackle seemingly vapid and conceptually empty trends and practices. At other times, she’s able to translate the specificity of the French political moment to a broader audience in a way that’s far more accessible than standard news coverage.

Jackson Maher (nominated by Michael O’Neill Burns)

Jackson is an already accomplished editor who in recent years has put himself in front of the camera to create video essays that lure viewers in with analysis of popular media properties, but uses this as the occasion to expose deeper cultural ideologies buried within pop culture. His series of videos on Copaganda does a masterful job at showing us how the logic of policing has infected so much of our culture, down to popular children’s programme Paw Patrol. But maybe most impressively, Jackson does all this while being relatable and curious, never making the viewer feel judged but instead inviting us to dig deeper alongside him.

Lara Isobel Callaghan (nominated by Will Webb)

Lara is a new face on the video-essay scene, with a number of commissions across Little White Lies and the BFI. Although the commissioned work is excellent, I’m highlighting this video from the Essay Library collab, When Essay Met Library, due to its formal inventiveness and cheeky sense of humour. Using Hindi film Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan as a jumping off point, Lara examines Shakespeare’s influence on the rom-com genre through the lens of a 1980s infomercial. William Shakespeare’s Course of True Love: available now!

Jemma Saunders (nominated by Will Webb)

A doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham, Jemma’s particular focus on sense of place (and Birmingham especially) comes to the fore in this fascinating essay examining automotive representations of the city. Other works in this vein include Reaching Out Remotely, covering UK soap Doctors’ covid episode, made all the more poignant by its cancellation this year.

Carly Mattox (nominated by Adam Woodward)

I met Carly in late 2022 when I gave a talk to the second year students at NFTS. She reached out to me earlier this year and has since contributed a handful of videos to the LWLies YouTube channel.

The new issue of Sight and Sound

Inside the mind of Christopher Nolan Plus: The Zone of Interest – All of Us Strangers – American Fiction – Wim Wenders – Marc Isaacs – The Kitchen – Samsara – Alice Guy-Blaché

Get your copy