For the sixth edition, the Sight and Sound poll for the best video essays of the year has one consistent trait: diversity. The more frequent formats of YouTube explainer videos and Vimeo-published cinephile formal play/educational endeavours remain predominant, but are not singularly representative. The nominated titles range from exceptional TikTok content (which doesn’t even take the title for brevity – competing against a 30-second montage) to short or feature-length essay films, documentaries, as well as art museum/gallery installations and live performances in academic contexts.
The 2022 video essay retrospective was compiled with the help of 44 voters (from 21 countries) for the ‘Best of’ or ‘Emerging voices’ sections. The contributors bring in their expertise as video essayists (several of whom earned nominations in the poll from their peers), film/art critics, film-studies academics (professors, researchers) and festival curators, collectively building a list of 250 nominations, or 181 distinct titles.
Considering how the definition of ‘video essay’ varies depending on the voter, it’s no surprise that the length of one such work produces even less consensus. The average runtime is 23.2 minutes, although 70% of nominated videos are 20-minutes or shorter, with some nominations reaching 3 to 6 hours in length.
While it has never been the case in the audiovisual realm that ‘best’ and ‘most popular’ are overlapping concepts, our video round-up reveals an almost shocking disparity in this respect. Platform-produced view counts range from single-digit numbers to above 10 million, in the case of Dan Olson’s acclaimed take on NFTs, and several million views for works by Andew Saladino/Royal Ocean Film Society and Jacob Geller.
Streaming is, however, just one possible venue for the dissemination of digital audiovisual essays, and perhaps not the most transparent one (let’s remember that intentionally watching 30 seconds on YouTube counts as a ‘view’). About a dozen titles nominated by our voters have screened in cinemas. Others were made for film/media studies classrooms and conferences. It’s worth noting that academic events either large (NECS, Visible Evidence, SCMS) or specialised (‘Interrogating the Modes of Videographic Criticism’ and ‘Videoessays and Academic Filmmaking: Practices, Pedagogies and Potentials’ at Aarhus University, the Theory and Practice of the Video Essay Conference at UMass Amherst) have helped part of the videographic community stay in touch throughout the year.
Further, many titles below were published in academic journals. The well-known [in]Transition (represented in the poll by 11 titles), NECSUS (8 nominations) and Tecmerin (6 titles) are joined by fellow scholarly publications in welcoming audiovisual work (Open Screens published Liz Greene’s multi-nominated Spencer Bell, Nobody Knows My Name; MSMI commissioned Evelyn Kreutzer’s Footsteps, and 16:9, Movie and Journal of Embodied Research also get mentioned).
In the overwhelming volume of possible videos to watch and share, making a choice involves either bookmarking or acknowledging published work. Among the handful of tenacious video essayists and publications whose fine work periodically inspires rhapsodic descriptions, several titles get nominated repeatedly – to name only three makers, Johannes Binotto, Liz Greene and Barbara Zecchi get 14, 9, and 8 mentions, respectively, in the poll. Most titles or authors, however, are mentioned – ‘bookmarked’ – only once, which to us increases the archival value of every contributor’s discoveries. Interestingly, some voters have decided on self-imposed limitations, either by topic (eg. video games), length (keeping all nominated titles short), the cinematic power of nominated videos or defining ‘noteworthy’ as videos one can learn from, etc. Many have expressed their difficulty in choosing just one video by a certain maker.
In thematic terms, cinema is still the prevalent topic, and several of the oft-voted titles tackle familiar subjects in peculiar or innovative ways: intertextual comparison (Hoffman’s Maria’s Marias), deformative criticism (O’Leary’s Men Shouting), archival reconstruction or even fantasising (Zecchi’s video essay on Flor de España), memory and audiovisual language (the Once upon a Screen series, the Art & Trash works on noir, and several of the films made for/prone to festival screenings.)
The corollary of cultural memory, oppressive erasure, also haunts works like Spencer Bell or Eva Hageman’s Shiplap. Johannes Binotto’s continued series Practices of Viewing invites viewers to take distance from contemporary/historical viewer habits. Technology makes its appearance thematically, whether in a discussion of state-of-the art visual effects (whose artisans go unacknowledged and poorly paid), a debunking of NFT myths or a survey of wellness apps employing cognitive-behavioural therapy.
One recurring motif had to do with sound and the moving image, whether in the second NECSUS issue on ‘Sound and the audiovisual essay’ or in less theoretically bent edits. Score and soundtrack were as instructive as sound design and silence. Matthew Tomkinson’s [wings flapping] remixes clips throughout an economic 30-second work. Even when sound is not the topic, multiple nominees were noted for their own inventive sound design techniques. kaptainkristian (Kristian T. Williams) explores two works from seemingly dissimilar mediums in Cowboy Bebop x Blade Runner – Cycle of Influence, revealing how they are in concert together, creating an illuminating experience specifically through sound design.
The deliberate use or absence of sound was another theme found throughout this year’s nominees. Breaking the Silence and Singing by Barbara Zecchi is but one notable, multiple nominee that plays with the filmic modes alongside its source material. Ian Garwood’s careful analysis of pop songs’ place in scholarly video essays curiously intersects with Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin’s lyrical demonstration of Marianne Faithful’s nouvelle vague aura in Thinking Machine #58: As Tears Go By.
Labelling nominated works by country (a very approximate move, in the realm of independent digital production), the list includes 26 different nations, though with clearly uneven presence – the US still dominates the chart, many countries appear through one nomination, and often the frequency of one country is determined by individuals (Stephen Broomer, Colleen Laird and Dayna McLeod represent Canada almost by themselves). However, the fact that long-standing venues of global cinephilia like MUBI, Little White Lies and Desistfilm support video essays is encouraging. The partnership between MUBI and FILMMADRID produced six nominees by different creators in a range of languages about films from all around the world. While the poll continues to be awash with English language videos, this year featured contributions in Farsi, French, German, Czech, Icelandic and Spanish, just to name a few. Maryam Tafakory’s brilliant Nazarbazi was nominated by six different contributors, and unfolds in both Farsi and English.
Throughout the year, as this community has gathered both online and in person at various film festivals and conferences, those in attendance as both presenters and spectators have been able to similarly work in concert. As the association of video essayists grows, the boundaries of the videographic form expand, and the multi-authored Hands of the Future is further evidence. The desktop documentary has become one of the most popular emerging modes of criticism, with more than 10 nominees inviting their audiences into their personal screens. It also provides the starting point for Cormac Donnelly’s Can I Remember It Differently?, which takes as its subject matter revisiting Minority Report (2002) but uses a whole array of videographic techniques to peel back the layers.
Donnelly’s piece is just one of the multiple videos nominated from [in]Transition’s series, Once upon a Screen: vol. 2. Edited by Ariel Avissar and Evelyn Kreutzer, the volume features videos from numerous creators – working with each other’s materials to different ends – challenged to create around the theme of memory, a prompt that led to an array of analyses as varied as their methodologies. With four mentions in the 2022 poll, the TV Dictionary was yet another collection curated by Ariel Avissar for the second year in a row that proved to be a well of inspiration. The structure of the exercise invites creators to play within the set parameters to their hearts’ desire, to colour both inside and outside of the lines.
Further, what is made clear throughout the poll’s nominations is how much this is in fact a welcoming and interconnected community, beyond social media affordances that we’ve learned throughout the years to distrust. We hope this poll is a due celebration and self-examination of the videographic community’s great potential and a catalyst for future inspiration. Thank you to everyone who participated.
Most nominated videos
Liz Greene’s Spencer Bell, Nobody Knows My Name earned 7 mentions, whereas Maryam Tafakory’s Nazarbazi, Eva Hageman’s Shiplap and Maria Hoffman’s Maria’s Marias all got 6 mentions. Cormac Donnelly’s Can I Remember It Differently? was mentioned 5 times, among other nods to videos from the Once upon a Screen series. Kreutzer’s Footsteps, the collaborative Hands of the Future and Binotto’s Synced also got 5 mentions. The Filmkrant Thinking Machine series by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin is represented in the poll by 7 different videos.
- Jiří Anger
- Ariel Avissar
- Johannes Binotto
- Philip Józef Brubaker
- Nelson Carvajal
- Tracy Cox-Stanton
- Will DiGravio
- Chloé Galibert-Laîné
- Ian Garwood
- Jacob Geller
- Tomas Genevičius
- John Gibbs
- Libertad Gills
- Catherine Grant
- Liz Greene
- Chiara Grizzaffi
- Delphine Jeanneret
- Miklós Kiss
- Jaap Kooijman
- Evelyn Kreutzer
- Kevin B. Lee
- Adrian Martin
- Daniel Mcilwraith
- Queline Meadows
- Jason Mittell
- Carlos Natálio
- Nuria Cubas, Javier H. Estrada and Gabriel Doménech
- Alan O’Leary
- Inney Prakash
- Julian Ross
- José Sarmiento
- Jemma Saunders
- Dan Schindel
- Meg Shields
- Shannon Strucci
- Scout Tafoya
- Max Tohline
- Irina Trocan
- David Verdeure
- Ricardo Vieira Lisboa
- Will Webb
- Barbara Zecchi
All the votes
Film theorist, curator and occasional video essayist, Charles University in Prague and Národní filmový archiv
Punctured Sky by Jon Rafman
Rafman again embarks on a journey through the most bizarre places, memories, and artefacts of our online culture, a hauntological quest for a computer game from his youth that is riddled with detours, stutters, and clues that go nowhere. This time, Rafman’s trip involves passages familiar from desktop documentaries, disclosing software interfaces and search engines as fundamentally unable to find what we truly want and trapping us in endless loops of desire. Punctured Sky highlights the difficulties of rescuing our formative experiences with old video games and early internet aesthetics within the bounds of ubiquitous nostalgia and its vicious circles.
Safari(Browser)_The_Nature_of my_Computer.mov by Megan Dieudonné and Andrea Rüthel
This precious discovery from the 2022 Marienbad Film Festival also adopts the form of a desktop documentary. It focuses on images that almost every computer user from the 2000s took for granted – the default Windows and Mac wallpapers. Pictures of idyllic, unobtrusive landscapes that served as a pleasant background for our everyday encounters with software landscapes of a much more complicated kind. The authors treat these visual equivalents of Kenny G songs seriously, searching for the provenance of the original photos and the ‘real-life’ places they depicted and speculating on the wallpapers’ ideological functions and their possible alternatives.
Skin Pleasure by Marius Packbier and Aïlien Reyns
Skin Pleasure showcases the strengths of audiovisual research by examining not only specific objects but also the conditions under which researchers engage with them. The video essay confronts us with a counter-image of watching online pornography, showing us the interface (or ‘skin’) between the perceiving subject and the Brobdingnagian mass of titillating videos. The essay transcends the subject-object boundaries by inventing new ways of clouding, obscuring, and blurring our vision of recognisable figures (yet without ever withdrawing from figuration altogether). If there ever was a case study of haptic criticism, it is this film.
Can I Remember It Differently? by Cormac Donnelly, inspired by a memory text by Ariel Avissar
In my favourite piece from the Once upon a Screen project, Cormac Donnelly attempts to remember his feelings about Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002). Here the author reaches beyond the desktop and employs physical archival sources such as film magazine reviews, marketing material, a CD-ROM press kit, or a Nokia mobile phone to refresh his recollections. The interplay of online and physical materials, guided by a personal voice-over and clever split-screen structure, captures the transitional period of the early 2000s quite effectively. Overall, the video essay’s playful yet historically authentic approach is something that makes it stand out.
Another videographic essay with archival ambition and whimsical undertones concentrates on the first female-directed Spanish film that did not survive in any material form. The essay is a speculative exercise in reconstructing a missing film through alternative historical sources (the preserved film synopsis, photographs, posters, newspapers, scenes from contemporary silent films, etc). Again, a strong authorial presence makes these archival snippets meaningful and enables Zecchi to reconcile subjective imagination with historical validity. In doing so, the archival void of Flor de España becomes filled with possible histories as well as possible futures.
Home When You Return by Carl Elsaesser
This homage to Joan Thurber Baldwin’s amateur melodramas from the 1950s proposes yet another answer to how a certain archival void – this time of a film genre – could be filled with speculative yet historically relevant content. The melodrama that Elsaesser aims to recover is not precisely that of glossy visuals and exaggerated emotions but that of unfulfilled longing. Empty interiors of a classic 1950s home infiltrated by blurred faces, fleeting voices, and letter excerpts render melodrama through the viewpoint of reflective nostalgia, a history that cannot be restored and survives only in the form of indistinct spectres.
Murky Waters: Submerging in an Aesthetics of Non-transparency by Jaap Kooijman and Patricia Pisters
At first glance, Kooijman’s and Pisters’ work could resemble another supercut – a compilation of swimming pool scenes from mainstream cinema. However, the crystal-clear water surfaces soon start to descend into opaque, unknowable depths. Thanks to the meticulous editing, sound design, and, above all, superimpositions, the video essay portrays this journey to the other side of life with frightening easiness.
Video essayist and media scholar at Tel Aviv University
The Writing Process by Colleen Laird
Colleen Laird is one to watch out for. A newcomer to the field, her work is impeccably impressive (impressively impeccable?) right off the bat, and always fun to watch. It was difficult to pick which of her videos to spotlight here, so it might as well be this one.
Tennis | House by Kevin L. Ferguson
Not gonna say anything about this one – just give it a watch. Be prepared to be confused in the beginning (or possibly all the way through?).
What the Internet Did to Garfield by Super Eyepatch Wolf
The best feature-length video essay presented by a guy wearing a Garfield costume you’ll see all year. Not for the faint of heart.
Empowering the Accent: An (Accented) Video-essay by Barbara Zecchi
A riff on/response to Ian Garwood’s The Place of Voiceover in Academic Audiovisual Film and Television Criticism, this reflection on the accented voice is as playful as it is timely.
TV Dictionary – I May Destroy You by Joy Hunter
I told myself I’d never pick a video made for a project I organised myself for one of these polls, but Joy Hunter’s take on I May Destroy You is just that good.
The Great Wedding Day Supercut by Yaron Baruch
140 weddings from 10 decades of cinema, skilfully edited into 18 minutes of pure, unadulterated matrimonial bliss.
And be on the lookout for these fantastic unpublished works, which may or may not become publicly available in the coming months:
Lecturer in media and cultural studies, video bricolageur, leading videoessayresearch.org
Breaking the Silence and Singing by Barbara Zecchi
“The voice of protest is the voice of another which seems to have bred in us the instinct to enjoy and fight rather than to suffer and understand.” Virginia Woolf
When I hear a voice it means that I become its vessel, literally and physically. In order to be audible your voice must resonate in me. Again.
Films change when our life changes. In this beautifully delicate, tender and thoughtful video, analytical re-watching becomes an almost therapeutic endeavour. I know the feeling when certain films by including just the slightest hint at a child’s harm have become unwatchable. But there is something so soothing and so wise in Cormac’s piece that through video essay means we can counter not only films but also our own anxieties. Wasn’t it Godard who insisted that film history should be not just about what was, but what could have been, what still could be?
her eyes, in other words, her mouth by Maíra Mendes Galvão
This essay reminds me of a whole series of videos I was so lucky to see when teaching two workshops at UMass Amherst. But I am particularly struck by this one by Maíra for its combination of a deceivingly reduced form and radical closeness which turns the video into an experience both visceral and explosive. I will never ever be able to watch Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962) with the same eyes again. And if you watch Maíra’s video you will know that I mean this literally.
L’unique. Maria Casarès. 1922-2022 by Carmen Ciller and Irene Azuag
I am ashamed to admit that I wasn’t aware of the actress Maria Casarès. I had never seen the full film by Cocteau, and the clips I knew only showcased Jean Marais. All the more this video essay has put a spell on me, convincing me that at the centre of Orphée (1950), probably unbeknown to its director and critics, there was always someone else. Even if I don’t speak the video’s language, I think I fully understand – hypnosis does not depend on linguistics. It’s this video that I have running endlessly on my screen.
Showing is not repeating. The late bell hooks’ call for an oppositional gaze which allows to find “spaces of resistance” even within the most toxic material, is taken literally by Liz Greene. This reversal of a racist film does not erase the violence and abuse the film is both proof of and instrument for. How could it? But Liz’s reading against the grain of the film’s narrative allows that something else can be seen than what was intended. It makes me aware of my responsibilities in what and how I watch, and of its emancipatory potentialities.
Simultaneous Tensions: The Duo-Vision of Wicked, Wicked by Stephen Broomer, Art & Trash
My list had to include a piece by Stephen Broomer whose experimental films fascinate me but whom I got to know as a video essayist only this year through his brilliant series Art & Trash. There are too many titles I could pick, but I am drawn to this one in particular, because, when I first watched it, I had the video accidentally played a second time in the background. This resulted in a very confusing soundtrack of double takes – so fitting to the video and to Stephen’s videos in general: They always ring twice. And more.
Maschinenmensch by Wickham Flannagan, Batuhan Buldu, Ruya Nese
We are quick to say that sitting in a cinema is not only a visual but a body-altering experience. We have read all the theoretical texts about it. But rarely have I seen it made felt so harshly, so disturbingly, and so uncannily like in this video. But please be warned and don’t watch this unprepared. I fear a trigger warning is in place here.
TV Dictionary — The Leftovers by Ariel Avissar
I need to include this not because I consider it Ariel’s best but because it is testament not only to the brilliance and addictiveness of the still going strong TV Dictionary series but also to the playfulness, cleverness, and sheer generosity of its inventor. I can’t think of another initiative that made so many finally try their first video essay, while also reinvigorating all the pros.
Bold Decade Films
Greene plays the video clips that feature forgotten actor Spencer Bell in reverse while she narrates the injustices the black thespian faced in Hollywood in the early golden age of cinema. The otherworldly body movements are interesting, but come to a brilliant apotheosis when Bell appears to be pulled backwards by a lightning bolt that captures him like a rope. The poetic entrapment for a black character actor is a potent visual in a video essay that otherwise features many academic touchstones and Greene’s consistent narration that seeks to right a wrong in Hollywood history.
Solaris-2001-McKenna-2022 by Brian D. McKenna - Offscreen
McKenna posits that Tarkovsky’s Solaris is a direct reaction to Kubrick’s 2001, and he juxtaposes many synced movie clips to demonstrate his thesis. I may not agree with him, but I could look at these juxtapositions all day, from sheer admiration for technical interplay between the two films. He wisely ends his narration midway through and allows the films to talk to one another; films which are allowed to play simultaneously, much like a Pink Floyd/Wizard of Oz experiment.
Synced by Johannes Binotto
Binotto excels at interacting with his video subjects, in this case a dreamy scene of French teenagers dancing under coloured lights. By stepping through the scene frame by frame, Binotto transforms the media object by nearly (and then literally) touching it. He also has a talent for not letting his narration slip into academic-speak and he repeatedly shows how what matters most in a video is what movie fans love: the feel of the film.
Bicentennial Yang by Nelson Carvajal
Carvajal has a great talent for mashing up two tangentially related movies and creating trailers for a new, imaginary film. His command of narrative is why I chose this new work of his. I haven’t seen Bicentennial Man or After Yang, and yet because of his editing, their merger is seamless and crystal clear.
Bid Up by Will DiGravio
Personal Shopper as Vlog by Alessia Duarte, Laura Fritschi und Naomi Jackson
The Unloved, Part 104: Ambulance by Scout Tafoya
Why THE BATMAN Is So Beautiful by Patrick Tomasso
Are TV Shows Now Being Shot for TikTok? by Kevin B. Lee
Captain Marvel as Military Propaganda by Tony Ninov
Professor at Savannah College of Art and Design, founder and editor of The Cine-Files
I have selected the five videos that make up the collection Sound and the Audiovisual Essay Part 2, edited by Liz Greene in NECSUS. Each of these videos is wonderful in its own right, but together they represent a brilliant intervention in audiovisual approaches to the study of sound – so diverse, lively and rich!
These seven videos/projects/films, for me, epitomise the greatness of this form: they provide a new way of seeing and engaging with familiar images, sounds, and mediums. Each taught me how to be a better watcher, listener, and reader. They inspired me, and I look forward to returning to them time and time again in the years to come.
Beginning with clips from HGTV programming, Hageman analyses the history of ‘shiplap’ through the lens of Waco, Texas, unpacking its racist roots and revealing its hidden, violent history. Construction, reconstruction, deconstruction, all take on new meanings in this video, both as it relates to the process of videographic criticism and the content of the work itself. What sticks with me though is Hageman’s remarkable voiceover, guiding us through this “American nightmare.”
Speaking Nearby by Amaya Bañuelos Marco
Video essays offer a unique way to shape one’s own viewing choices. Not until watching this fantastic piece did I finally watch Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Reassemblage (1982) and Margot Benacerraf’s Araya (1959). I not only found a way into these films because of this work, but my experience was enriched – and my understanding deepened – as a result of watching all three together.
Accidentally Sexist – How to Rewrite an Icky Scene by Afterthoughts
An analysis of a single, sexist scene becomes a wide-ranging video about sexist writing, sexism in professional athletics and e-sports, bad writing, talking about sexism online, the nature of analysis and persuasion, and so much more. Through a mix of virtuosic pacing and editing, coupled with a voiceover that guides us through each step of the way, this video by Afterthoughts is a new gold standard for me in how video essays can engage in close analysis to not only better understand a scene, but make its audience better viewers.
Makeover Movie by Sue Ding
A superb deconstruction of the makeover movie trope featuring the thoughts and conversation of the director’s friends as they watch a cut of the video. What sits with me is the ways in which this video blends together the experiences of individuals with the remixed films to understand the degree of universality that can often be found in the deeply personal.
A deeply moving, personal, political, and revelatory work that showcases the potentials of videographic criticism as it relates to the archive. Video essays can not only animate the archive, but attempt to fill, as this video essay does, voids in the archive. A work that charts the way forward for what video essays can do and be.
Las Marías de María / Maria’s Marias by Maria Hoffman
Multiscreen juxtaposition sits at the foundation of videographic criticism. In this video, Hofmann places The Sound of Music (Wise, 1965) beside “its almost unknown German original,” Die Trapp-Familie (Liebeneier, 1956) to challenge the cultural and critical histories of the film. With a mix of archival audio pulled from various sources, the video will leave anyone who watches it with a new and greater understanding of Wise’s film (and a desire to watch Liebeneier’s), showcasing the power of this form to alter our engagement with otherwise familiar images and sounds.
A personal anecdote comes to inform a reading of a key motif in Hitchcock’s films: sounds of feet. Though the films of Hitchcock are the corpus from which this video draws, it becomes about the sounds of feet in film in general, and thus how we interpret them in our own lives, through the screen or otherwise.
Video essayist, senior researcher at the Lucerne School of Art and Design (Switzerland)
My selection profiles practitioners whose videographic work I discovered this year – being either newcomers to the field, or makers who weren’t yet on my personal radar.
Meeting Meat Joy by Chloé Lavalette and Rémi Dauvergne
Based on a deep, clumsy and humorous Skype encounter between French researcher Chloé Lavalette and legendary artist Carolee Schneemann, this evocative experimental essay explores whether – and at what costs – spectators should help artworks escape the intentionality of their authors and the zeitgeist in which they were made, and questions the contemporary affordances of a certain feminist legacy.
So I Didn’t Sleep Very Well Last Night by Dayna McLeod
Produced in the context of the amazing Sociability of Sleep collective research project, this hilarious video performs as a dream confessional as much as a playful exploration of the aesthetics of social media filtering, while gently poking at female (self-)representation in visual media and mainstream culture.
Ob Scena by Paloma Orlandini Castro
A thoughtful exploration of the aesthetics and politics of online pornography, this video essay features one of my favourite videographic dispositif of 2022: a projection box with hand drawings on transparent layers, used here to demonstrate the genitalia-centredness of most pornographic visual compositions.
Crushed by Ella Rocca
A playful, moving and brave desktop exploration of what it means to have a ‘crush’ on somebody. I was especially drawn to the way this video essay incorporates interview footage in the flow of screen recordings – the intimate conversation between the two protagonists reintroducing reciprocality and otherness into what might have otherwise remained a distanced foray into the arguably creepy mechanisms of online stalking.
Echos of Dreams by Emily Su Bin Ko
Having only seen it once, my memory of this video essay is as free-floating as I remember its narration to be. I was most struck by its intermingling of found footage and performative re-enactment, as well as its evocative exploration of what ties together spectatorial (female) identification and embodiment.
Navigators by Noah Teichner
As challenging as it is gratifying to watch, Noah Teichner’s years-in-the-making, feature-length Navigators revisits an episode of anarchist history through a careful re-editing of Buster Keaton’s filmography. Shot and edited entirely on 16 and 35mm film, the essay unfolds as a both rigorous and poetic work of visual and literary historiography.
Senior lecturer in film and television studies, University of Glasgow
My list contains video essays that fall under five minutes. There are a couple of motivations for establishing this arbitrary temporal parameter. Maybe it’s just me, but aren’t video essays getting longer these days, in the world of the YouTube monologue, but also that of the academic journal? Yet, the time available to view them hasn’t been extended, so it might be useful to highlight some short, sharp examples of the form. Also, in my teaching, I routinely ask students to produce work within miserly time constraints, so this list provides an illustration of what can be achieved within those limits.
[wings flapping] by Matthew Tomkinson
TV Dictionary — Line of Duty by Lucy Fife Donaldson
Improbable Dialogism or the Art of Flying by Barbara Zecchi
True Enough by Chloé Galibert-Laîné
Lost Wave by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin
I know this exceeds my arbitrary time limit, but this is actually comprised of three videos, two of which are under five minutes. Even if the third comes in at a mighty 11 minutes (and one second), it still retains the other two’s trailer-like properties, each serving as an accompaniment to ideas also explored in the longer form of a monograph.
Video essayist, writer about games/art/phenomena
in this one i die and go to hell. by Leo Vader
After slipping on a toy car and knocking himself out, Leo has an extended argument about going to hell with a divine version of himself. It’s funny in the way only a Leo Vader video can be (“Oh, the Youtuber who jacked off all the time? I’m sorry, we actually had you in the Mother Theresa section”), while simultaneously reckoning with the cognitive dissonance of knowing our actions are largely meaningless while still attempting to live well.
Gears Through the Years: A Gears of War Campaign Retrospective by Noah Caldwell-Gervais
Noah applies his razor-sharp thematic analysis to the gore-soaked shooters in the “Gears of War” game series and emerges with a surprisingly nuanced portrait of how military valorisation influences a society and the individuals within it. An exhaustive but eminently watchable video that ultimately reclaims Gears of War as far more than a bro-y cover shooter.
Cowboy Bebop x Blade Runner — Cycle of Influence (feat. Spike) by kaptainkristian
Within the worlds of Blade Runner and Cowboy Bebop, style is inextricable from substance. Kaptainkristian delivers on this legacy with a stunningly edited meditation on the influence each property had on the other. The script is lovely and it ends with Steve Blum reciting the tears in rain speech (!), but the visuals are where the essay truly shines, blending together Blade Runner and Bebop so effectively they meld into one unbroken dystopic flow.
The Thinking Machine #62: The Cinematographer’s Signature by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin
A good video essay is probably something that shows not only what can’t be described in words, but also what can’t be seen at first glance. Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin’s essay on cinematographer Michael Ballhaus’ virtuoso shot in The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979) once again demonstrates the duo’s virtuosity.
Borrowed Dreams: Joseph Cornell and the Archive as Psychic Imprint by Stephen Broomer
These are two excellent video essays (among many others) by Stephen Broomer about experimental filmmakers Jean-Claude Labrecque and Joseph Cornell who are often undeservedly forgotten in the global context of film history. An intriguing analysis of film language and techniques.
Hands of the Future by Sabrina D. Marques, Mehdi Jahan, Dan Shoval, Adrian Martin (Voiceover)
Trapped in the eternal moment of the present, the characters in this wonderful essay confirm their creator’s statement that “each hand is like a screen yet to be filled by a movie”.
“Good criticism should imply a conversation”, claim John Gibbs and Douglas Pye. Their dialogic video essay form was inspired by Max Ophuls’ wonderful Le Plaisir (1952), and the end result is a great example of metacriticism.
Once upon a Screen: Radical Elsewhere by Philip Józef Brubaker
Gilles Deleuze’s ideas, and especially his warning about the danger of being caught in other people’s dreams, continue to inspire great films and video essays. And that familiar feeling that the movie knew me better than I knew myself.
Synced by Johannes Binotto
I’m always interested in video essays’ attempts to analyse the relationship between video and sound. Johannes Binotto shows that the coupling of optics and acoustics in cinema has never been taken for granted and that it is still an area open to experimentation.
Audiovisual essayist and professor of film at the University of Reading
Tracing the Threads of Influence: George Hoyningen-Huene and Les Girls (1957) by Lucy Fife Donaldson
Temporal Ghosts | David Lowery’s A Ghost Story by Enrique Saunders
Filmmaker, video essayist, researcher and film professor at Universidad de las Artes.
GeoMarkr by Chloé Galibert-Laîné
Smart, fun and exciting video essay, full of surprises.
The Hands of the Future by Sabrina D. Marques, Mehdi Jahan, Dan Shoval, Adrian Martin (Voiceover)
One of my favourite subjects in film. Beautifully done and covering a wide range of films.
Letter Across Oceans: To Tiziana Panizza / Carta a través de los océanos: A Tiziana Panizza by Catherine Grant and Paul Merchant
An epistolary video essay on one of the most brilliant filmmakers working today.
Four Ways to Be a Woman Artist… According to the Movies by Susan Felleman
The first video essay by Felleman, on a very interesting subject. Hard to forget this video essay because the tendencies it describes continue to be reproduced in contemporary film and TV.
Zohra, The Second Woman by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin
Video essay on the haunting presence of actress Zohra Lampert in two films, Opening Night (John Cassavetes, 1977) and Splendor in the Grass (Elia Kazan, 1961).
Paisaje — Movimiento by Mariana Daniela Torres Valencia
Beautiful meditation on the work of Artavazd Peleshyán; full of texture, colour and movement.
Screen media-maker and publisher of scholarly video essays, and a former professor of screen studies.
I thought I might retire from voting after last year’s S&S poll. I was convinced otherwise by the amazing scope and quality of this year’s videographic criticism in my own academic field of film, television and screen studies. All the videos below have scholarly value, but all are also powerful and beautiful films that work amazingly well on big and small screens in the wider public domain, and in film festivals, too.
My absolute favourite was Maryam Tafakory’s latest exquisite work Nazarbazi. This film will last the test of time, but also speaks so potently to our present moment.
We published Shiplap at [in]Transition, where it was brilliantly evaluated by two wonderful peer reviewers Terri Francis and Brandy Monk-Payton. Everyone should read their thoughts on it. For me, the work showed how one can make politically and intellectually important work about the most banal vernacular forms of throwaway television in poetic and haunting ways.
Liz’s work gets more and more powerful and pertinent with each passing year. She is a truly outstanding practice-researcher working with videographic criticism, and deserves all the awards and accolades she receives. Spencer Bell… is the first published part of a new research project she has begun on The Wizard of Oz universe. She made another of my favourite video essays this year as part of her academic research The Gravity of the Acousmêtre, published at NECSUS.
Mirror, Mirror by Ariel Avissar and Evelyn Kreutzer
My favourite video in the Once upon a Screen vol. 2 collection on formative movie experiences, led by Avissar and Kreutzer, which we’re publishing at [in]Transition. The entire collection is brilliant. But Mirror, Mirror epitomises the project as a whole and is the most amazingly collaborative videographic work, incorporating the texts, editing, voices, and filmic and televisual references of five participants: Avissar, Kreutzer, Barbara Zecchi, Alan O’Leary, Maria Hofmann, who contributed other videos and texts to the project, with Johannes Binotto, Philip Brubaker, Cormac Donnelly, Jiří Anger Veronika Hanakova, Clair Richards, Julia Schoenheit, Chloé Galibert-Laîné, Gregory Brophy and Will Webb.
Mad Men’s Babylon by Ariane Hudelet
Intertextuality – “the shaping of a text’s meaning by another text, either through deliberate compositional strategies such as quotation, allusion, calque, plagiarism, translation, pastiche or parody, or by interconnections between similar or related works perceived by an audience or reader of the text” [Wikipedia] – is always my favourite scholarly subject, and this video is always going to be my favourite video on that subject. Hudelet weaves a virtuosic videographic argument of magisterial proportions and beauty. Love it!
Practices of Viewing: Screenshot by Johannes Binotto
Johannes has had another astonishingly inspiring year of videographic production, of which the Practices of Viewing series is probably the peak. It’s hard just to choose one PoV work from him, but Screenshot is the one that returns to my mind most often, so it definitely gets my vote. I can’t wait to see what Johannes makes next. He is an artist and a scholar of the most important kind – someone who works with his most personal vulnerabilities and his practical inventiveness, as well as with his incredible breadth of knowledge and learning.
The Thinking Machine #61: Rose // Eros by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin
My favourite video essayist duo continues to produce the highest quality work week in week out, including for their amazing Filmkrant column The Thinking Machine. It’s hard to choose just one work by these makers (I also love no. 55 The Unbreakable Frame), but no. 61 Rose // Eros is just the most beautiful video one can imagine on my second favourite subject: intratextuality – the study of internal aesthetic and textual connections. It teaches us about the motifs, figures and transformations in Werner Schroeter’s 1986 masterpiece The Rose King and is a masterpiece itself in so doing.
Associate professor in film and sonic arts, Northumbria University
I have not had the opportunity to watch widely this year. Instead, my list (in alphabetical order) includes works that chime closely with my area of research into sound, music, David Lynch, and archival studies. Some of these works are by established video essayists and some are by researchers/artists new to publishing in this form. I find all of these works to be an inspiration.
Johannes Binotto offers a compelling example of sync and the early use of Walkman sound in film, unpicking theories of film sound, the split subject, and disruption on screen. Like much of Binotto’s work, the elegance of the piece is frame perfect.
Tracing the Threads of Influence: George Hoyningen-Huene and Les Girls (1957) by Lucy Fife Donaldson
Lucy Fife Donaldson’s account of George Hoyningen-Huene’s contribution and collaborations with George Cukor, Gene Allen and Orry-Kelly is a thorough investigation drawing from archival research. This audiovisual essay was published in December 2022 in Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism, issue 10.
Ian Garwood riffs on his Indy Vinyl project by producing an audiovisual essay that considers how pop music is and can most effectively be used in this format. Garwood details the influence of other practitioners on his approaches to the audiovisual essay and points to how to best do this work audiovisually.
John Gibbs and Douglas Pye allow us to listen in the dark to their binaural recording of a conversation about Max Ophuls’ Le Plaisir (1952). This requires time and a sustained listening session but the rewards are as pleasurable as they are illuminating.
Catherine Grant investigates musical accompaniment in early film through remix practice and textual engagement with film music theory and history. Grant draws together key performances of early music representation to allow us to listen differently.
Footsteps by Evenlyn Kreutzer
With her focus on the musicalised rhythmic approach to film sound studies, Kreutzer invites us to pay attention to the interplay of sound effects and an absence of sound in Hitchcock’s films. This will be the inaugural audiovisual essay published by the journal, Music, Sound, and the Moving Image in December 2022.
Wild at Heterosexuality by Dayna McLeod
McLeod’s performative style and editing prowess underpin her sharply humorous queering of David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990). This work leaves me gasping for breath!”
Postdoctoral fellow at IULM University
Climate Fictions, Dystopias and Human Futures by Julia Leyda, Kathleen Loock
Sleep by Johannes Binotto
The Cinematographer’s Signature by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin
Irresistible Instrumentalism by Catherine Grant
Angstlust by Alan O’Leary
A History of the World According to Getty Images by Richard Misek
Lecturer at University of Art and Design HEAD – Genève, co-director Festival Cinéma Jeune Public, curator at Locarno Film Festival, Int. Short Film Festival Winterthur and La Fête du Slip
F1ghting Looks Different 2 Me Now by Fox Maxy
Fox MAXY is a California-based artist and filmmaker of Kumeyaay and Payómkawichum ancestry. The experience of being Native American is a central theme in her work, which deals with Native American identity and culture, and the power of decolonisation. Her films are made of digital collage portraying political and formally playful expression of modern Indigenous life. Her work has screened at MoMA, LACMA, Rotterdam, and BlackStar Film Festival among other places. In 2022, Fox was named as Sundance Institute’s Merata Mita Fellow. She represents one of the most interesting and daring voices of contemporary filmmaking.
Il faut regarder le feu ou bruler dedans (Watch the Fire or Burn Inside It) by Caroline Poggi, Jonathan Vinel
Il faut regarder le feu ou bruler dedans (Watch the Fire or Burn Inside It) is a cry to save the land from mass construction and mass tourism through the voice of a young woman healing it by burning the land. For years the island of Corsica has been stricken by devastating wildfires. Here, a woman chooses to care for the earth by burning it. She documents the process, allowing a few musical detours along the way. Their filmography includes: Tant qu’il nous reste des fusils à pompe (2014), Notre heritage (2015), After School Knife Fight (2017), Jessica Forever.
Lake of Fire by Neozoon
The fear of death can only be conquered if people believe in a powerful saviour – otherwise eternal damnation in hell is waiting. The documentary film collage Lake of Fire shows how the dualistic view and way of life of certain believers additionally fuels the climate change-related hell on earth in a dangerous way. NEOZOON, founded 2009, is a female art collective based in Germany and France. The collective is interested in the role of the animal, whether living or dead, and its relationship with humans in an urban environment.
A Winter’s Elegy by Aakash Chhabra
Aakash Chhabra subtly explains the weight of the caste system. The history of the cast-off town of Panipat is the one of its migrant workers, found in the folds of fabric sold in its marketplaces. The film essay combines everyday images in this cloth-recycling wasteland with the testimony of a young woman who grew up under the industrial tin sheets.
O mar também é seu (The Sea Is Also Yours) by Michelle Coelho
Michelle Coelho’s work focuses on agrarian conflicts, violation of rights, and social mobilisation. In this film, the power of the dream and storytelling takes another dimension. A woman dreams that she is transformed into an animal. Between sleep and wakefulness, she remembers her abortion and the ghosts that have accompanied her since. Other women of the island reveal mysteries that help her heal the wounds caused by the violence that nightmarishly condemns women in her country.
Bigger on the Inside by Angelo Madsen Minax
From an isolated wooded cabin a trans man star gazes, scruff chats with guys, watches youtube tutorials, takes drugs, and lies about taking drugs – feeling his way through a cosmology of embodiment. Bigger on the Inside probes the boundaries between interior and exterior, the micro and macro, to consider bodily insides as passage way and portal, relative to the immensity of longing. Nudes and landscapes are equally erotic. Eros as an issue of boundaries: When I desire you, a part of me is gone. Land is surreal. Memory is porous.
The Spiral by María Silvia Esteve
A WhatsApp audio begins, and with it, a downward spiral unfolds. The voice of a woman sinking into a health anxiety attack, quickly entangles a complex labyrinth of fears and emotions. The Spiral is a dive into a lonely ride, an hypnotic escalation towards childhood, family, and the loneliness of “home”. Does home really feel like home?
Associate professor in audiovisual arts and cognition at University of Groningen, NL / co-author of Film Studies in Motion: From Audiovisual Essay to Academic Research Video
Au cinéma! by Johanna Vaude
A lovely tribute to the theatrical experience. Supercutting excerpts from films depicting a variety of film viewing acts in the cinema, it could be a scene from György Pálfi’s mashup film “FINAL CUT – Ladies and Gentlemen”.
Letter Across Oceans – To Tiziana Panizza by Catherine Grant and Paul Merchant
“The messages in bottles don’t often arrive safe and sound”. Beautifully thought-out, written, paced, sound designed piece of poetic audiovisual work. A subtle but passionate contribution to the growing body of environmental audiovisual works.
Harnessing Perversity: J.G. Ballard, David Cronenberg and Crash by Jonathan Bygraves
Simple but effective little video, exploring the commonalities between the work of J.G. Ballard and David Cronenberg, made for Watershed’s screening of the 4K restoration of Cronenberg’s Crash (1996).
“What happens when arts and media cross previously established boundaries?” “What happens when scholarship crosses previously established boundaries?” Although, as O’Leary puts it, it is only a ‘draft video presentation’ (originally produced for the 6th International Society for Intermedial Studies Conference), I enjoyed it more than anything I’ve read on the topic because it is not only arguing for the value of parametric and other constraint-based videographic methods, but also, through its triptych-clear visual didacticism, make the viewer experience such scholarship.
Sound of Metal: An Exploration into the Internal Focalization of Sound & Silence by Ümran Bayazit, Aleksandras Gasiunas, Meke Levenga, Nenritji Esther Suwa, Maartje Westenberg
Everyone understood the lesson (Ruben learned) at the end of Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal (2020). However, to understand how such a powerful takeaway is primed throughout the film, culminating in the final scene, you need a thorough and sensitive close analysis. I’m happy to share the work of my BA students that accomplishes exactly that.
Associate professor media studies, University of Amsterdam, organiser ASCA Videographic Criticism Seminar
Published in [in]Transition, Eva Hageman’s Shiplap takes a seemingly random and recurring item from the makeover television series Fixer Upper to expose histories of racism. The strength of the audiovisual essay is its subtlety. Rather than crudely connecting the triviality of the television genre to the seriousness of a hidden histories, the audiovisual essay shows the connection by carefully unraveling the different layers, similar to the way the layers of drywall are removed to reveal the shiplap.
Maria’s Marias by Maria Hoffman
Published in Tecmerin, Maria Hofmann’s Maria’s Marias presents a compare and contrast of Die Trapp-Familie (1956) and The Sound of Music (1965) in a continuous split screen, thereby cropping the images from both films. The soundtrack consists of a collage of voices from a variety of sources, telling different stories about the cinematic representations of the Von Trapp family’s history. The result is a fascinating comparison, which may not say much about “the essence of Austrian culture,” but does raise questions about cinematic storytelling and the possibilities to disrupt such narratives.
Published in Open Screens, Liz Greene’s Spencer Bell, Nobody Knows My Name not only brings attention to the 1925 film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, but also highlights the forgotten role of Black American actor Spencer Bell, who plays the lion. By selecting only the scenes featuring (the silent) Bell, and playing them backwards, Greene invites us to look critically at the representation of Blackness. Greene’s voiceover presents an explanatory narrative, but also reflects the author’s archival search and emphasises her own subject position, clearly speaking with a female voice and non-American accent.
Postdoctoral researcher and video essayist, Film University Babelsberg Konrad Wolf
Practices of Viewing: Dubbing by Johannes Binnotto
A fascinating ‘anti-cinephilic’ take on film sound, exemplified through a cinephilic darling (Hitchcock). The role and influence of dubbing onto a specific film experience and (even more so) on the ways in which many of us first encountered and now remember cinema deserves much more attention, especially now that video essay culture seems to be more and more concerned with questions of language, multi-linguality, accented voiceovers, and related questions of (sonic) diversity and inclusivity. Binotto’s use of repetition, slow motion and multiple languages makes a powerful case for listening more closely.
The Mechanics of Fluids by Gala Hernández López
In this desktop documentary, Hernández López immerses herself and us into the darkness of incel networks on the internet, a subculture that appears both hidden and in plain sight, that hides behind online anonymity, yet produces real-life terror. Through a variety of screen-capture and animated stylistic approaches and voice-over narrations, the filmmaker manages to evoke a peculiar, troubling, affective response, lingering in-between empathy, rejection, and confusion. A great space to find oneself in after seeing a film, if you ask me.
Breaking the Silence and Singing by Barbara Zecchi
A very recent and very personal short video made by prolific video essayist Barbara Zecchi that is simple in its structure and stylistic approach, and to a large extent lets the images and sounds speak for themselves. I was very moved by her use of close-ups on children’s faces as they are gradually literally and figuratively finding and fighting for their voices.
Hands of the Future by Sabrina D. Marques, Mehdi Jahan, Dan Shoval, Adrian Martin (Voiceover)
This video joins scenes of palm reading from various filmic sources. It evokes a very strong sense of tactility, not just in terms of its imagery but also in terms of what videographic practices FEEL like (touching a film, sticking films together, arranging them…). Its portrayal of the past and future of its various characters’ life lines suggests that it’s as much about the past and future of film itself – a longing for the touchability of analog film perhaps, produced in a form (the supercut, the video essay) that thrives digitally.
Las Marías de María / Maria’s Marias by Maria Hoffman
A very interesting study in adaptation and transatlantic cultural influence, framed through a playful nod to kogonada’s seminal What Is Neo-Realism?
I’ve rarely seen the split screen being used so well and so strikingly for the purposes of comparison – a comparison that goes way beyond the specific films and national genres at its forefront.
Auditorium by Johannes Binnotto
I’m considering this a ‘bonus pick’ so to speak because I got to witness its making and because it is a personal memory for me. Produced with, for, and through a strong sense of community and playfulness, it carries a lot of joyfulness and tenderness that speaks so much to this year, in which we could gather in large groups in person again.
Locarno Film Festival professor for the Future of Cinema, USI Lugano
Sound and the Audiovisual Essay, Part 2: The Theory, History, and Practice of Film Sound and Music in Videographic Criticism by Liz Greene, Johannes Binotto, Ian Garwood, John Gibbs and Douglas Pye, Catherine Grant
While my favourite video essay from last year was a series produced by a single author, this time I was most impressed by Liz Greene’s curation of five original video essays by six different authors, each taking a distinctively different approach to exploring cinematic sound. Maybe it is cheating to lump them together, but I was struck by how collectively they form as deep and complementary an exploration of a single subject as one could wish for. Simply a landmark achievement in videographic sound studies, as well as a model for thematic curation to create connections between authors.
Tafakory’s expansion of her previous video essay Irani Bag is a quantum leap in what we might call ‘videographic poetics’. A montage of nearly 100 classic Iranian films, on-screen text, rhythm and sound are all choreographed flawlessly into a meditation on cinematic and real world separation, prohibition and longing.
The Potemkinists / Potemkinistii by Radu Jude
Sergei Eisenstein’s silent masterpiece Battleship Potemkin (1925) is brought out into the open, literally, with an open-air dialogue that recounts how historical events counter Eisenstein’s telling. Unexpectedly timely, it explores the longstanding tensions between Russia, Ukraine and Romania, and in doing so casts a fresh critical light on a canonical work of cinema.
Platformer Toolkit by Mark Brown
This is a beautifully presented and addictively interactive introduction to the design considerations that go into a video game. While it might seem more like a tutorial at first, it’s self-designation as a ‘video essay’ is well-earned, as it uses its chosen medium to shed critical insight upon it. In any event, it opens wide the possibilities for interactive and programmed interfaces for video essays and videographic scholarship.
Fixing My Brain with Automated Therapy by Jacob Geller
This stretches what I would feel comfortable calling a video essay. A 53-minute on-camera monologue that starts out as a review of therapy apps, which steadily deepens into a provocative critique of how Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) may be the preferred psychological treatment model for the booming industry of AI-driven therapy. Left me thinking about the relationship between artificial intelligence and human wellness, computer vs. human programming.
Like There’s No Tomorrow by Joel Blackledge
Among the video essays published on [in]Transition this year, this one really got me in how it drew attention to a trope that had been hidden in plain sight: the role of retro pop culture in Hollywood sci-fi and dystopia movies. A powerful melancholy exudes from the accumulation of these tropes, while Blackledge’s narration raises several provocative interpretations for its significance. It also received some of the most rigorous peer reviews of any video essay this year (from notable post-cinema scholars Selmin Kara and Shane Denson), altogether setting an exemplary instance of generative discourse.
What Rules the Invisible by Tiffany Sia
Another selection from the circles of experimental cinema, Sia intricately edits decades worth of amateur travelogue footage of Hong Kong, interspersed with her mother’s account of life inside the colony. Words confront images to reveal what they don’t show and what their creators can’t see.
Film critic and audiovisual essayist
Sordid Scandal by Amalia Ulman
This was first presented as a video performance piece in 2020, but only made available as a stand-alone work in the wake of Ulman’s brilliant 2021 feature El Planeta. A dizzying détournement of the slideshow presentation format, it delves deep into the sordid scandal of film culture.
Hardly Working by Total Refusal
I figured that Machinima (recustomising parts of video games) was a played-out or co-opted game by now, but the collective Total Refusal have revitalised this audiovisual genre with a superb analysis of the luckless lives of extras in Red Dead Redemption 2. And how many audiovisual essays thank Karl Marx in the end credits?
An amazing montage, harsh and lyrical (not to mention timely), which guides us to read the extremely eloquent absences and silences in a period of Iranian cinema.
Au cinéma! by Johanna Vaude
Johanna Vaude is a superstar of audiovisual montage; her work crosses effortlessly between avant-garde traditions and first-rate televisual entertainment. There have been many ‘spectators within the spectacle’ supercuts, but none quite like this.
Hands of the Future by Sabrina D. Marques, Mehdi Jahan and Dan Shoval
A beautiful and original choice of motif: palm reading scenes in cinema. Poised between chance and destiny, fate and possibility. These three cinephiles dive deep. Full disclosure: that’s my voice at the start delivering the opening narration.
Three Minutes: A Lengthening by Bianca Stigter
One of two feature films on my list. This extraordinary 69-minute piece is an incredible work of historical excavation, slowing down and looking closely to discover what is lost and hidden in documentary traces.
Moonage Daydream by Brett Morgen
Why did I pick it? Why the hell not?!? Watching this dazzling compilation/remix of David Bowie footage (much of it previously unseen), I thought: it’s one big audiovisual essay! Some magnificent sequences, and a compellingly restricted point-of-view.
Video essayist, filmmaker
My Place by Miguel G. Otero
Negative Space by Colleen Laird
transitional steps [Sirk | Stahl | Stairs] by Johannes Binotto
From One Shore to the Other / De una orilla a la otra by Valentín Vía Vázquez
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Video essayist (as kikikrazed) and moderator of The Essay Library Discord server
Cowboy Bebop x Blade Runner — Cycle of Influence by kaptainkristian aka Kristian T. Williams
kaptainkristian is known primarily for his slick visual style, but this video’s standout is its sound design. In his exploration of the reciprocal influence between Cowboy Bebop and Blade Runner, Williams blends together the two worlds until they become one. The sequence where Steve Blum (who voices Spike in Cowboy Bebop) reads the ‘tears in the rain’ monologue from Blade Runner is my favourite video essay moment this year.
The Strange Beauty of Absurdle’s Algorithm by Max Tohline
It’s always a treat to see a gaming video essay that plays with the game itself – the script of this essay’s narration follows along with different rounds of Absurdle, a variation on the popular Wordle. The clever wordplay and rhyme scheme make this essay on the meaning(s) of ‘play’ in video games and video essays extra fun.
Platformer Toolkit by Game Maker’s Toolkit aka Mark Brown
Advertised as an “interactive video essay,” the Platformer Toolkit is an unpolished platformer game that gives you the tools to improve it. It’s a great example of using interactivity to talk about an interactive medium. To learn more about it before playing yourself, see the short video about it on his YouTube channel.
Everything Everywhere All At Once by @pbpbbpbppb aka Pavan Bivigou
This is one of the rare TikTok essays that made me completely pause my scrolling and let it wash over me. I think about the final line, “all the other yous are rooting for you,” constantly.
Rabbit, Candide, and a World Gone to Hell by The Nukes
I don’t want to say too much about this one, because I think it is better to experience it for yourself. All I’ll say is that I found it to be incredibly striking and original. Just watch it – and then watch it again.
Zoopraxography for Lovers (Cinema’s First Kiss Was Between Two Women) by Lily Alexandre
Lesbian author and activist Madeline Davis once said, “our community has a past, but no history.” In this video essay, Alexandre begins with a history lesson on early photography and deftly weaves in the story of two nameless women seen kissing in a Muybridge motion study. By situating this kiss within a larger history of film, their story is lifted out of the shadows, and it feels as if a missing piece is being restored. All of this builds to a deeply moving ending that left me speechless.
Film and media professor at Middlebury College; project manager of [in]Transition:
Is ‘Cancel Culture’ Really a Threat to America? by Michael Hobbes
Journalist and podcaster Hobbes has made a career debunking media myths, and his first video in years is a stellar example of his work – it’s the video I share with anyone complaining about ‘cancel culture’, effectively rebutting all of the hand-wringing and victimisation discourse to anyone willing to listen. My favourite example from 2022 of the possibilities of the YouTube-style video essay, and one that should be seen by more people within the video essay community.
A masterclass in using subtle videographic techniques to create a work that is both intellectually and emotionally powerful, Greene’s choice to reverse the scenes of Bell makes the original unearthed footage uncanny and unsettling. Together with her measured and thoughtful narration, alongside wisely selected quotations, the deceptively simple video exemplifies what academic videographic criticism can offer.
Academic videographic criticism has not given television as much attention it deserves, and when it does, videos typically ignore popular “everyday television” forms like reality TV. Hageman’s video treats the home makeover genre as an archival site to explore racial and material histories, presented with an otherworldly style that makes the critical insights feel more tangible and real than the constructed norms of the genre it mines for footage.
Succession but It’s Arrested Development by Luis Azevedo
This needs to be experienced in tandem with Azevedo’s Arrested Development but It’s Succession - these complementary masterful intercuts of two iconic TV series demonstrate the power of sound to signify tone and genre. I prefer this sitcom-isation of Succession, largely because it masterfully uses Arrested Development’s fractured complex storytelling to convey a somewhat coherent narrative arc, and lets us see the comedic tones of these dramatic performances shine through.
Line Goes Up: The Problem with NFTs by Dan Olson
I rarely have time or patience for the 2+ hour video essays that have become quite popular (especially with my 16-year-old!), but this one is an exception. Olson presents a comprehensive case for why NFTs, and their associated crypto, Web3, and blockchain trends, are total scams. While I don’t think it ultimately needs to be a feature-length documentary, it’s an utterly captivating and convincing example of this YouTube format — and it has proven to be rather prescient since it was released in January 2022.
2022 saw a rise in interesting collaborations within the videographic world, including a group Exquisite Corpse experiment, and the recently-released Once upon a Screen vol. 2 projects. From the latter collection, this video, based on Ariel Avissar’s written memory, stuck with me the most, as Donnelly uses a wide range of videographic techniques to create something that is simultaneously embedded in his own personal history, and captures Avissar’s writing. Both authors’ written commentaries add rich layers of reflexivity and revisioning to the project, which I nominate as emblematic of the bold possibilities of videographic collaboration.
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
Can a visual essay be a remedy against that awkward moment where you thought you have seen something that was not on the film? Cormac Donnelly’s reverses that more common preoccupation while taping into one’s memories and fears. Profound yet comical, Can I Remember It Differently? show us how cinema touches trauma and memory and how artistic expression is a way to deal with those remembrances.
Practices of Viewing: Loop by Johannes Binotto
Cinema as memory plays out as rituals of repetition. Part of the series Practices of Viewing, Binotto’s piece reflects on how the end of looping in cinema could represent a loss. Loop implies difference, and multiplying the doors of entrance and comprehension. Psycho (1960) is a perfect place to disseminate voyeurism.
This clever and provoking work deals with how image construction in home and garden television shows – specially based on the ideals of renewal, family and hospitality – pose questions about, as Eva classifies it, “race, place, and memory”. Shiplap, then, becomes more than a type of lumber used in interior design, but a symbol of covering nightmare stories about inequality, racism, marginalisation and displacement.
Temporal Ghosts. David Lowery’s A Ghost Story by Enrique Saunders
Touching and intelligent essay by Enrique Saunders, which addresses the features of the long take and slow cinema on a moment in A Ghost Story (David Lowery). What is appealing here is that the spectral quality of cinema, literalised by the theme of the film, achieves a dimension of temporality, of being able to live inside an image for a while, and what that duration and insistence might do in terms of dramatic discomfort. Moreover, every image and its reversal is also a way to propose spectator as the true hors champ of cinema.
Mr Bean Is a Masterpiece of Hitchcockian Suspense by Lara Callaghan
What is most surprising in this Lara Callaghan’s piece is how her analysis of a Mr. Bean moment, using Hitchcock techniques and universe, walks a thin line between engaging audiovisual analysis and comic material. Is this low culture vs serious culture? Or is it a lesson in engaging in an argument, without ever losing grip of proof, expectation and spectator’s surprise?
Ragtag by Giuseppe Boccassini
Giuseppe Boccassini’s 84-minute video essay is a great work. A compilation of suggestive moments from the noir universe that, more than editorialising strong moments from the genre, aims at conveying violence, paranoia and fear through repetition and insistence. A video essay that renders the nightmarish quality of the noir, the creative instrument metamorphosing itself to portrait form and content.
As Tears Go By by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin
For some time now, The Thinking Machine, the series by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin for Filmkrant has been an indispensable project to understand visual essays potentials. This year it was difficult to choose a favourite, but As Tears Go By touches me particularly, in how editing makes impossible dialogues take shape. Anna Karina and Marianne Faithful’s dialogue is trapped in men’s universe: the words and the images. This piece is a small key out of imaginary imprisonment.
FILMADRID International Film Festival programming team
Hands of the Future by Sabrina D. Marques, Mehdi Jahan, Dan Shoval, Adrian Martin (voiceover)
Back to Theaters by Victoria Oliver Farner
Deconstructing the Construction: The Female Images in Chinese Detective Films, 2010-2020 by Ying-Hsiu Chou (University of Washington)
Maria’s Marias by Maria Hofmann (University of Minnesota)
Chantal Akerman: The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy by Andrea Nouga Feliu
The French New Wave: A Free Woman Under the Male Gaze by Laura Romero Sánchez
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
Affective Atmosphere: Embodiment and the Film Frame by Pavel Prokopic
The poll asks for suggestions of ‘noteworthy’ (rather than ‘best’) video essays. Writing as a maker, I have interpreted this to mean video essays I can learn from, not so much in terms of what they’re trying to tell me, but in terms of their methods, techniques and rhetoric. In this first choice, I think there’s too much onscreen text; still, I admire how it’s placed as commentary in one vertical of the triptych. The faces and voices, colours, lighting, textures and split-screen in the video essay are exquisitely beautiful. The combination of affect and alienation is unusual and impressive.
I dislike the frenetic voiceover style of the YouTube argumentative video essay, however well-intentioned or put together. Why are they so keen to tell me what to think? In Shiplap, Eva Hageman performs, for me, a more effective inquiry into race, place and memory, deploying found footage, archival materials and text to suggest an analysis that must be completed by the viewer. Voiceover is either sourced from the footage or whispered by the author herself. I hope to learn from Hageman’s political use of juxtaposition and implication, and her refusal to restrict the video’s analytical thrust to a single direction.
TV Dictionary—Blob by Barbara Zecchi
This contribution to Ariel Avissar’s ever-expanding TV Dictionary deals with a phenomenon of everyday avant-gardism that has been a staple of Italian television for decades. Blob is meta-television: a twenty-minute absurdist montage of clips drawn from the broadcasting of the previous day. Chris Keathley suggests that video essays can be most effective when they borrow the aesthetic strategies of the media object analysed, and Barbara Zecchi does this here with great wit. Notice the use of horizontal scrolling text and the fragmenting of the onscreen definition read by a variety of ‘accented’ and AI voices. The video essay ends perfectly.
The Spaces Beyond: Experimenting with the Theory of Audiovisual Concrète by Holly Rogers and Heather Britton
The voiceover is well-performed and informative in The Spaces Beyond, and the makers’ concept of ‘sonic elongation’ will become standard. I sympathise with the reflection on the politics and potential of constraint-based videographic work around minute 21:00. But what I will take from this video essay is the treatment of on-screen text in the first and final minutes. The formatting is at once crude and sophisticated, with banal sans-serif fonts in regular or bold framed in text boxes, unfurled, or floated and superimposed on other text and images and, of course, sound. The whole thing goes powerfully rogue from 22:15.
Maria’s Marias by Maria Hofmann
The title of this video essay, which contrasts German (Die Trapp-Familie, 1956) and Hollywood (The Sound of Music, 1965) adaptations of the memoir by Maria von Trapp, is ambiguous. Does the possessive belong to von Trapp, or to the author of the video essay? Both, of course: in fact, Hofmann sings Edelweiss (‘not,’ it turns out, ‘an Austrian song’) on the soundtrack, but hers is just one of many voices that form the video essay’s dialogic chorus. It’s the complex interaction of split-screen (borrowed from kogonada’s What Is Neorealism?) and fugue of voices that I will take from this video.
Can Everyone See My Screen? The Desktop as Videographic Canvas and Professional Profile by Juan Llamas Rodriguez
Videographic events, like the ‘Videography: Art and Academia’ symposium in Hanover this November, have increasingly featured performative presentations, where points are made as much through the form as in the content of the ‘talks’. Can Everyone See my Screen? was recorded rather than performed live at Hanover, but it featured its maker mimicking the tics and hesitations of speakers on the videotelephony platforms with which we have become so familiar. Rodriguez’s video-presentation showed how the ‘illustrated lecture’ can be an ironic and reflexive mode, and it challenged us to deploy the clumsiness and glitchiness of Zoom (etc) for epistemic ends.
Nest by Hlynur Pálmason
I’m going to call Nest an essay film, though it’s unclear if it’s that, or a documentary, or something else again (it credits a stunt coordinator, which is a relief if you’re a parent who’s watched the film). The film follows the construction of a treehouse in a wild corner of Iceland over several seasons from the perspective of a single static camera. The lesson is that a radically constrained approach to (essay) filmmaking can generate spectacular results: beauty, in the patient record of landscape and weather, and incident, in the observation of animals and the filmmaker’s own (exploited?) children.
Founder/director, Prismatic Ground; co-director of programming, Maysles Documentary Center
Proof of Self by Maya Daisy Hawke
Created for a Masterclass presentation, Hawke’s precis on editing folds her experience working on the feature documentary Navalny into a fully considered reflection on self, work, and art.
I Am the World by Che Applewhaite
“Imagine, the first time you hear someone say…must have been in the image you just saw.”
Animal Spirits by Hito Steyerl
This year at Locarno Kevin B. Lee highlighted Hito Steyerl in the filmic context as ‘The Future of Cinema’ at Locarno. Steyerl also featured alongside Lee’s work, and that of Tracy Cox-Stanton, Coco Fusco, Chloé Galibert-Laîné, Charlie Shackleton, and Marina Trigueros, in a video essay exhibit at Michigan State University’s Broad Museum.
Vecino Vecino by Camila Galaz
A deft consideration of family, politics, time, and cinema. An attempt to forge past and present by recreating the image.
Subliminal desire in a cinema under duress.
True Places by Gloria Chung
Chung’s mediated relationship to landscape evokes a terrain of memory and distant sensation.
Four/Three Songs Without Z. by Karthik Pandian, Andros Zins-Browne, Zakaria Almoutlak
Note: Released in a single-channel version this year as Three Songs Without Z.
As Mine Exactly by Charlie Shackleton
An ‘anti-VR piece narrated live by its author, seated directly across from his headset-strapped audience of one, Shackleton’s desktop reflection on his mother’s epilepsy was one of the most moving artistic experiences to be had this year, and another fine notch in the filmmaker’s lengthy conceptual belt.
Assistant professor, Leiden University; co-organiser MoMA Doc Fortnight 2023
Moune Ô by Maxime Jean-Baptiste
Constant by Sasha Litvintseva and Beny Wagner
Private Footage by Janaína Nagata
The Revolution Will Not Be Air-conditioned by Bo Wang
Heat Waves by Kent Chan
Desistfilm co-director, MUTA Audiovisual Appropriation Festival (programmer, curator)
The Stairwell: Memories and Mirages of Film Noir by Stephen Broomer
Colligare herbarium et insecta by Nicolás Onischuk, Agustina Arrarás
Richard Kerr: Field Trips by Stephen Broomer
Remix/Remaster by Cristina Álvarez López, Adrian Martin
Itinéraire d’un homme fragile sur Mozilla Firefox by Seumboy Vrainom
Line Goes Up – The Problem with NFTs by Dan Olson — Folding Ideas
Not film related. But undoubtedly, the best video essay made in 2022.
Audio-visual PhD student at the University of Birmingham
life and death of the image by Ella Victoria Wright
This extraordinary piece is both affecting and unsettling, utilising AI technology to reanimate prisoner photographs from Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is one of the most moving videographic works I’ve ever watched, and poses important ethical questions about how essayists engage with sensitive archival material.
I love the collaborative nature of the Once upon a Screen project. The very conscious integration of personal subjectivities creates unique resonances for every viewer, which is perhaps why, having become a parent last year, Cormac Donnelly’s video particularly stood out to me.
[wings flapping] by Matthew Tomkinson
A wonderful example of how a short and simple concept can convey clear and impactful argumentation. In just 30 seconds, the sound choices made in this study have completely changed the way in which I look at subtitles and consider what they convey to those who are unable to listen simultaneously.
Video Venn: Documentaries, Essays and the Pedagogy In-Between by Richard Langley
Having studied an earlier iteration of the documentary module discussed here 12 years ago, this pedagogic exploration of the subject matter using its very material encapsulates, for me, the fluidity and constant evolution of both teaching and film.
Maria’s Marias by Maria Hoffman
The combination of one of my favourite films (The Sound of Music) with one of my favourite ways of working (multiscreen composition) was probably always going to appeal, and it was intriguing to finally see some clips from Die Trapp-Familie. However, it is the clever weaving of both films with archival audio that really engaged me in Maria’s Marias, providing new perspectives on a much-loved story and its telling.
169 Seconds: Parasite – Props at the Periphery of Perception by Mathias Bonde Korsgaard
Delightfully alliterative title aside, this short study brilliantly spotlights the level of detail in Parasite, making me want to watch it all over again.
Listed simply in order of posting date:
Fear of Cold by Jacob Geller
The Super 8 Years by Annie Ernaux, David Ernaux-Briot et al.
Intimate Tresholds by Desiree Garcia
action button reviews boku no natsuyasumi by Tim Rogers
Embodied Diegetic Sound by Allison Cooper
The People You’re Paying to Be in Shorts by Jon Bois, Alex Rubenstein, Seth Rosenthal, Kofie Yeboah et al
Conforme by Johanna Vaude
Film archivist and critic, leading The Queue over at Film School Rejects
Realism and Fantastic Cinema by APLattanzi
It’s difficult to make a case for non-invisible visual effects these days without tripping over a dozen or so discourse landmines. And I appreciate how emphatically this video essay makes a case for effects that read as effects in a way that invites would-be detractors to the table. I think the way this essayist presents their argument respects those it’s trying to convert, and that makes the overall rhetorical effect that much stronger.
The Secret Ingredient That Makes Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN So Great by Patrick (H) Willems and Siddhant Adlakha
There’s a sub-set of younger millennials who were just the right age for the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy … and just a little too old to be truly swept up the MCU madness that we’re still very much dealing with. I’ve always had a hard time articulating why these newer MCU movies feel so different from Raimi’s trilogy (outside of the obvious). But Willems and Adlakha have definitively cracked the code here, I think. Thorough, well-argued, and radiating with truthiness, this is easily one of my favourite watches of the year.
Nothing but Trouble Is a Very Weird Movie by Zane Whitener (In Praise of Shadows)
I’m a sucker for detailed eulogies of famously chaotic film curios. And they don’t come much more chaotic (or curious) than the 1991 horror-comedy Nothing but Trouble, which pretty much singlehandedly robbed us of Dan Aykroyd, director. Whitener does a heroic job performing this sarcastically in-depth autopsy, which will, I hope, keep the legend-like aura surrounding this film alive.
The Catharsis of Body Horror by Yhara zayd
If there were an Olympic medal for teasing the YouTube censorship algorithm, it would go to this video essay. In all seriousness, this is one of the more lucid and well-argued articulations I’ve ever seen of why something as carnal and goopy as body horror might feel meditative, academically fulfilling, and even spiritual. This essay also offers a thoroughly compelling taxonomic analysis (ruin, release, and rebirth) to a sub-genre often dismissed as unworthy of such analysis.
How Nope Tricks Your Ears by Thomas Flight
Flight’s style – which has always prioritised variations of scene analysis – is allowed to fully flex in this captivating and insightful breakdown of how use of sound design in Jordan Peele’s Nope can teach us about the difference between horror and terror. I adore the way that Flight invites us to see (or rather /hear/) Peele’s decisions for ourselves. It’s as effective “show don’t tell” pedagogy as you’re liable to find.
The Visual Effects Crisis by Andrew Saladino (The Royal Ocean Film Society)
As always, Saladino brings a level of graphical finesse and polish that remains unmatched by any of his peers. This video essay is a spectacular reminder that the antagonism between CGI people and practical effects people is a red herring. The real villain isn’t the false dichotomy of tangible vs digital. The real villain is capitalism.
I am cheating, I’m sure, by including a two-parter. But frankly, them’s the breaks. Maggie Mae Fish keeps the Socratic Method alive by engaging with fictional interlocutors in a valiant and self-effacing attempt to divine an answer to the question “why is Twin Peaks like that?” Not only do these two essays sarcastically mock the always mockable dude-bro-explains-media-to-you genre, Fish successfully collates various strings of knowledge and insight into a genuinely compelling thesis.
Video essayist at StrucciMovies
Disney Channel’s Theme: A History Mystery by Defunctland
Watching this YouTube video essay by someone who seems to harbour shame about making YouTube videos (or at least performed shame for thematic connectivity and impact) is fascinating. This video tells a gripping story, taking unexpected twists and showcasing slick visuals and admirable depth of research, while simultaneously calling into question its own worth and validity. It’s a strange and compelling balance that made me question my own assumptions about creating for the internet, which in 2022 seems preferable to traditional outlets. After all, this video is more compelling than any ‘legitimate’ feature documentary I’ve seen in quite some time.
Disney Channel’s Theme: A History Mystery by Kevin Perjurer
I could watch history lessons about arcane theme park history all day and Perjurer’s the best in the biz.
The New Silent Cinema by Yacov Freedman
Yacov looking into a new trend that has personal significance. A way to find something deeper in the mainstream.
Practices of Viewing: Loop by Johannes Binotto
Johannes’ series continues to beguile. You can’t go wrong with his work, a first rate mind close by.
Georges Franju and the moving frame by Johannes Binotto
A beautiful detour into a beloved figure’s working method
A Dress to Bring Out the Devil in You by Chris O’Neill
Available on Arrow’s Blu-ray of I’m Dangerous Tonight.
Chris, a kindred spirit, looking into the genius of my beloved Tobe Hooper.
Film Thought 3. Godard Is Dead by Will DiGravio
Will’s honesty and curiosity are beautiful things.
Riotsville, USA by Sierra Pettengill
A recontextualisation of American police practice and the image of America that it goes to great length to keep secret.
Honourable mention: Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Adventure, about American TV, another reflection of the American identity.
Terra Femme by Courtney Stephens
I can’t choose between Bianca Stigter’s Three Minutes: A Lengthening and Courtney Stephens’s Terra Femme. Thankfully, I don’t have to. It was a happy serendipity that 2022 saw the wide release of both: they’re both feature-length theatrically released film essays, both just over an hour long, and both take amateur footage as their subject. And after that, they feel like inversions of one another that somehow arrive at the same place. For its part, Terra Femme unearths private globe-hopping travelogues shot by a handful of women with a variety of stories, reasons, and aesthetics.
Three Minutes: A Lengthening by Bianca Stigter
Meanwhile, Three Minutes: A Lengthening painstakingly reworks the tiny fragment of time described by the title: barely a glimpse of a Jewish village in Poland in 1938. But both films crack their images open to reveal presence and absence, time and space, archive and database, memory and mystery, and more. By the end of Stephens’s film, I imagined millions of other images, shot and unshot, by an endless caravan of other journeyers. By the end of Stigter’s, I couldn’t help but believe that the entire world somehow refracted through those infinite three minutes.
How to Explain Your Mental Illness to Stanley Kubrick by Philip Brubaker
After years of insightful and witty video essays that regularly graced this list, @lensitself went soul-baringly personal here and, appropriately for the subject matter, threw every form of essayism he could think of at the screen. The embrace of this film is staggering – a kaleidoscope of approaches to mental illness as well as to videographic criticism including montages and supercuts and experimental deformations and re-enactments and explainers and personal documentary. But they all work together so totally because they all come from a place of needing us to un-see something familiar, so we can see it again for the first time.
The End of History by Scout Tafoya and Tucker Johnson
A ten-part series on Ridley and Tony Scott. It’s sprawling and digressive, with a daunting running time, but by episode five I never wanted it to end. What a forgotten pleasure it is to see clips play long, for the time to think with and against the essayist, and for theses to emerge, full of thorniness, from a space of lifelong consideration and contradiction. A successor to the classic auteurist texts on Ford and Hawks, yes, moreover a cortege, draped in sweat and intestines, for both American cinema and some of the illusions I once had about it.
Breath of the Wild fixed stamina, it’s perfect now, we did it by Afterthoughts
This is everything a YouTube video essay can and should be. Breathlessly paced, thoroughly witty, perfectly cut, light to the touch, every idea illustrated with an image. If you’ve ever taught any kind of visual design philosophy (or ever assigned any Edward Tufte) and wish you had something specific and engaging on video game UX/UI, slide this into a reading list and become a hero to your students. Or, you know, just watch it for fun, because it’s so so much fun. It sets a standard for demonstrating how something small can make a huge difference.
Film-with-live-orchestra Concerts: A New Hope by Sureshkumar Sekar
My favourite peer-reviewed video essay of the year. The scope is remarkable, encompassing formal analysis, film history, personal memoir, cognitive neuroscience, and a bit of comedy to offer interdisciplinary insights into how our brains are newly wired in the 21st century. And all from the unlikeliest place: film-with-live-orchestra concerts. I didn’t think there was anything to this topic either, but I was wrong, too. Turns out, the screen is part of our mind now. Our old ways of being won’t survive without the screen, but when the screen meets them, that new experience can blow us away.
Queer Relativity by Aranock
What starts as a nice time-hopping reference to Dr Manhattan’s experience of time in Watchmen turns into a structural argument: we are always all of ourselves at once. Identity encompasses every aspect of that transformation. And thus what seems merely an examination of temporality and queer subtexts in Star Trek, Blade Runner, and the like, turns into a powerful and compellingly personal portrait of how meaning in art, and therefore identity more broadly, are formed through community and connection. A powerful statement in how examining one’s life, through essay and through art, across time, helps make it worth living.
Freelance film critic, lecturer in film studies, UNATC Bucharest
This is a film best watched twice. Depending on your expectations, you will see, in subjective order, a sensuous, immersive arthouse film and an extensive study on Iranian cinema analysing how filmmaking restrictions – in showing actors touch, depicting women’s gazes – are persistently and creatively subverted in both popular and arthouse cinema. The text on screen is bilingual, and to me as a foreigner the lines in Farsi are both beautiful calligraphy and markers of insurmountable distance. I will perhaps never access Forough Farrokhzad’s poems, as I hope to have more directly seen the films of Panahi, Samira Makhmalbaf and Mehrjui.
Mirrors of Digital Landscapes by Jáchym Šidlák/Film a doba
Keeping an audiovisual creation coherent in following a broad theoretical argument is no easy task, and it should be even more challenging when Bill Morrison, gameplay architecture and post-apocalyptic films (with or without live-action plots) are all thrown into the mix. Following Jennifer Fay’s exploration of Cinema in the Time of Anthropocene, Jáchym Šidlák’s video makes you gradually feel totally trapped in contemporary visual culture, a trap that only its material decay might help you escape.
The Depp-Heard Trial Is an Ugly, Scary Trial by Social Media by The Take (eds. Susannah McCullough and Debra Minoff)
Leaving pop culture behind, if you afford it, is certainly liberating, though the 2022 Depp-Heard trial was a reminder that no reality exists apart from pop culture and social media: a click-count success that few people with jobs could follow entirely and a catalyst for gendered prejudice in ways that were both obvious and hard to unpack. You can dislike Heard and be shocked at the misogyny of the trial’s most vocal commentators. In this high-strung environment, to use a cliché when it feels justified, the Take’s prolific, perseverant and rigorous cultural criticism is what we need right now.
Hanging Portraits: Obsession and Resurrection in Laura by Stephen Broomer / Art & Trash
The age-old distinction between the didactic and the poetic in videographic criticism might leave the impression that any commentary must choose between the two, though Hanging Portraits is clearly an exception. Heady like Preminger’s missing-leading-lady romance and lucid in navigating its connection to noir tropes, Stephen Broomer’s video essay will leave you with the impression that you’ve already seen the film five times and you’re just dying to watch it again soon.
I would pause my life for any Max Ophüls lecture, and plenty of videographic research on the author’s films (by Tag Gallagher and Mark Rappaport, to only cite classics) has made me happy that I stayed. Gibbs and Pye engage in a very complex game of identifying perspectives in Le Plaisir – whether it’s Maupassant’s, Ophüls’, the multilingual ‘Maupassant’ voiceovers’ or the multiple main and transient characters’, in this very subtly narrated film.
An additional, cheeky text-on-screen voice frequently contradicts the two critics’ statements, inadvertently reminding us that precision was never the highest goal of cinephile commentary.
Deconstructing the Construction: The Female Images in Chinese Detective Films, 2010-2020 by Ying-Hsiu Chou/Tecmerin
Noir has the contradictory legacy of eschewing wholesome, conventional female protagonists and replacing them with a different male fantasy. Eight decades after its so-called classical stage, in the age of big-budget spectacle and global circulation of genres, China/Hong Kong-produced detective films have accumulated to a parallel canon to the US/French ‘patient zero’, one that tells a not-so-different story. The video alternates supercuts of recurring unimaginative moments and in-depth looks at behind-the-scenes footage and actresses’ testimonies on the exigencies of their role. Tl; dr: it’s still sexist; but the often surprising details collected here are worth your full attention.
Footsteps by Evenlyn Kreutzer
I first became fascinated by videographic criticism seeing how closely and minutely it can analyse creative decisions behind great cinema. This potentiality hasn’t yet been exhausted even for canonical authors, and Evelyn Kreutzer proved herself particularly brilliant in recognising great work when she hears it. Hitchcock’s characters are often in motion and their footsteps are an important part of the tale they tell – because they make audible what is temporarily not visible, or maybe because they’re silent like a ghost’s.
Creator, collector, and curator of video essays under the nom de video Filmscalpel
Over the past years, videographic strategies have increasingly been applied to other visual regimes than those of movies and television shows alone. Video games in particular have been the subject of great video essays. Interestingly, those essays were made by very diverse practitioners: from academics over avid gamers to modders. That is why I chose three fine examples of video essays about games for this year’s poll.
Hardly Working by Total Refusal
NPCs or Non-Playable Characters are the digital extras of video games. They are bit players in the truest sense of the term: they populate the background but have no agency or narrative importance. Hardly Working puts four such NPCs from the successful game Red Dead Redemption 2 in the spotlight. The collective Total Refusal questions capitalist work regimes in this fine piece of machinima. The detached and mockingly objective tone of the voice over commentary references that of nature documentaries and describes NPCs as capitalism’s ideal workforce: unquestioning, without autonomy, unbothered by boredom.
Elden Ring — PS1 Trailer Demake by Hoolopee
This year’s action role-playing game Elden Ring boasts impressive and cutting-edge visuals. But in this cheeky video 3D VFX artist Hoolopee “demakes” the hit game’s trailer to how it would have looked if it had been made for a 1995 PlayStation system. Videographic appropriation and video game nostalgia blend in his backdated trailer. The result is a charming little piece of performative criticism that questions games studios’ single-minded pursuit of photographic realism.
Platformer Toolkit by Mark Brown
There have been attempts at interactive videographic criticism before, but most of those were gimmicky and didn’t use the viewer’s input in any meaningful way. The Platformer Toolkit however is interactive video essaying at its finest. This impressive tool by Mark Brown of Game Maker’s Toolkit lets you play around with the controls of a basic platform game’s protagonist. It demonstrates how design decisions shape the gaming experience and how aesthetic aspects and the enjoyment of gameplay are closely intertwined. Oh, and the toolkit also introduces you to intriguing game design terminology such as “coyote time” and “adding juice”.
Film critic (www.apaladewalsh.com) and film programmer (Serralves Foundation, IndieLisboa IFF)
ragtag by Giuseppe Boccassini
Zig-zag editing of noir films, between Martin Arnold and a broken record. A looping effect turns into a hypnotic journey through recurring tropes, gestures and glances. Film history in a table tennis match with itself.
Filme particular by Janaína Nagata
Desktop cinema turns into forensic archival investigation, bringing together different media in search of context. A whodunit video essay in which the killer is our collective forgetfulness.
GeoMarkr by Chloé Galibert-Laîné
The latest video by Chloé Galibert-Laîné is a playful exercise on playfulness, as her previous works were a thrilling exercise on thrillers, and a self-reflective exercise on self-representation. The brilliant art of the meta video essay.
Nadine Nortier by Gillian Garcia
Not in any way a ‘video’-essay, but a short film that uses all the tropes of video-essayistic technique: repetition, modification, singling out gestures, recontextualisation, etc. A film that elevates the particularities of Robert Bresson cinema to its essence.
Glass Life by Sara Cwynar
Sara Cwynar’s work has been working around the notion of torrential thinking in the age of the torrential production of images. Her latest piece turns the ‘internet’ into an analogue web of layered still and moving images, navigating aimlessly in between them as a sign of their ephemerality.
Professor and director of the film studies programme at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, https://vimeo.com/barbarazecchi
Men Shouting: A History in 7 Episodes by Alan O’Leary
This is, in my opinion, the most stunning example to date of a deformative approach to videographic criticism, a field in which Alan O’Leary is by all means the most prominent voice and practitioner.
Superbly structured, expertly paced, and uncanningly hypnotic, this piece is evidence that what ‘makes the original work strange’ (to borrow Jason Mittell’s well-known definition of deformative criticism) can indeed be a masterpiece.
Practices of Viewing: Dubbing by Johannes Binotto
It is an impossible – and an unfair – task to choose just one work by Johannes Binotto. Since his first video essay, Facing Film, which already revealed his uncommon talent, each and every one that followed is equally unique, unrepeatable, powerful, surprising, and so tremendously beautiful.
For this poll I chose Dubbing just because it is the closest to me and to my research. Dubbing achieves the perfect balance between scholarly discourse and creativity, between objectivity and the personal, between the critical and the artistic, between the academic and the intimate, and talks loudly to me about inclusion, defamiliarisation and love.
Once upon a Screen Vol. 2 by Evelyn Kreutzer and Ariel Avissar
Without a doubt, Once upon a Screen Vol. 2 has been the major video graphic project of the year.
Ariel Avissar and Evelyn Kreutzer had already demonstrated their enormous talents and spirit of initiative with their TV Dictionary and Moving Poems respectively, projects that have strengthened a community of video essayists.
With Once upon a Screen Vol. 2, they brought the multi-authorship experiments even further in a project that had fostered human bonding, and intellectual exchange. A brilliant idea executed to perfection.
Skilfully produced (superb storytelling and rhythm), this video essay takes full advantage of the form’s possibilities by centring in a simple perceptive observation. Brilliant piece by a brilliant video essayist.
The Curse of the Gimmick: Star Wipe by Veronika Hanáková and Jiří Anger
Rarely does a video essay say so much about its authors: their skilful editing, their passion for the archive, their sense of humour, their sophisticated knowledge, and their great originality. A stylish, dynamic and cuttingly insightful video essay from two stars in the field.
Mi sueño es representar la belleza de la mujer de mi estado by Jeffrey Middents
A powerful statement about female to-be-looked-at-ness in cinema, this video essay is to date the best work on Latin American women’s reification and dispossession, intersected with issues of sexuality, class, race, and age. Through defamiliarising repetitions, and hypnotic rhythm, this superbly crafted video essay represents a great example of the perfect combination of artistic work with thorough and serious scholarly research.
Eye-Camera-Ninagawa by Colleen Laird
This is a stunning debut video essay that speaks loudly of Colleen Laird’s great visual sensibility and talent. Beautifully paced, and jaw-droppingly composed (a multi screen of 146 shots), this video essay establishes a scholarly evocative and convincing comparison between two films that seemingly have nothing in common. A real gem from a promising newcomer in the field.
“Fox Maxy is a filmmaker whose work has screened at MoMA, LACMA, Rotterdam, and BlackStar Film Festival among other places. In 2020, COUSIN Collective supported the director with her first grant. In 2022, Fox was named as Sundance Institute’s Merata Mita Fellow. She’s also a Vera List Center Borderlands Fellow. Currently Fox is working on a film about mental health.
“Pauline Julier is an artist and filmmaker who explores the links that humans create with their environment through stories, rituals, knowledge and images. Her films and installations are composed of elements of diverse origins (documentary, theoretical, fictional) to restitute the complexity of our relationship to the world. Her installations and films have been screened in contemporary art centres, institutions and festivals around the world, including the Center Pompidou (Paris), Loop (Barcelona), Visions du Réel (Nyon), Tokyo Wonder Site (Tokyo), Museum of Modern Art in Tanzania, Geneva Art Center, Palazzo Grassi (Venice), New York, Madrid, Berlin, Zagreb, Cinémathèque de Toronto and the Pera Museum in Istanbul. Julier had a solo exhibition at the Centre Culturel Suisse in Paris (CCS) in 2017. She completed a year-long residency in Rome in 2020 at the Istituto Svizzero, and her film Naturales Historiae has been shown online on Vdrome.org.”
“It is a fantastic and baffling crime that many of APLattanzi’s videos only have a hundred or so views. Their work is varied and well-produced, covering everything from how backlight animation works to musical continuities in the original Lost in Space TV show. I always learn something new when watching their stuff and I would love to see more eyes on their channel, which currently has just over 3500 subscribers as of writing this.
“With a YouTube channel only founded within the last calendar year, Niche Nonsense really does feel like a solid candidate for a noteworthy up-and-comer. Their film-focused video essays (including their examination of the sound design of ‘Swiss Army Man’ and their case for why Gen Z needs more slacker movies) are polished and edu-taining. While their interests seem interdisciplinary, I hope they continue to cover film-based content.”
Catherine Grant nominated Anne Rutherford:
“Anne Rutherford is a longstanding and world-leading film studies scholar whose work has been foundational in the fields of cinematic affect and embodiment, and materiality. Her first ever video essay – Ripple, Rustle, Shimmer and Shake: The Cinematic Rapture of Grass – was published in the Spring 2022 issue of [in]Transition and in it she found the perfect medium and form for her kind of cinema studies. I loved this work and I really hope she goes on to make more brilliant and beautiful videographic work.”
Adrian Martin mentions Occitane Lacurie:
“Occitane Lacurie is part of the French group that produces the Débordements website, devoted to ‘criticism and research’. Their work finds a path between academia and popular journalism. Lacurie’s audiovisual essays look into the histories of criticism; in her 2021 Sur trois rencontres tardives (On Three Belated Encounters), she excavates, among other things, the life and work of the largely overlooked Michèle Firk.”
“With infrequent uploads and a wide range of subject matter (come for British short animation, stay for a dissection of Japandroids albums), not much unites Dennis Gallagher’s body of work except the level of detail that goes into each individual video. There *is* a consistent difference of view, or maybe tone of voice, that makes his essays fascinating. My favourite this year is his analysis of Uncle Rico’s trauma in Napoleon Dynamite, which claims him as the central character of a tragedy, then argues that via an 80s manga and an episode of The Twilight Zone.”
“Rather than praise max teeth’s channel as a whole, I want to focus on one video: Cadet Kelly Has a Gay Agenda. As someone who was entering adulthood when 9/11 happened, I’ll inevitably be relitigating its legacy the rest of my life. And this essay, which weaves a thoughtmap connecting American imperialism, Disney channel originals, the red scare, gay rights, romantic comedies, and more, showed me a side to 9/11 I never noticed before. It deserves to become a staple ‘reading’ in any course traversing these topics. By demonstrating just how insidiously a hundred different struggles hegemonically interlink, it not only provides a primer on intersectional thought, but also a cautionary tale on how ideology is everywhere, and there are more fronts to any struggle than you ever suspect.
“The Sex Robot Show is a serialised adaptation of the Emily Jaworski’s thesis project. As you might guess, its content got it almost immediately banned from YouTube, but it’s a vital project that intersects discourses on gender, bodies, ableism, cybersecurity, identity, and, in the most recent episode, the bottomless rabbit-hole of horrors that is AI-generated pornography. It doesn’t happen very often that a series reveals that something I had no earthly knowledge of is somehow at the nexus of a slew of vital contemporary conversations. But this is that show. It’s astonishing work and I can’t wait to see more of it. Or anything else Emily wants to do!”
Barbara Zecchi nominated Rodrigo Campos Castello Branco:
“Não veio dos céus nem das mãos de Isabel is a beautiful piece made for The Videography Mentorship Program, part of the Videography: Art and Academia – Epistemological, Political and Pedagogical Potentials of Audiovisual Practices symposium in Hanover, Germany. It shows incredible talent, sensibility and political awareness. I hope Rodrigo will continue in this field.”
Some ‘emerging voice’ nominees have their works acknowledged in the ‘best video essays’ poll: Cormac Donnelly (named by Alan O’Leary), Jiří Anger and Veronika Hanáková (named by Adrian Martin), Sureshkumar P. Sekar (mentioned by Catherine Grant), Eva Hagemam (distinguished by Barbara Zecchi), Afterthoughts (mentioned by Queline Meadows) and The Nukes/Joshua Geist (nominated by Will Webb). We leave the unedited descriptions below:
It’s notable (and a cause of envy) that some of the most exciting innovators in the videographic form are still working on their PhDs! Ariel Avissar is one, and Cormac Donnelly another. The quality of Donnelly’s video essays has been recognised in this poll before, but I want to point to his Deformative Sound Lab, which draws from investigations by makers like Allison de Fren, Jason Mittell and Kevin Ferguson to generate fascinating experiments in film analysis.
Jiří Anger and Veronika Hanáková are two researchers based in Prague who delve into video montage in order to elaborate their arguments and findings in new and different ways. Their work The Clown, the Tree, the Shadows is an exciting crossbreeding of popular horror and an avant-garde archive.
Sureshkumar Sekar is a PhD candidate at the Royal College of Music, London, where he is investigating audience, audiovisual culture, liveness, aLiveness, film music, and orchestral music. He is producing some very interesting and highly engaging and original academic work in videographic format, including an award-winning work of his we published this year at [in]Transition. I look forward very much to seeing where his work goes next.
Eva Hageman is already an accomplished scholar in television, media production, and popular culture. She produced an early version of Shiplap for the Middlebury College workshop in videographic criticism. This new version – recently published in [in]Transition – is evidence of Eva’s enormous ability, intelligence and talent, and I hope it is only the first video essay of many to come.
Afterthoughts makes video essays on a range of topics from storytelling techniques to game design. Her writing and editing is outstanding; she always finds the perfect balance between entertaining humour and sharp insights. Anyone who manages to make an 18-minute video about Breath of the Wild’s stamina meter consistently engaging is someone to keep an eye on.
An English professor in his day job, Joshua Geist brings a ‘close reading’ analysis to (mostly) children’s media on his channel (which he shares with wife Megan and, implicitly, is informed by their family viewing habits).
There are plenty of channels on Breadtube which purport to do the same, but the wide-ranging analysis and formal playfulness of The Nukes marks it out as a channel to watch.
In Rabbit, Candide, and a World Gone to Hell, Disney’s animated adaptations of Winnie the Pooh provide a jumping-off point for an analysis of Voltaire, absurdism, and some wild structural choices (enjoy Josh rapping, if you can). Josh also led the Exquisite Relay essay collaboration carried out through the Essay Library discord, a fascinating experiment in essay structure where multiple creators made an ‘exquisite corpse’ essay, both forward and back. (Full disclosure: I participated in the Exquisite Relay and on other collabs with Josh – Will Webb)
Not uncharacteristically for the videographic community, some distinctions are collective. Jiří Anger named the Film a doba collaborators:
“A collective of students from Charles University in Prague has been creating video essays for the online platform of Film a doba, one of the oldest Czech (and East-Central European) journals. The ‘Audiovisual Essays’ section offers two videos a month listed under specific themes (Desktop, Tarkovsky, Nostalgia, Feminism, etc). The students’ focus on experiments with digital as well as analogue materiality brings something that most contemporary videographic criticism lacks, moving the video essays closer to experimental found footage filmmaking. Even though the accompanying texts are in Czech, most videos are available in English. So if you want to know what is happening with videographic criticism in East-Central Europe, give the essays a shot.”
Similarly, Will DiGravio draws our attention to the following collections:
“Rather than highlight individuals, I’d like to mention a few collected works of emerging video essayists: the Middlebury Videographic Cohort, the Cinema Rediscovered film critics workshop video essay commissions and The Contemporary World Cinema Project.”
The new issue of Sight and Sound
We count down the 50 best films of 2023 – how many have you seen? Plus: The spirit of Scala!!! – Alexander Payne on The Holdovers – Michael Mann on Ferrari – The Boy and the Heron – In memoriam 2023 – Lila Avilés on Totém – 2024 previewGet your copy