Tropism is the tendency of an organism to orient towards an external stimulus. Phototropism is most familiar: the natural movement and growth of plants towards light. As, for the northern hemisphere, the weather warms and the sun’s energy strengthens for summer, we may have a lot in common with our vegetable neighbors, a shared yearning to be out in the sun. Pandemic-allowing, we hope to soon be able to bask freely in its glow once again. Until then, here are a selection of films celebrating solar rays and surging plant growth.
Part science and part fiction, Other Voices is an experimental documentary about the enigmatic life of plants and the people who love them. We meet Mileece, a sound artist who claims to have given her plants a “voice” through a process of amplifying the electrical current produced in plant leaves and stems; Eric, a Plant Biologist, specializing in plant behavior; Loren, a self-proclaimed “plant-alcoholic.”
Exchange is a visual and informative illustration of air as the common bond between photosynthetic and respiratory organisms. The exchange of gases in the air — carbon dioxide for oxygen, and oxygen for carbon dioxide — between plants and animals is the most fundamental symbiosis on the planet.
Danielle Parsons is a visual artist, science communicator and creator of Wonder Science TV. Collaborating with scientists and artists, her goal is to make visually appealing media to engage the non-scientific community. She gravitates toward small-scale phenomena and specific topics, filming with macro lenses, optical and scanning electron microscopes. Danielle can often be found hiking the canyons of Los Angeles, photographing leaf patterns and moving stray invertebrates out of harm’s way. Ravi Sheth likes building small things. A PhD student and Hertz/NSF graduate fellow at Columbia’s Systems Biology department, Ravi is developing new technologies to understand and engineer communities of microbes that inhabit humans and their environments. He received his bachelor’s degree in Bio engineering at Rice University, where he developed synthetic signalling circuits in bacteria using genetically encoded light-switchable proteins, and founded biology and 3D printing K12 scientific outreach efforts. Outside the lab, Ravi experiments with cooking and fermenting all sorts of funky things.
Somewhere in the Universe, on the PLANET Z, a miracle happens. A water jet springs up and gives birth to a new life: plants. A desert planet becomes a green planet. Different species cohabit, including liquid and sticky mushrooms. But little by little, the mushrooms invade the green land and destroy the idyllic life. The toxic spores kill the plants and transform the green planet into a mouldy land. After destroying all the vegetation, the future of the mould seems uncertain — a species cannot live without other ones.
Happy Tree is a short film made for the 7th Annual Imagine Science Film Festival (themed around TIME) 48 Hour Competition and won first prize. The film features Mari in the lead role as Dr. Eleanor Drew and was directed by Jonathan Minard. The script was based on a scientific paper by neuroscientist Dr Heather Berlin “The Neural Basis of Dynamic Unconscious”.
Prompt: The Neural Basis of the Dynamic Unconscious
Prop: “Time” Piece
Line of Dialogue: “They said it would be ready at noon.”
An educational short film about the harvest of sun milk.
In Indonesia, multinational corporations have drained millions of acres of swamps and converted them to industrial plantations of oil palm and acacia. Researchers are looking for alternative crops that can be grown in wet conditions, without draining. They’re touting, among other possible candidates, the sago palm, a tree with a trunk filled with edible starch. Some farmers on the Indonesian Island of Sumatra are selling pasta made from the sago palm. For more information, please see this article in the Christian Science Monitor.
Solar Walk shows the journey of individuals and their creations on through time and space. Any meaning of action is only existent from the perspective of the individual, but never mandatory when looking at it from the perspective of a solar system. It’s about the melancholy of accepting chaos as beautiful and cosmic. Passion for creation is projected through the unique and playful texture of the animation craft itself.
Urges in the undergrowth, erupting fungal fantasies, bursting botanicals; the dust and desires of a tiny alternative universe.
A mixed media, experimental animation imagining attraction and pleasure in insects, and the seduction methods of the plants and fungi that beckon.
“The Sulfur Butterflies”
by Robert Silberglied and Chip Taylor, 1971. 16mm film.
Music by Kristina Dutton & Lisa Schonberg.
Original footage held at the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Digitization sponsored by Dr. Arnaud Martin (The George Washington University, Washington DC)
Rearing Anartia and Sulfur Butterflies are 8–16mm films documenting the work of lepidopterist Bob Silberglied in the seventies. Rearing Anartia features Silberglied and entomologist Annette Aiello’s field research at the Barro Colorado Island field station in Panama, as they were investigating the factors involved in maintaining two species distinct. Sulfur Butterflies features Silberglied and Taylor conducting research in southwest Arizona, in alfalfa fields that condensed incredible densities of butterflies at that time and allowed them to study in depth how females recognize the males of their own species based on ultraviolet coloration. Silberglied’s untimely death in a plane crash left behind an undiscovered body of work, including these two research movies. Fifty years later, we digitized these two films held in the Smithsonian Institution’s archives and added musical scores. These films are an early testimony of how creative scientists intended to communicate their passion for the study of nature to broad audiences.
Ever wonder what the world might look like beyond the visible light spectrum? Cameras can capture UV and infrared light beyond the ability of the human eye, revealing the secrets of the cosmos and our own macro universe. With amazing visuals and illuminating science “Out of Sight” explores the boundaries of sight and sound to reveal the magic and wonder in the everyday world. Featuring photographer Don Komarechka and Biological Physicist Christopher Bergevin, “Out of Sight” is part of a short digital series of visual explorations titled “Don’t Blink”.
Water, earth, air, fire. And two children at the height of summer.
The story of contemporary agriculture and a need for change, as told by a bee and its box.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Tajikistan, a former Soviet Socialist Republic, plunged into a devastating civil war. A famine struck the mountainous region of the Pamir where Raïmberdi, a passionate and ingenious botanist, built his own hydroelectric station to help his family survive through the crisis.
The story tells of Mei, a 30-year-old woman from Tokyo, who sends a message to her friend Toshi in Hamburg, telling him about haiku, strange recollections from her youth, and the last muggy summer night. Still shocked by the death of the journalist Iwaji Masaki she falls into a dream-like hallucination bringing back various testimonies of the legendary 1970s Hashimoto experiment. The objective was to show that plants have a conscience, enabling them to be used in the future for the investigation of crimes. Part media history, part ghost story, the film interweaves science and mythology and leads one to a space beyond comprehension and reason.
Spinning drawings guide us along the flow of energy through our planet, and let us ponder our place in the natural cycle.
A stop motion experiment
My Moon is an eight minute 2D animated short film, about the relationship between three celestial bodies, the Earth, the Sun, and the Moon. The story revolves around the sad nature of the way they have to co-exist, as the Earth needs both emotional and practical values from both the Sun and Moon. Presenting “My Moon”, a new short film directed by Eusong Lee, brought to you by King of Pine in collaboration with Chromosphere.
Time-lapses of cacti and succulent over the course of a year. Environmental data drives the tone and filtration of the sounds while the rising and setting of the sun illuminates the growth of plants moving in and out phase with one another.
Sunstone tracks Fresnel lenses from their site of production to their exhibition in a museum of lighthouses and navigational devices. It also examines the diverse social contexts in which optics are implicated, contrasting the system of triangular trade that followed the first European arrivals in the ‘New World’ with the political potential seen in Op art in post-revolutionary Cuba. Incorporating 16mm celluloid images, digital desktop captures and 3D CGI, the film also maps a technological trajectory: from historical methods of optical navigation to new algorithms of locating, from singular projection to multi-perspectival satellitic visions. Registering these technical advances progressively through the film’s materials and means of production, Sunstone creates “a cinema of affect, a cinema of experience — an Op film.”
Plant some trees and go from there » presents forest-gardening through the work of Martin Crawford, and makes the case for resilient food production systems based on trees and other perennial plants.
In his work Exterminator Seed, oil spill contaminates the Brazilian coast. Capivara, an oil rig worker is evacuated back to Rio de Janeiro, where the locals remain ignorant of the incoming disaster. Despite de danger, Capivara wishes only to return to the offshore oil rigs. In the city he is aided by Ywy, a woman who convinces him to travel to her homeland in Mato Grosso do Sul in search of work in the soya and corn monocultural plantations. There, Ywy tells him about the infertility of such transgenics plants and of an android like her. But Capivara, a human, is incapable of understanding her.
Initially conceived as a project to explore the cryptocurrency gold rush in the rural region of Kakheti in Georgia, this strictly observational essay proved to be equally as much an exploration of the relationship between nature, technology, and the changing landscape.
A walk in the woods become a metaphoric journey in Chloé Leriche’s short film. As a solitary figure moves through the forest, the texture of stone, the movement of water, all the infinite pageantry of the natural world is captured in its richness and detail. With the help of an orchestrated soundscape and composed cinematography, Blue Suns catches the miracle and mystery of this world as it unfolds.
This animated short follows a group of happy vacationers sunbathing… under cloudy skies. Despite the weather, they look cheerful, eating ice cream and hot dogs, frolicking in the sand. When the sun finally breaks through the clouds, everyone deserts the beach. The film presents a fanciful yet awkward scenario in which the strange behavior of one person may be the delight of another.
This short fiction has much to say about kindness, although without any dialogue. In a combination of live action and animation, we are introduced to a man who discovers a small plant hidden under the snow and takes it inside his house. The plant responds to his loving care with rather startling enthusiasm.
The first film of PiKA PiKA, which started off as an experimentation of mid-air animation doodling using flashlights.
An office located in the Californian desert. The self-imposed objective is no less far out: narrative landscaping. Eden´s Edge is a nine-part episodic film from the Office for Narrative Landscape Design initially marked by exceptional directorial sobriety. The visual settings for the life-stories it presents are based on a shared and stringently maintained master-plan. We see bird eye-views of minimalistic scenes, meticulously arranged in gray desert sands, usually furnished with but a few props. Within this context, seemingly lost and barely insect-size inhabitants move about, recluses, mavericks and freaks in the best sense of the word. They all have retreated to the desert, to reinvent their lives on the margins of an increasingly unbearable society. The short version compiles three selected episodes.
Two people break into the floral park of Vincennes at night, to force a field of dandelions to open by action of light in a few minutes.
A panning shot follows a wallpainting. This ttrompe l’oeil’ painting actually represents the landscape beyond the wall. Slowly it turns to life the concrete begins to tremble as if the plants were growing inside it. This part of the wall has been recently built in Jerusalem. The viewer does not know on which side of the wall the camera is located until the end of the piece. Then, as the organic life figured by the painting defeats the concrete of the wall, bringing it crumbling down, we see yet more wall continuing into the distance, scarring the landscape like a sinister sculpture. Award-winning French sculptor Mareschal’s short animation combines stunning animation techniques with symbolic simplicity to contrast the brutality of the wall with the drive for survival essential to nature.
Spring is a time-lapse film shot in New York over the course of 3 years.
This personal short film uses a series of telephone conversations with the filmmaker’s mother as she tries to reconcile facing cancer for a fourth time. Low-fi video filmed at night captures her mothers bond to her home, shaping the tension and isolation of living life with a terminal illness. Nocturnal lush garden imagery also evokes private reflection, and in one final moment, proposes a provocative question about time.
At the centre are takes which do not change — a tree in a field in Vermont, U.S.A. Since the film was shot over a period of fifty days, the single frame shots create a storm of picturesHans Scheugl.
“Tree again became one of Kren´s most beautiful works — although it is difficult to single out any individual work from a corpus of extraordinary density and variety which spans over thirty years and includes over 40 films. The tree, the field, the sky, in fact the entire picture radiates an unusual, almost eerie artistry, with its rapidly changing blue, green and reddish hues, sometimes brightly illuminated for the fraction of a second like the flash of lightning in a technicolor horror film. (…)An apocalyptic picture, yet one that is full of a wonderful, quiet beauty… “ Hans Hurch.
To Taste the Ground is a lyrical documentary that viscerally moves through the seasonal life cycle of a small organic farm in British Columbia, Canada. The remote farm exists off grid in the Fraser Canyon with solar power and water that flows from the surrounding mountains. The relationship between the farmers and their environment is one of equality and respect. The camera embodies this by capturing an experience of season and place. The seasons moving over the landscape embody a character in itself and the farmers live and move within this rhythm.
Shooting on a 16mm Bolex camera addresses both aesthetic and process oriented concerns. The images from this kind of camera seem to breathe. Non-sync sound floats close to the image and creatively describes the sonic textures and dynamics of each season. A poem instead of prose, the film explores a more experiential way of knowing and ultimately a different way of being in the world.
Labocine is an Imagine Science Films initiative to extend our film programming to a broader and more diverse audience. We have over 3,000 film titles from 200 countries for all ages brought to you by artists, scientists, filmmakers and educators.
By experimenting with cinematic form and style, we are committed to provoking scientific intrigue and understanding, always ensuring compelling and well-founded narratives. Periodically, we release Spotlights online. On the first Tuesday of every month, enjoy our issue selections which complement newsworthy science by proposing a surgically curated online festival. From documentary to fiction to lab footage, we hope to always challenge the way you understand, interpret and appreciate scientific ideas and perspectives.
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