Bursts of Tenderness - Films to Watch

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Whoever can evade the Self transcends
This world and as a lover he ascends

Here is a selection of videos that I have watched and loved. My selection starts out with a video portraying the crisp, soulful voice of Leon Bridges singing "the River." In this short film that casts locals from the Baltimore area, the director Miles Jay weaves together the story of hardship and redemption with gorgeous cinematography and effective sound design. During an interview with the National Public Radio, Bridges explained his motivation for this song, saying

A river has historically been used in gospel music as symbolism for change and redemption. My goal was to write a song about my personal spiritual experience. It was written during a time of real depression in my life, and I recall sitting in my garage trying to write a song which reflected this struggle. I felt stuck working multiple jobs to support myself and my mother. I had little hope and couldn't see a road out of my reality. The only thing I could cling to in the midst of all that was my faith in God and my only path towards baptism was by way of the river. When thinking about how to best visually represent this universal battle, I reflected on the depiction of black communities in our media and particular experiences within my own life. This video showcases the unique struggle many black men and women face across this country. However, unlike the captured images which tend to represent only part of the story, I wanted to showcase that through all the injustice, there's real hope in the world. I want this video to be a message of light. I believe it has the power to change and heal those that are hurting.

The second up on the list is Beyonce's Formation. Formation feels like a Toni Morrison story - full of raw and striking images of antebellum-like South that's peppered with clever lyrics: 

My daddy Alabama/Momma Louisiana, You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas mama; I like my baby heir with baby hair and afros; I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils; Earned all this money but they never take the country out me; I got a hot sauce in my bag, swag

This is not a light Beyonce song. The lyrics are full of allegory, questioning police brutality and disempowerment of black people. With this song, Beyonce inserts herself into the political discourse, sending a message:  At the end of her video, we see a young black boy dancing in front of a dozen police who are dressed in riot gear and have their hands up. Then the camera shifts, focusing on a wall graffiti that reads, "Stop Shooting Us." In the last scene, we watch Beyonce, who is now lying on top a police vehicle, get submerged under a flood of water, taking us back to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans.  This song is both poetic and raw. It is the most genius and political of Beyonce's work, demanding our attention. 

Next up is Simorgh - a visual animation retelling an old Persian tale about the fragility of self worth. Simorgh incorporates Persian music and calligraphic art to bring to life Farid ud-Din Attar's long and celebrated sufi poem called the Conference of the Birds.  The Conference of the Birds is an allegory for spiritual awakening, where an assembly of birds set out in search of the Simorgh, the king of the birds, to attain true enlightenment. At the journey’s end, the thirty birds discover that they themselves are the Simorgh and that the enlightenment they have been seeking has always been within them.

But to reach this end, the birds must first travel a difficult path that teaches them the importance of letting go. In this journey, the birds learn to shed the carnal, mundane and the worldly self, separating them from their true desire. 

There in the Simorgh’s radiant face they saw
Themselves, the Simorgh of the world—with awe
They gazed, and dared at last to comprehend
They were the Simorgh and the journey’s end.

Whoever can evade the Self transcends
This world and as a lover he ascends.

Next up is one of the most striking movies about my homeland. This short piece was put together by the young Italian film maker Leonardo Dalfessandr who traveled 20 days and over 3500 km in Turkey, capturing variety of landscapes, colors, lights and weathers through many parts of the country. I loved the imagery and sound effects of this video.

The last two films in my selection deal with dogs. Both "Denali" and "the Present" are heart warming films that are also inspiring. The Present's storyline will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. Denali, on the other hand, may cause some tears. This film is about the photographer Ben Moon and his dog Denali. It portrays how Moon and Denali supported each other through the most trying of times - during the photographer's bout with cancer, and subsequently, Denali's own struggle with the disease. Denali is another example of the vital role so many dogs have come to play in our lives -  at times filling the place of friends, family and even lovers. The story of humans and dogs is one of true love lived in its purest form. Denali is a beautiful testament to this magical bond.  

What I’ve come to learn is that the world is never saved in grand messianic gestures, but in the simple accumulation of gentle, soft, almost invisible acts of compassion, everyday acts of compassion. In South Africa they have a phrase called ubuntu. Ubuntu comes out of a philosophy that says, the only way for me to be human is for you to reflect my humanity back at me
— Chris Abani