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Tonight on Vice: Greenland is Melting

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YouTube / HBO

Vice is a documentary series on HBO. It builds on the success of Vice's web presence (indeed, I've covered some of their online films before), and it employs a style of first-person journalism that's often engaging and sometimes shocking. Tonight's episode covers two topics: the melting glaciers of Greenland, and modern-day slavery in Pakistan. Here's a 40-second preview of the full episode:

Greenland is Melting

The Greenland segment attempts to put some scale to the concept of climate change. In the film, Vice co-founder Shane Smith heads to Greenland and sees firsthand what massive melting looks like. In one memorable scene, Smith stands with climatologist Jason Box, who is measuring the annual melt by burying long metal poles and returning the next year to see how much ice has melted away. As they stand there, Box explains that from last year to this year, the spot they're standing on has descended by 27 feet. Writing that, it doesn't mean much, it's just numbers. Seeing it, you get a real sense of scale—these two lonely guys on a huge sheet of ice, all of which is melting rapidly.

The Greenland segment puts out some useful facts and figures. For instance, if Greenland melts entirely, it will (by itself) account for a global sea level increase of 21 feet. That puts most major coastal cities well underwater...and it doesn't account for Antarctica, which is melting too. While alarming, the segment is not alarmist, and it's well done—gets in fast, gets the job done, and gets out of there. They make the point that while some forms of climate change benefit certain populations (increasing rainfall in an area, for instance), sea level rise helps no one. Here's a clip from the Greenland segment:

Slavery in Pakistan

The second segment of tonight's show covers a form of indentured servitude that amounts to modern-day slavery. In Pakistan, families get pulled into making mud bricks in order to pay off small debts. Predictably, the debts never go away, and the families are prevented from leaving their servitude, largely because the brickworks are located in the middle of nowhere (with no means of transportation and no place to run toward, plus no help from the police, it's a grim situation). In the segment, Vice correspondent Fazeelat Aslam travels to Pakistan and rides along with a local activist trying to free these workers. During the segment, a large family attempts to escape slavery (quite literally), and you'll have to tune in to find out what happens. Here's a clip:

When to Watch

Tonight's show debuts Friday, March 21 at 11pm on HBO. It airs again at 12:30am, and again a bunch of times over the following week on HBO and HBO2. (Basically, if you get HBO, you will be able to find an air date.) For more on Vice, check out their HBO site. You can also watch the first episode of Season 2 online for free to get a taste of what the series is like.

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Getty Images
Watch: Stanley Kubrick's Boxes
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Getty Images

In 1996, author/documentarian Jon Ronson received a phone call from someone representing Stanley Kubrick, requesting a copy of Ronson's Holocaust documentary. Ronson figured that was a bit weird, but it was Kubrick, so he'd go along with it.

After Kubrick's death in 1999, Ronson gained access to Kubrick's legendary boxes, the more than 1,000 vessels of ephemera hoarded by the master. So, uh, what's in the boxes? Lots of photographs, memos, letters, you name it.

Ronson made a 45-minute documentary about the boxes, including a tour of Kubrick's estate and the various box storage locations. He even interviews the writer of one of the "crank letters" sent to (and kept by) Kubrick. Kubrick had simply written "crank" on it and filed it away.

This is a terrific watch for anyone interested in filmmaking, Kubrick, or—let's face it—storing stuff in boxes. There's even a segment about half an hour in about how Kubrick worked out the optimal size for a box and its lid, then had them custom-made. Enjoy:

If you're not into the whole video thing, check out Ronson's feature for The Guardian on the same subject.

[h/t: Kottke.]

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YouTube // AmericanExperiencePBS
Tuesday on American Experience: Tesla
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YouTube // AmericanExperiencePBS

Airing Tuesday night (October, 18, 2016) on PBS stations around the U.S., American Experience presents Tesla, a documentary following Nikola Tesla's life and work. Check your local listings for times, though in most markets the show airs at 9pm. (It will also be on PBS's streaming channels starting October 19.) Here's a 30-second preview:

In American Experience's new hour-long documentary Tesla, we see a portrait of Nikola Tesla, the visionary inventor who is now known as "the patron saint of geeks."

As a lifelong geek, I went into this documentary with a sudden realization: I don't actually know much about Tesla as a person. Sure, I've seen Tesla Coils and I've read about all the wireless energy stuff, but who was this guy? Where did he come from? An hour with this PBS special answers those questions and many more. Here's the first seven minutes of the documentary, just to get you started:

The first thing that jumped out at me while watching this film is that I've been pronouncing Nikola Tesla's first name incorrectly. Watch the clip above—it's properly pronounced "nih-COLE-uh," though some of the experts in the film use the more typical American pronunciation stressing the first syllable.

Aside from learning the man's name, I was surprised to learn that his first invention was a hook designed to catch frogs (and an invention soon after was a "motor" powered by June bugs). But his first breakthrough invention was of course the AC (Alternating Current) motor, and much of the AC-related infrastructure to go with it.

The documentary paints Tesla as a man of great talent and vision, but with fundamentally flawed business sense. Time after time, he makes bad business deals or wastes money, then finds his technical progress stymied by lack of funding. Perhaps as a consequence of this frustration, he goes off the rails mentally from time to time, as in his later years claiming to have received communications from Mars, or falling in love with a pigeon. It also seems clear that he suffered from psychiatric disorders that today could probably be treated, but in the 1800s and early 1900s forced him to engage in repetitive behavior and avoid much human contact.

In any case, Tesla is a fantastic exploration of the human story behind the legend. My only complaint is that I wish it were longer. (Okay, one more complaint: I would've loved to learn why he often posed for pictures with his right hand to his face.)

HOW TO WATCH THE FILM

Tesla premieres Tuesday night (October 18, 2016) on PBS stations around the U.S. It will then begin streaming on October 19 on the PBS streaming apps.

WHAT TO DO WHILE YOU WAIT FOR TUESDAY NIGHT

You should really watch Edison online (for free, legally!) for a counterpoint. Edison and Tesla were contemporaries, and Tesla actually worked for Edison early on, both in Paris and the U.S. These two films together give us a view of the importance of an inventor's vision paired with his ability to run a business. The two men are fundamentally different both in their approach to invention and business, and it's worthwhile to compare and contrast. (Incidentally, Open Culture has a roundup of the 23 American Experience documentaries you can currently stream online—that's one way to fill up your lunch breaks for the next month!)

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