Friday, 30 December 2016

Motherboard's Best Documentaries of 2016

At various points this year, I'd walk into the VICE office and see a member of Motherboard's video team gathering things--team members, camera equipment, paperwork. They were inevitably rushing to catch a plane or rent a car that would take them somewhere we aren't usually supposed to be, whether it's a printing press down the street in Queens or a seed vault buried under 400 feet ice in the Arctic Circle.

Every year I'm in awe of our team: Producers Xavier Aaronson and Lara Heinz, researcher Erik Franco, and a carousel of various VICE camera operators, editors, production assistants, and a whole host of other supporting players along the way who make even the simplest videos possible. Someone should make a video about watching a story go from from seed of an idea to the chaotic organize-and-shoot phase, to the intricate business of cutting a video. Even though I've watched it happen dozens of times, it still feels like a minor miracle that my colleagues are able to consistently churn out documentaries worth watching. Here's some of our favorites from this year. - Jason Koebler

The Global Seed Vault

I first heard about the Global Seed Vault—a sort of Noah's Ark of seeds buried beneath 400 feet of Arctic ice—a few years ago. I found the idea of building a backup plan for food shortages, mass extinction events, and agricultural catastrophes to be intensely interesting, but I had no frame of reference for actually imagining what such a place would look like. What Xavier Aaronson found behind an iced-over door in Svalbard, Norway is Earth's ultimate prepper shelter.

Cyborg Beetles

Once or twice a year, my colleagues make a video that reminds me that the FUTURE IS NUTS, and, oh yeah, it's happening today. Cyborg Beetles can be summarized with this completely normal sentence: Aerospace engineers in Singapore control real, live beetles with a Wii controller.

Bionic Arm

The "cool prosthetic" genre of video is one science news viewers have likely come across—university researchers love to issue them as press releases, which often get embedded in news stories. There's nothing wrong with that, per se, but those videos rarely show the psychological ramifications of becoming a bionic person, and a patient's struggle with adapting to and using prosthetic technology. This episode of Humans+ is cool because it's futuristic, but Melissa Loomis's tribulations and triumphs make it a must watch.

Surrounded: Island of the Sharks

We once again sent Xavier to a far-flung, exotic locale to make a movie, and once again he came back with one of our best pieces of the year. "Surrounded" explores a surprising rise in shark attacks off the coast of Reunion, a small French territory in the Indian Ocean, through the islanders' relationship with the ocean and the animals.

The Machinists

The Machinists was our first episode of "State of Repair," a series I had been wanting to make for quite some time. After profiling the guys over at iFixit, I realized that all our fancy new technology get tons of attention when it launches, but we rarely think about who keeps things running in the interim, or what happens to our stuff when it eventually dies. I couldn't have asked for a better pilot than "The Machinists"—three old school New Yorkers who got along great, all access to an intensely visual and impressive printing plant, a camera crew who could take advantage of it, and a good story about the people who are keeping print alive.

Greatest Moments in Hacking History

Motherboard's staff wanted to take explore new video formats with our Pilot Week, in which we launched five new shortform shows that were unlike anything we'd done before. It was a fun experiment, but the new formats didn't go over too well with our viewers—maybe we were having too much fun. The clear standout of these episodes, though, was one that was most similar to our documentaries in format, if not in visual style. Greatest Moments in Hacking History takes a sitdown interview with Samy Kamkar and turns it into a quirky animated piece about the time he hacked MySpace.

The Church of Perpetual Life

Transhumanism is one of Motherboard's favorite topics, but because the movement is still in its infancy and much of its science is in the early stages, it had been hard to translate subject matter that makes great written articles into great videos. Then, we found the Church of Perpetual Life, a transhumanist temple in Hollywood, Florida, where parishioners believe they won't ever have to die. I like this piece because transhumanism is inherently about people, and so it was important that we finally got to pick some brains before they one day get cryonically frozen.

The Golden Toilet

I did at least a handful of pieces this year that I consider to be good journalism, but at VICE's holiday party this year, I was repeatedly approached by people I had never met, who inevitably asked me about the golden toilet. What could have been a disaster in a number of possible ways—penis flashing on live video among them—somehow turned out as close to perfect as I could have hoped: Line waiters' musings on the nature of luxury and on Trump; a Dutch man who was all too happy to tell us, in excruciating detail, that he had just shit in a golden toilet; and a correspondent (that's me) who had more than a little stage fright when it finally came time to piss in a toilet worth millions of dollars.

from Motherboard's Best Documentaries of 2016

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