best video essays on youtube 2023

Notes on Videographic Criticism

best video essays on youtube 2023

Volume 4, Issue 3: The Best Video Essays of 2023

Plus, a mix of new videographic publications, cfps, and more.

best video essays on youtube 2023

For the seventh time, the venerable British magazine Sight & Sound has published a survey of the year’s “best” video essays . Curated this year by Irina Trocan, Queline Meadows, and Will Webb, this year’s poll features “48 voters from 17 countries, including academics, critics, online creators and festival curators. Together, their 260 nominations include 181 distinct titles.”

The BFI logo

For the fifth time, I sent in ballot, which reads as follows:

Each year, it gets more difficult to be a viewer of video essays; it is a beautiful and frustrating thing. More people are making them. They are longer. They screen at festivals, and in varied corners of the internet. Below are a few of the video essays that have resonated with me this year. Rather than try and explain why I picked them, I will instead attempt to describe something in each work. Here’s hoping it might inspire you to give them all a watch. Joséphine Baker Watches Herself by Terri Francis [3:43] On the left, Joséphine Baker performs in the famous skirt made out of bananas. On the right, a clip from a 1968 CBC interview with Baker. Below, a translation on screen: “No, it’s about work. You have to work hard.” A video essay that grows richer with each rewatch. Apostles of Cinema (Tenzi za sinema) by Cece Mlay, Darragh Amelia, Gertrude Malizana, Jesse Gerard Mpango “I like quality films. And I like difficult films,” says DJ Black. But if it is bad, “I can’t dub it.” [04:51] An incisive documentary about film culture in Tanzania. watch me sleep: self-surveillance and middle-aging queer performance anxiety by Dayna McLeod There’s a moment in the second minute I felt throughout my whole body. A revelation. Void by Kevin Ferguson The persistence of Robert Duvall’s bald head, especially at [00:13] and [04:46]. Why the Internet Loves Buster Keaton by Don McHoull I imagine Don’s masterful montages of the internet’s response to Keaton’s artistry, and also that of Fayard and Harold Nicholas, playing on the wall of a gallery. moving poems: a raisin in the sun (1961) by Desirée de Jesús Water ripples. Sidney Poitier, playing with his lighter, gestures for a drink. His finger points to the text on screen, “in the sun?” Off-screen dialogue plays. [00:26] A harmonious blend of sound, image, and text. Miss Me Yet by Chris Bell Each episode begins with George W. Bush raising his middle finger to the camera, a gesture that becomes more grotesque and poignant the more one watches.

As always, reading the list this year came with a fantastic sense of discovery, and also the occasional, “How did I miss that one?!”, or “That was released this year?!” I look forward to revisiting the list again and again in the coming months and years.

I am equally excited to share a new episode of The Video Essay Podcast, “Curating Sight & Sound 's Best Video Essays of 2023.” In a conversation moderated by Kevin B. Lee, the curators of this year's list discuss the results of the poll, their curatorial strategies, and offer general thoughts on the video essay landscape in 2023.

This episode is the first in an ongoing collaboration between The Video Essay Podcast and Kevin, who, in his role as the Locarno Film Festival Professor for the Future of Cinema at USI University of Lugano, is leading a three-year research project on video essays with Johannes Binotto and Evelyn Kreutzer, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Thanks for reading Notes on Videographic Criticism! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.

News & Notes

Have something you would like featured in this section? Email me! willdigravio[at]gmail.com.

Lucy Fife Donaldson, Colleen Laird, Dayna McLeod and Alison Peirse have announced a new videographic initiative, Ways of Doing . From their website :

We are fostering an ethical praxis of audiovisual research, including the modeling of feminist citational practices, collective care, and the creation of an inclusive, videographic community of practitioners. We encourage engagement with the resources we offer here and provide suggestions on citational practices for the classroom and for your own creative practice.

Applications are now open for the 2024 Scholarship in Sound & Image Workshop at Middlebury College! From Jason Mittell:

Join me, Catherine Grant and Dayna McLeod in Middlebury Vermont from June 16-29 to learn how to make videographic work, whether you're new to the form or have experience and want to develop your skills & style.

Applications are due February 12, 2014. For more information on the program, tuition, and beautiful Middlebury, Vermont (yes, I am biased!) click here .

Calls for Video Essays

II International Permanent Seminar Intersecting Perspectives on Spanish Media: Women and Horror, June 13th and 14th, Campus Madrid-Puerta Toledo (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid):

This seminar aims to address the relationship between women and horror in Spanish cinema and TV from various perspectives, with special attention to contemporary works, but without overlooking the influence that past works have had on present views in terms of themes, representation, or circulation. We invite submissions of papers or video essays on the following topics: Horror works directed and/or written by women. Social and aesthetic representation of women in horror films and TV series. Genre hybridity, horror & gender. Horror subgenres (slasher, zombie films, etc.) and gender Female stars & horror. Horror & the representation of LGBTQI+ subjectivities and bodies. Horror, gender & class. Distribution and consumption of Horror Films and its relationship with gender. Connections between Spanish media and other industries with a special focus on Latin America. Deadline for proposals: February 15, 2024. More here .

The Essay Library invites submissions for the collaborative project, “These Video Essays Do Not Exist | An April Fools' Day collaboration.” Learn more here ahead of the March 24, 2024 deadline.

The Jimmy Stewart Museum invites submissions for its Video Essay Showcase. No deadline is given, but works will screen at a virtual symposium in May 2024. Learn more here .

The International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) calls for academic audio/visual work to be presented at IAMCR 2024, which will be held in Christchurch, New Zealand, from 30 June to 4 July 2024. Learn more here before the February 7, 2024 deadline.

New Publications

Over at RogerEbert.com , a host of writers penned a wonderful tribute to Scout Tafoya, whose ongoing video essay series The Unloved celebrated its tenth anniversary. Read here .

Issue 12 of the journal Tecmerin includes a special section, “Urban Spaces and Cinema. Ibero-American Cities in the Audiovisual Field,” edited by Luis Deltell Escolar and Nadia McGowan. Essays include:

“ Four individuals in São Paulo ” by Luis Deltell Escolar “ A-Ten-Thousand-Legs Madrid ” by Asier Gil Vázquez “ Dispossesssion Through Mortgage Debt in Three Acts ” by Laura Caballero Rabanal “ Realism(s) ” by Sylvia González Rodríguez “The Mistery of Creating: Murcia under Carlos Saura’s gaze” by Daniel Toledo Saura “ Cities of Ibero-America as seen by Artificial Intelligence ” by Nadia McGowan Additional video essays published in the issue: “ Women on the Verge of Financial Crisis ” by Tomer Nechushtan “ Rapuncelia ” by Joseph M. Johnson “ Power and Gardens ” by Nico Carpentier “ ‘Do you really want to have children?’ Off-screen Motherhood in Spanish Dramedies ” by Lorenzo Torres, Mariona Visa, and Mª Isabel Menéndez Two videos published as part of the Student Showcase: “ Los tramposos ” by Pablo Manzano Ben “ La virgen de diciembre ” by Gabriela Verdú Bisbal, Anabel Cobo Vázquez, and Irene Igeño García And four new additions to the Screen Stars Dictionary : “ Aishwarya Rai Bachchan ” by Sureshkumar P. Sekar “ Leonard Bernstein ” by Evelyn Kreutzer “ Robert De Niro ” by Daniel O’Brien “ Shah Rukh Khan ” by Ritika Kaushik “ Tony Leung ” by Jialu Zhu

An exciting new special issue of [in]Transition , curated by Ariel Avissar, who writes:

This is the first of two special issues devoted to videographic pedagogy, highlighting student work. The current issue showcases and reflects on a selection of videos made by students of my own videographic criticism honors course at the Steve Tisch School of Film and Television at Tel Aviv University, between 2020 and 2022.

Watch here .

Be sure to watch the Essay Library Anthology’s sixth volume, “ Becoming Someone Else .”

Back in October, over at Hyperallergic, Dan Schindel put together a list, “ Five Video Essays That Go Beyond the Surface .”

The Autumn 2023 issue of NECSUS , which centers on the theme of “#Cycles,” includes five audiovisual essays:

Cycles of Labour: In the Metaverse, We Will Be Housewives by Veronika Hanáková, Martin Tremčinský, and Jiří Anger Split Screen as Hermeneutic Tool: Recursivity and Crosstalk in Better Call Saul by Nicolás Medina and Miklós Kiss Close Circuit by Tripot I foresee that I’m going to have known it by Vorozheikin Yevhen The Time-Loop as Game Mechanic, Narrative Device and Cycle of Systemic Racism by Daniel O’Brien

The latest issue of Open Screens , the journal of the British Association of Film, Television, & Screen Studies, includes two publications that will be of particular interest to readers of this newsletter:

“ Tennis | House: Medical Imaging as Videographic Criticism ” by Kevin Ferguson “'Enter the Memory': Interactivity, Authorship, and the Empowered Spectator in the Digital Audio-Visual Essays of Chris Marker” by James Michael Slaymaker

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best video essays on youtube 2023

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The Best Video Essays of 2022

This article is part of our 2022 Rewind .  Follow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from this very strange year.   In this entry, we explore the best video essays of 2022.

2022 has, inconceivably, come to an end. And in the spirit of reflection and gratitude, it’s time to appreciate the thing that had our back when times were tough; the thing that helped us wind down after a long day at work; the thing that made that first cup of coffee in the morning go down just a little easier: video essays.

This year, I had the pleasure of once again curating The Queue , a thrice-weekly column dedicated to highlighting short-form video content about films, television, and the craft of visual storytelling. As a result, the focus of the video essays below is movies and TV shows — if you’re wondering why there are no video essays on speed running mechanics or broadway musical drama, that’s why!

There were, it must be said, a heck of a lot of top-shelf video essays this year that fell outside the scope of this list (including, but not limited to, Jacob Geller’s poetic eulogy to sea monsters ; People Make Games’ anthropological exploration of VRChat , and Jenny Nicholson’s sarcastically long portrait of Evermore , the theme park that tried to sue Taylor Swift).

Once again, I had a doozy of a time narrowing down a short list of this year’s selections. So if you could all stop making such good #content, that would be great (just kidding, never stop). I want to sincerely thank all the essayists I’ve covered this year for their hard work. I hope I get to continue seeing you in my feed in 2023 and beyond.

Bergman Island: Art, Love, and the Unbearable Process of Making

French director Mia Hansen-Løve embraces the notion of autobiographical filmmaking. And the video essay above does a beautiful job illustrating how her first English-language film,  Bergman Island , draws attention to the process of its own making without sacrificing its own story. I love how this essayist unravels the tapestry of the film’s twisty relationship with metatext with tangible examples and accessible language.

This video essay on the metatextuality of Mia Hansen-Løve’s  Bergman Island   is by  Broey Deschanel  a self-described “snob (and YouTuber) whose video essays cover everything from new releases like Licorice Pizza  and  Euphoria  to camp classics like  Showgirls . You can subscribe to their YouTube account  here  and you can follow them on Twitter  here .

Realism and Fantastic Cinema

We’re living during an interesting time in visual effects, where more often than not, realism is the goal. The following video essay offers a convincing gospel that preaches a different approach, which proposes that “fantastic cinema” that actively doesn’t chase photorealism or expose its own trickery is different, special, and worth fighting for. If you’ve found other arguments against  modern CGI unconvincing — or if your love of practical effects starts and stops with fetishism — I urge you to give this a look.

This video essay on why the pursuit of realism in special effects is hurting the fantasy genre is by APLattanzi , a freelance filmmaker and illustrator who hails from the Philadelphia area. You can subscribe to them on YouTube  here . Their essays cover a large swath of topics, from film scores to short films. You can also find them on Letterboxd  here .

Gen Z needs more slacker movies

In all fairness, this video essay is preaching to the choir: I’m a huge sucker for slacker movies. And if for  whatever reason you’re not, this essayist articulates something that feels True about what the sub-genre offers to the 2020s, an age where we’re increasingly bumping up against the political spirit of fucking off and the price of who can afford to do nothing.

This video essay on why the younger generation (I’m dating myself, whoops!) need some new slacker movies   is by  Niche Nonsense , a video essay channel that provides, well, just that: niche nonsense. The channel was only created in mid-December of 2021. And you can get in on the ground floor and subscribe here .

Leslie Cheung & Hong Kong LGBT Cinema

Love letters are contagious, and if you’re unfamiliar with Hong Kong star Leslie Cheung , this is a great introduction to one of the greatest LGBTQ+ icons in film history and how he left his impact on the Queer Hong Kong films that came in the wake of his trailblazing.

These videos on the impact of Leslie Cheung on Hong Kong queer cinema is by  Accented Cinema , a Canadian-based YouTube video essay series with a focus on Asian cinema. You can subscribe to Accented Cinema for bi-weekly uploads here . You can follow them on Twitter  here .

The Secret Ingredient That Makes Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man’ So Great

When people say that modern superhero movies feel soulless, you don’t always get a lot of concrete examples or arguments as to why this is the case aside from a general feeling . Luckily, the above video essay takes the time to nail something specific about why Sam Raimi ‘s Spider-Man   trilogy feels so much more sincere and front-the-heart than modern, irony-poisoned Marvel fare.

This video essay on why everyday people make Sam Raimi’s  Spider-Man  films feel so special is co-written by  Patrick (H) Willems  and  Siddhant Adlakha .  You can find their own directorial efforts and their video essays on their channel  here . You can also find Willems on Twitter  here . And you can find Adlakha on Twitter  here .

The Lion King and Disney’s Sequel Curse

Frankly, I didn’t know that I  needed  an hour-long defence of The Lion King 1 ½ until it was sitting in my YouTube subscriptions. The Disney animated feature-length sequel landscape is, by and large, pretty mid. And while  The Lion King 2  is one of the better ones out there,  The Lion King 1 ½  is in a class all of its own. If you’re not familiar, the sequel takes place during the events of the first film, but it’s told from the perspective of Timon and Pumba. The following video essay does a stellar job describing why it rules, how it ties into Shakespeare, and why it’s a great example of self-aware filmmaking.

This video on the incredible Disney sequel  The Lion King 1 ½  is by Jace, a.k.a   BREADSWORD,  an LA-based video essayist who specializes in long-form nostalgia-heavy love letters. Impeccably edited and smoother than butter, BREADSWORD essays boast an unparalleled relaxed fit and an expressive narrative tone. Long essays like this take a lot of time to put together, and somehow BREADSWORD makes it all look effortless. You can subscribe to them on YouTube  here . And you can follow them on Twitter  here .

Twin Peaks Actually, ACTUALLY EXPLAINED (No, But For Real)

This is, quite frankly, one of the most lucid explanations of “why  Twin Peaks is the way it is” that I’ve ever seen. Maybe its my small screen ignorance showing, but the idea that TV reflexivity is the key that unlocks Twin Peaks really feels capital-t True. The above is the first of a two-parter, and will hit harder if you’ve seen all three seasons and  Fire Walk With Me . I’m also a massive fan of how this essayist choses to frame their work; the Socratic dialogue is alive and well.

This video essay on what Twin Peaks is about, actually, is by Maggie Mae Fish , a Los Angeles-based comedian, actress, and culture critic who releases short films and video essays on her  YouTube account . Fish has been featured on College Humor, Screen Junkies, and JASH. She was also a former lead actor and writer at Cracked.com. You can follow Fish on Twitter  here .

Nothing But Trouble is a Very Weird Movie

Even if you haven’t had the pleasure of watching Nothing But Trouble  with your own two, God-given eyes, you may still have heard rumblings of its notorious status. I appreciate that this video essayist takes the time to give complicated stories — like the making of this movie and why it came to be thought of as a massive bomb — the time they deserve to breathe and speak for themselves.

This video essay on why  Nothing But Trouble  is good, actually comes to us from  In Praise of Shadows , a video essay channel run by Zane Whitener  and based in Asheville, North Carolina. The channel focuses on horror, history, and retrospectives. Under their “Anatomy of a Franchise” banner, they break down horror properties including  Tremors ,  The Stepfather , and  Re-Animator,  in addition to  The Hills Have Eyes . You can check out the series’ playlist  here . And you can subscribe to the In Praise of Shadows YouTube channel  here . And you can follow them on Twitter  here .

Why The Bear Hits So Hard

There’s a special bond between cooking and the moving image and Hulu’s The Bear  is the latest piece of pop culture to bring the two art forms together. I love how this video essay balances its analysis of the technical and scripted aspects of the show to explain the controlled chaos that defines the feel of the show. Breakdowns like this, that do as much showing as they do telling, are really what the video essay format is all about.

This video essay on the appeal of  The Bear  is by Virginia-based filmmaker and video editor  Thomas Flight . He runs a YouTube channel under the same name. You can follow Thomas Flight and check out his back catalog of video essays on YouTube  here . You can follow him on Twitter  here .

Under The Skin | Audiovisual Alienation

While I do think that  all  movies partake in non-verbal storytelling (they are moving  pictures, after all), I do think some films are more non-verbal than others. This isn’t to say that these films aren’t about  anything or that, more disparagingly, they are “just vibes” (yeesh). Case in point: this thoughtful analysis of Under the Skin , a film that uses non-verbal storytelling to put us in the shoes of an alien visitor trying to make sense of the confusing, predatory, and often beautiful human world.

This video essay on how  Under the Skin  uses non-verbal storytelling to explore the question of what it means to be human   is by  Spikima Movies , a Korean-Canadian who’s been dropping gems on YouTube since 2019. You can subscribe to Spikima’s channel for more incredible essays  here . And you can follow them on Letterboxd  here .

How a 10-year-old girl wrote Japan’s most insane horror film

Just when I thought that House   was starting to slip into that special category of movies that have been “talked to death,” someone goes ahead and makes a video essay like this. I adore the messy human stories behind canonized films. And the way that this video essayist describes the father-daughter relationship behind the deeply personal making of House  is impeccable, even if you’re already familiar with the general beats.

This video essay on the uncanny origins of the 1977 horror film  House   is by  k aptainkristian, a YouTube-based video essay channel that peddles visual love letters to filmmakers, musicians, and syndicated cartoons. The account is run by  Kristian T.   Williams , whom you can follow on Twitter  here . You can subscribe to kaptainkristian, and check out their back catalog on YouTube  here .

Studio LAIKA and the Ghosts of Invisible Labor

Given that conversations on labor and animation are becoming more and more prescient and pointed, this video essay feels like a must-watch. This essayist’s analysis is deeply insightful, compelling, and well-argued. The idea that animators on Laika films are in-universe Lovecraftian gods tickles my brain something fierce.

This video essay on the self-reflexive industrial allegory of Laika studios is written and directed by  Mihaela Mihailova . It is produced by Alla Gadassik and edited by Gil Goletski, with Jacqueline Turner providing the narration. The end of the video credits the Vancouver-based Emily Carr University of Art and Design for support. Mihailova is an Assistant Professor in the School of Cinema at San Francisco State University. She is the editor of the essay collection Coraline: A Closer Look at Studio LAIKA’s Stop-Motion Witchcraft  (Bloomsbury, 2021)

Why This 1950s Studio Made Movies Backwards

We love a gimmick. And we especially love a gimmick that produces some wildly kick-ass movie posters. This video essay offers a lucid explanation of how AIP cracked the code for making B-Movies: poster first, movie later. Has this principle of making a film from a marketing perspective mutated into something more insidious over time? Yep. Will that make me any less charmed by exploitation cinema? Nope. Look, someone  had to make the movies that play at the drive-in while teens suck face in the back of their parents’ Cadillac.

This video on how American International Pictures marketed their films backward is by  Andrew Saladino , who runs the Texas-based  Royal Ocean Film Society . You can browse their back catalog of videos on their Vimeo account  here . If Vimeo isn’t your speed, you can give them a follow on YouTube  here .

Why Did Spaghetti Westerns Look Like That?

On the one hand, this is something of a biased pick because I eat Spaghetti Westerns for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On the other hand, this video essay does a really solid job honing in on one specific aspect of the sub-genre and asking: why? I love laser-focused topics like this, and the fact that it’s about one of the most iconic shot types in genre cinema is just icing on the cake.

This video essay on Sergio Leone’s filmography and how he perfected the use of the close-up shot is by  Adam Tinius , who runs the YouTube channel  Entertain the Elk . They are based in Pasadena, California. You can follow them on YouTube  here . And you can follow them on Twitter  here .

The Catharsis of Body Horror

Frankly, the fact that this video essay managed to stay online for as long as it has (thus far) without getting sent back to the shadow realm by YouTube’s AI censor bots is a straight-up miracle. Luckily, as of writing this, the essay is still live and absolutely worth your time, especially  if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t vibe with body horror. There’s no shame in having likes and dislikes. But this essay very clearly articulates why body horror is a lot more than the sum of its goo-covered, fleshy parts.

This video essay on the catharsis themes of body horror is by  Yhara Zayd . They provide insightful deep dives on young adult content from  Skins  to  My Best Friend’s Wedding . You can check out more of their content and subscribe to their channel on YouTube  here . If you like their stuff and you want to support them, you can check out their Patreon  here .

Related Topics: 2022 Rewind , The Queue

Recommended Reading

Anatomy of a suspense scene: alfred hitchcock’s 4-part formula, how a24 revived studio loyalty, can we have more solarpunk movies, please, why “day for night” is so hard to pull off.

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5 Best YouTube Video Essays of 2023

For many people, video essays have become a staple alternative on YouTube for TV shows and movies.

5 Best YouTube Video Essays of 2023

The idea of hour-long video essays is now so popular that many are willing to spend their time hearing about a topic or a story that might not have much impact to their life. It's just that good.

So as 2023 finally comes to a close, here are some of the best video essays that came out this year:

Also Read: Who are the Sidemen? Here are the Top 3 Most Searched on YouTube for 2023

1. 'Man in Cave' (Reupload)

Any of Internet Historian's videos is a good start for many people just starting to dive into the world of video essays.

Mixing internet memes, witty comments, and truthful recollection of past events, the Man in Cave is an emotional roller coaster as to how an entire village try to set free a man from the grips of the earth.

Another recommendation from Internet Historian is his video on No Man's Sky , Fallout 76 , and the Costa Concordia disaster.

2. 'Making Sense of Evangelion'

Anime fans also have a space in the video essays trend.

The video discusses the cultural relevance of Neon Genesis Evangelion, a 1995 anime that still continues to amass fans from all over the world for its disturbing yet intriguing story filled with a subtle look into the creator's mental health.

3. 'MyHouse.WAD - Inside Doom's Most Terrifying Mod'

What is a video essay list without a creepypasta? Horror stories are a staple in video essays and MyHouse.WAD is no exception.

Power Pak's deep-down discussion of the creepy mod will give viewers another rabbit hole to jump into. Just a bit of warning, some details of the story may not be suited to all viewers.

4. 'UNPACKING SICKNESS AS A BEAUTY TREND'

Mina Le is one of the well-known names in the field of beauty-related video essays and "Unpacking Sickness as a Beauty Trend" might be her best video for this year.

Filled with drama and intrigue, the 23-minute video essay (yes, it is short) provides a clearer look into almost impossible beauty standards set by society for young women and how businesses exploit it.

5. 'Plagiarism and You(Tube)'

Saving the best for the last, hbomberguy's latest video essay is a top recommendation for this year.

The channel is well known for putting out insane but interesting takes on niche questions, like where does the oof sound from Roblox came from?

If your intention is to dive into an all-new rabbit hole, then this video essay is for you. The video is four hours long and there is not a single boring moment.

This video is sure to wake up some people to the cruel reality of the content mill on the internet.

Related Articles: Mobile App Recommendations: 5 Breakout Apps of 2023

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The video essays that spawned an entire YouTube genre

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Polygon’s latest series, The Masterpieces of Streaming , looks at the new batch of classics that have emerged from an evolving era of entertainment.

best video essays on youtube 2023

Like every medium before it, “video essays” on YouTube had a long road of production before being taken seriously. Film was undervalued in favor of literature, TV was undervalued in favor of film, and YouTube was undervalued in favor of TV. In over 10 years of video essays, though, there are some that stand out as landmarks of the form, masterpieces to bring new audiences in.

In Polygon’s list of the best video essays of 2020 , we outlined a taxonomy of what a video essay is . But time should be given to explain what video essays have been and where they might be going.

Video essays can be broken into three eras: pre-BreadTube, the BreadTube era, and post-BreadTube. So, what the hell is BreadTube? BreadTube, sometimes also called “LeftTube,” can be defined as a core group of high production value, academically-minded YouTubers who rose to prominence at the same time.

A brief history of video essays on YouTube

On YouTube, video essays pre-BreadTube started in earnest just after something completely unrelated to YouTube: the adoption of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (or, colloquially, just the “Common Core”). The Common Core was highly political, a type of hotly-contested educational reform that hadn’t been rolled out in decades.

Meanwhile, YouTube was in one of its earliest golden eras in 2010. Four years prior, YouTube had been purchased by Google for $1.65 billion in stock, a number that is simultaneously bonkers high and bonkers low. Ad revenue for creators was flowing. Creators like PewDiePie and Shane Dawson were thriving (because time is a flat circle). With its 2012 Original Channel Initiative , Google invested $100 million, and later an additional $200 million, to both celebrity and independent creators for new, original content on YouTube in an early attempt to rival TV programming.

This was also incentivized by YouTube’s 2012 public change to their algorithm , favoring watch time over clicks.

But video essays still weren’t a major genre on YouTube until the educational turmoil and newfound funds collided, resulting in three major networks: Crash Course in 2011 and SourceFed and PBS Digital Studios in 2012.

The BreadTube Era

With Google’s AdSense making YouTube more and more profitable for some creators, production values rose, and longer videos rose in prominence in the algo. Key creators became household names, but there was a pattern: most were fairly left-leaning and white.

But in 2019, long-time YouTube creator Kat Blaque asked, “Why is ‘LeftTube’ so white?”

Blaque received massive backlash for her criticisms; however, many other nonwhite YouTubers took the opportunity to speak up. More examples include Cheyenne Lin’s “Why Is YouTube So White?” , Angie Speaks’ “Who Are Black Leftists Supposed to Be?” , and T1J’s “I’m Kinda Over This Whole ‘LeftTube’ Thing.”

Since the whiteness of video essays has been more clearly illuminated, terms like “BreadTube’’ and “LeftTube” are seldom used to describe the video essay space. Likewise, the importance of flashy production has been de-emphasized.

Post-BreadTube

Like most phenomena, BreadTube does not have a single moment one can point to as its end, but in 2020 and 2021, it became clear that the golden days of BreadTube were in the past.

And, notably, prominent BreadTube creators consistently found themselves in hot water on Twitter. If beauty YouTubers have mastered the art of the crying apology video, video essayists have begun the art of intellectualized, conceptualized, semi-apology video essays. Natalie Wynn’s “Canceling” and Lindsay Ellis’s “Mask Off” discuss the YouTubers’ experiences with backlash after some phenomenally yikes tweets. Similarly, Gita Jackson of Vice has reported on the racism of SocialismDoneLeft.

We’re now in post-BreadTube era. More Black creators, like Yhara Zayd and Khadija Mbowe, are valued as the important video essayists they are. Video essays and commentary channels are seeing more overlap, like the works of D’Angelo Wallace and Jarvis Johnson .

With a history of YouTube video essays out of the way, let’s discuss some of the best of the best, listed here in chronological order by release date, spanning all three eras of the genre. Only one video essay has been selected from each creator, and creators whose works have also been featured on our Best of 2020 list have different works selected here. If you like any of the following videos, we highly recommend checking out the creators’ backlogs; there are plenty of masterpieces in the mix.

PBS Idea Channel, “Can Dungeons & Dragons Make You A Confident & Successful Person?” (October 10, 2012)

Many of the conventions of modern video essays — a charismatic quick-talking host, eye-grabbing pop culture gifs accompanying narration, and sleek edits — began with PBS Idea Channel. Idea Channel, which ran from 2012 to 2017 and produced over 200 videos, laid many of the blueprints for video essays to come. In this episode, host Mike Rugnetta dissects the practical applications of tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons . The episode predates the tabletop renaissance, shepherded by Stranger Things and actual play podcasts , but gives the same level of love and appreciation the games would see in years to come.

Every Frame a Painting, “Edgar Wright - How to Do Visual Comedy” (May 26, 2014)

Like PBS Idea Channel, Every Frame a Painting was fundamental in setting the tone for video essays on YouTube. In this episode, the works of Edgar Wright (like Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World ) are put in contrast with the trend of dialogue-based comedy films like The Hangover and Bridesmaids . The essay analyzes the lack of visual jokes in the American comedian style of comedy and shows the value of Wright’s mastery of physical comedy. The video winds up not just pointing out what makes Wright’s films so great, but also explaining the jokes in meticulous detail without ever ruining them.

Innuendo Studios, “This Is Phil Fish” (June 16, 2014)

As documented in the 2012 documentary Indie Game: The Movie and all over Twitter, game designer Phil Fish is a contentious figure, to say the least. Known for public meltdowns and abusive behavior, Phil Fish is easy to armchair diagnose, but Ian Danskin of Innuendo Studios uses this video to make something clear: We do not know Phil Fish. Before widespread discussions of parasocial relationships with online personalities, Innuendo Studios was pointing out the perils of treating semi-celebrities as anything other than strangers.

What’s So Great About That?, “Night In The Woods: Do You Always Have A Choice?” (April 20, 2017)

Player choice in video games is often emphasized as an integral facet of gameplay — but what if not having a real choice is the point? In this video, Grace Lee of What’s So Great About That? discusses how removing choice can add to a game’s narrative through the lens of sad, strange indie game Night in the Woods . What can a game with a mentally ill protagonist in a run-down post-industrial town teach us about what choices really mean, and how is a game the perfect way to depict that meaning? This video essay aims to make you see this game in a new light.

Pop Culture Detective, “Born Sexy Yesterday” (April 27, 2017)

One of the many “all killer no filler” channels on this list, Pop Culture Detective is best known as a trope namer. One of those tropes, “Born Sexy Yesterday,” encourages the audience to notice a specific, granular, but strangely prominent character trait in science fiction and fantasy: a female character who, through the conceit of the world and plot, has very little functional knowledge of the world around her, but is also a smoking hot adult. It’s sort of the reverse of the prominent anime trope of a grown woman, sometimes thousands of years old, inhabiting the body of a child. When broken down, the trope is not just a nightmare, it’s something you can’t unsee — and you start to see it everywhere .

Maggie Mae Fish, “Looking For Meaning in Tim Burton’s Movies” (April 24, 2018)

Tim Burton is an iconic example of an outsider making art for other outsiders who question and push the status quo ... right? In Maggie Mae Fish’s first video essay on her channel, she breaks down how Burton co-opts the anticapitalist aesthetics of German expressionism (most obviously, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari ) to give an outsider edge to films that consistently, aggressively enforce the status quo. If you’re a die-hard Burton fan, this one might sting, but Jack Skellington would be proud of you for seeking knowledge. Just kidding. He’d probably want you to take the aesthetic of the knowledge and put it on something completely unrelated, removing it of meaning.

hbomberguy, “CTRL+ALT+DEL | SLA:3” (April 26, 2018)

Are you looking for a video essay with a little more unhinged chaos energy? Prepare yourself for this video by Harry Brewis, aka hbomberguy, analyzing the webcomic CTRL+ALT+DEL, and ultimately, the infamous loss.jpg. But this essay’s also more than that; it’s a response to the criticisms of analyzing pop culture, saying that sometimes art isn’t that deep, or that works can exist outside of the perspective of the creator. This video is infamous for its climax, which we won’t spoil here, but go in knowing it’s, at the very least, adjacent to not safe for work.

Folding Ideas, “A Lukewarm Defence of Fifty Shades of Grey” (August 31, 2018)

Speaking of not-safe-for-work, let’s talk about kink! Dan Olson of Folding Ideas has been creating phenomenal video essays for years. Highlighting “In Search of Flat Earth” as one of the best video essays in 2020 (and, honestly, ever) gives an opportunity to discuss his other masterpieces here: his three-part series dissecting the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise. This introduction to the series discusses specifically the first film, and it does so in a way that is refreshingly kink-positive while still condemning the ways Fifty Shades has promoted extremely unsafe kink practices and dynamics. It also analyzes the first film with a shockingly fair lens, giving accolades where they’re due (that cinematography!) and ripping the film to shreds when necessary (what the hell are these characters?).

ToonrificTariq, “How To BLACK: An Analysis of Black Cartoon Characters (feat. ReviewYaLife)” (January 13, 2019)

While ToonrificTariq’s channel usually focuses on fantastic, engaging reviews of off-kilter nostalgic cartoons — think Braceface and As Told By Ginger — takes this video to explain the importance of writing Black characters in cartoons for kids, and not just one token Black friend per show. Through the lens of shows like Craig of the Creek and Proud Family , ToonrificTariq and guest co-host ReviewYaLife explain the way Black characters have been written into the boxes and how those tropes can be overcome by writers in the future. The collaboration between the two YouTubers also allows a mix of scripted, analytical content and some goofy, fun back-and-forth and riffing.

Jacob Geller, “Games, Schools, and Worlds Designed for Violence” (October 1, 2019)

Jacob Geller ( who has written for Polygon ) has this way of baking sincerity, vulnerability, and so much care into his video essays. This episode is rough, digging into what level design in war games can tell us about the architecture of American schools following the tragic Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. It’s a video essay about video games, about violence, about safety, and about childhood. It’s a video essay about what we prioritize and how, and what that priority can look like. It’s a video essay that will leave you with deep contemplation, but a hungry contemplation, a need to learn and observe more.

Accented Cinema, “Parasite: Mastering the Basics of Cinema” (November 7, 2019)

2019 Bong Joon-ho cinematic masterpiece Parasite is filled to the brim with things to analyze, but Yang Zhang of Accented Cinema takes his discussion back to the basics. Focusing on how the film uses camera positions, light, and lines, the essay shows the mastery of details many viewers might not have noticed on first watch. But once you do notice them, they’re extremely, almost comically overt, while still being incredibly effective. The way the video conveys these ideas is simple, straightforward, and accessible while still illuminating so much about the film and remaining engaging and fun to watch. Accented Cinema turns this video into a 101 film studies crash course, showing how mastery of the basics can make a film such a standout.

Kat Blaque, “So... Let’s Talk About JK Rowling’s Tweet” (December 23, 2019)

In 2020, J. K. Rowling wrote her most infamous tweet about trans people, exemplifying a debate about trans rights and identities that is still becoming more and more intense today. Rowling’s tweet was not the first, or the most important, or even her first — but it was one of the tweets about the issue that gained the most attention. Kat Blaque’s video essay on the tweet isn’t really about the tweet itself. Instead, it’s a masterful course in transphobia, TERFs, and how people hide their prejudice against trans people in progressive language. In an especially memorable passage, Blaque breaks down the tweet, line by line, phrase by phrase, explaining how each of them convey a different aspect of transphobia.

Philosophy Tube, “Data” (January 31, 2020)

One of the most underrated essays in Philosophy Tube’s catalogue, “Data” explains the importance of data privacy. Data privacy is often easily written off; “I have nothing to hide,” and “It makes my ads better,” are both given as defenses against the importance of data privacy. In this essay, though, creator Abigail Thorn breaks traditional essay form to depict an almost Plato-like philosophical dialogue between two characters: a bar patron and the bar’s bouncer. It’s also somewhat of a choose-your-own-adventure game, a post- Bandersnatch improvement upon the Bandersnatch concept.

Intelexual Media, “A Short History of American Celebrity” (February 13, 2020)

Historian Elexus Jionde of Intelexual Media has one of the strongest and sharpest analytical voices when discussing celebrity, from gossip to idolization to the celebrity industrial complex to stan culture . Her history of American celebrity is filled to the brim with information, fact following fact at a pace that’s breakneck without ever leaving the audience behind. While the video initially seems like just a history, there’s a thesis baked into the content about what celebrity is, how it got to where it is today, and where it might be going—and what all of that means about the rest of us.

Princess Weekes, “Empire and Imperialism in Children’s Cartoons—a super light topic” (June 22, 2020)

This video by Princess Weekes (Melina Pendulum) starts with a bang — a quick, goofy song followed by a steep dive into imperialization and its effect on intergenerational trauma. And then, it connects those concepts to much-beloved cartoons for kids like Avatar: The Last Airbender , Steven Universe , and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power . Fans of shows like these may be burnt out on fandom discourse quickly saying, “thing bad!” because of how they view its stance on imperialization. Weekes, however, has always favored nuance and close reading. Her take on imperialization in cartoons offers a more complex method of analyzing these shows, and the cartoons that will certainly drum up the same conversations in the future.

Yhara Zayd, “Holes & The Prison-Industrial Complex” (July 7, 2020)

2003’s Holes absolutely rules, and Yhara Zayd’s video essay on the film shows why it isn’t just a fun classic with memorable characters. It’s also way, way more complex than most of us might remember. Like Dan Olson, Yhara Zayd appeared on our list of the best video essays of 2020, but frankly, any one of her videos could belong there or here. What makes this analysis of Holes stand out is the meticulous attention to detail Zayd has in her analysis, revealing the threads that connect the film’s commentary across its multiple interwoven plotlines. And, of course, there’s Zayd’s trademark quiet passion for the work she’s discussing, making this essay just as much of a close reading as it is a love letter to the film.

D’Angelo Wallace, “The Disappearance of Blaire White” (November 2, 2020)

D’Angelo Wallace is best known as a commentary YouTuber, someone who makes videos reacting to current events, pop culture, and, of course, other YouTubers. With his hour-long essay on YouTuber Blaire White, though, that commentary took a sharp turn into cultural analysis and introspection. For those unfamiliar with White’s work, she was once a prominent trans YouTuber known for her somewhat right-wing politics, including her discussion of other trans people. In Wallace’s video, her career is outlined — but so is the effect she had on her viewers. What is it about creators like White that makes them compelling? And what does it take for us to reevaluate what they’ve been saying?

Chromalore, “The Last Unicorn: Death and the Legacy of Fantasy” (December 3, 2020)

Chromalore is a baffling internet presence. With one video essay up, one single tweet, and a Twitter bio that simply reads, “just one (1) video essay, as a treat,” this channel feels like the analysis equivalent of seeing someone absolutely captivating at a party who you know you’ll never see again, and who you know you’ll never forget.

This video essay discusses themes of death, memory, identity, remorse, and humanity as seen through both the film and the novel The Last Unicorn . It weaves together art history and music, Christian iconography and anime-inspired character designs. It talks about why this film is so beloved and the effect it’s had on audiences today. It’s moving, deeply researched, brilliantly executed, and we will probably never see this creator again.

Khadija Mbowe, “Digital Blackface?” (December 23, 2020)

“Digital Blackface” is a term popularized by Lauren Michele Jackson’s 2017 Teen Vogue essay, “We Need to Talk About Digital Blackface in Reaction GIFs.” The piece explains the prominence of white people using the images of Black people without context to convey a reaction, and Khadija Mbowe’s deep dive on the subject expands on how, and why, blackface tropes have evolved in the digital sphere. Mbowe’s essay involves a great deal of history and analysis, all of which is deeply uncomfortable. Consider this a content warning for depictions of racism throughout the video. But that discomfort is key to explaining why digital blackface is such a problem and how nonblack people, especially white people, can be more cognizant about how they depict their reactions online.

CJ the X, “No Face Is An Incel” (April 4, 2021)

Rounding out this list is a 2021 newcomer to video essays with an endlessly enjoyable gremlin energy that still winds up being some of the smartest, sharpest, and funniest discussions about pop culture. CJ the X, a human sableye , breaks down one of the most iconic and merch-ified Studio Ghibli characters, No Face, who is an incel. This is a video essay best experienced with no knowledge except its main thesis—that No Face is an incel—so you can sit back, be beguiled, be enraptured, and then be convinced.

best video essays on youtube 2023

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The Masterpieces of Streaming

best video essays on youtube 2023

The best video essays of 2022

Our annual celebration of audiovisual essays polled 44 international voters and includes recommendations of more than 180 videos.

13 January 2023

By  Grace Lee , Irina Trocan , Cydnii Wilde Harris

Sight and Sound

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 NFT s, 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 UM ass 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.

Ariel Avissar

Johannes binotto, philip józef brubaker, nelson carvajal, tracy cox-stanton, will digravio, chloé galibert-laîné, ian garwood, jacob geller, tomas genevičius, libertad gills, catherine grant, 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’l eary, 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, 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.

Filling (Feeling) the Archival Void: The Case of Helena Cortesina’s Flor de España by Barbara Zecchi

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.

[Back to top]

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:

  • Knit One, Stab Two  by Alison Peirse
  • Young (Woman) Filmmaker(s)  by Katie Bird
  • GeoMarkr  by Chloé Galibert-Laîné
  • Music Video Space by Mathias Korsgaard

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.

Once upon a Screen: Can I Remember It Differently? by Cormac Donnelly

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 UM ass 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.

Spencer Bell, Nobody Knows My Name by Liz Greene

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

Spencer Bell, Nobody Knows My Name   by Liz Greene

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!

Synced by Johannes Binnotto

The Place of the Pop Song in Academic Audiovisual Film and Television Criticism by Ian Garwood

Le Plaisir: Voices and Viewpoints   by John Gibbs and Douglas Pye

Irresistible Instrumentalism: Materially Thinking Through Music-making in the Story Worlds of Silent Films   by Catherine Grant

The Gravity of the Acousmêtre: Listening via the Radio and Through Paratext in Film by Liz Greene

Host,  The Video Essay Podcast ; creator, Notes on Videographic Criticism

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.

Shiplap by Eva Hageman

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.

Footsteps by Evelyn Kreutzer

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

Philosophical Frameworks and Feminist Praxes in Lady Bird (Gerwig, 2017) by Rob Stone

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.

Closing Distance: The Cosmic View, the Terrestrial Horizon, and Jean-Claude Labrecque’s Essai à la mille by Stephen Broomer

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”.

Le Plaisir: Voices and Viewpoints by John Gibbs and Douglas Pye

“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.

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

Dance, Camera, Dance: Directorial Choreography in the Live Anthology Drama by Peter Labuza

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.

Nazarbazi   by Maryam Tafakory

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’L eary, 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.

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.

Irresistible Instrumentalism: Materially Thinking Through Music-making in the Story Worlds of Silent Films by Catherine Grant

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’L eary

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

F1 ghting 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).

Scholarship from the More-Than-Human? Constraint and Cognitive Agency in Videographic Criticism by Alan O’Leary

“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.

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.

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.

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.

Nazarbazi by Maryam Tafakory

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.

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

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 NFT s 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 NFT s, 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.

Once upon a Screen: Can I Remember It Differently?  by Cormac Donnelly

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

Itinéraire pour une terre rare – De la pomme de terre au coltan en passant par des écrans by Seumboy Vrainom

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 NFT s 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.

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.

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.

Freelance critic

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 APL attanzi

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.

Twin Peaks Explained ; Twin Peaks The Return & the Golden Age of TV   by Maggie Mae Fish

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.

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.

Independent scholar

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.

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. 

NPC s 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 NPC s 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 NPC s 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.

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.

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’L eary

This is, in my opinion, the most stunning example to date of a deformative approach to videographic criticism, a field in which Alan O’L eary 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.

Emerging voices

Delphine Jeanneret mentions Fox Maxy and Pauline Julier as ‘Emerging voices’:

“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.”

Meg Shields nominated APL attanzi and Niche Nonsense :

“It is a fantastic and baffling crime that many of APL attanzi ’ 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.”

Will Webb mentions Dennis Gallagher and especially his Wallace and Gromit video essay.

“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.”

Tomas Genevičius mentions Marlen Schmid and her video essay Crossing Borders, about Agnès Varda .

Max Tohline nominated  max teeth and  Emily Jaworski :

“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.”

Multiple nominees

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) 

Collective nominations

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

Hamaguchi Ryūsuke: insights on and from the Japanese auteur Plus: Mica Levi on their innovative score for The Zone of Interest – Víctor Erice interviewed about his masterful return to feature filmmaking, Close Your Eyes – a festival report from a politically charged Berlinale

Other things to explore

The best video essays of 2023.

By Queline Meadows

The best films of 2023 – all the votes

Martin scorsese on winning sight and sound’s best films of 2023 poll with killers of the flower moon.

best video essays on youtube 2023

How to find the best video essays

Haya kaylani curates video essay recommendations in her newsletter “the deep dive.”.

Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, written by Kate Lindsay and edited by Nick Catucci.

Can you tell I’m starting to think about making video essays? — Kate

How to find the newsletter that will tell you about newsletters finding video essays:

Take one quick look at what’s trending on YouTube, and you can easily lose faith in humanity. As I write this, it’s all Grimace shakes and people either giving or spending thousands of dollars for different viral stunts. 

But underneath all that, a genre of creators is playing a long game. Video essays might seem totally incompatible with today’s internet of fast short-form content and flashy clickbait. But inexplicably, hours-long videos on topics ranging from modern femininity to the history of Disney’s FastPass system consistently receive millions of views. The genre is becoming so popular that people like Haya Kaylani have emerged to help viewers sort through it. 

Kidology’s video essays will renew your faith in social media

Kidology’s video essays will renew your faith in social media

Kaylani writes The Deep Dive , a newsletter in which she curates five video essay recommendations every week, although I discovered her on TikTok , where her videos highlighting recent stand-out essays have received millions of views of their own. 

best video essays on youtube 2023

Kaylani worked in the PR industry for six years, but after she lost her job in a round of layoffs, she was inspired to try something new. She had been a longtime consumer of video essays, but no one in her IRL friend group was interested in them. 

“They weren't anything that I could talk about with my friends or the people in my life,” she says over Zoom. “But every time I would watch these videos, I noticed that they would have hundreds of thousands of views, if not millions. So it was this feeling of like, ‘Okay, they're out there. People are watching these.’”

The Deep Dive has since gained over 6,500 subscribers since it launched in February of this year, and another nearly 57,000 follow it on TikTok. In this interview for paid subscribers, Kaylani and I talk about the video essay explosion, how TikTok is (ironically) boosting long-form content, and where people should get started if they, too, want to become video essay obsessives. 

What’s the appeal of a video essay versus a written essay? 

This post is for paid subscribers

Film Studies’ Zecchi’s 2023 Work Makes BFI’s List for Best Video Essay of the Year

NEWS Barbara Zecchi with computer

For the third consecutive year, Director of Film Studies Barbara Zecchi and her videographic work has been included in the list of Best Video Essays of the Year by the monthly film magazine Sight and Sound , published by the British Film Institute (BFI), the United Kingdom’s lead organization for film.

This year’s list recognized Zecchi’s video essay, “ Filling (Feeling) the Archival Void: The Case of Helena Cortesina’s Flor de España ,” first published in the October 2023 issue of Feminist Media Histories . The essay delves into the systematic erasure and archival dispossession of works by early women filmmakers, using the case study of Helena Cortesina and her lost film, “Flor de España”(1922), which was falsely attributed to a male director.

“Zecchi gets my vote for video essayist of the year for her prolific, always brilliant videographic work,” says video essayist and film scholar, Catherine Grant. “This particular video, ‘Filling (Feeling) the Archival Void: The Case of Helena Cortesina’s Flor de España,’ published in issue 9(4) of the journal Feminist Media Histories, is extraordinary.”

“[Zecchi’s] voice as well as her embodied, emotive presence on the screen are intrinsic features of a project that deploys videographic tools to sustain what she calls a ‘practice-based counter archive’ capable of reversing the ongoing ‘dispossession’ of women’s contributions to media history,” Feminist Media Histories editor Jennifer Bean wrote in her introductory essay for the issue.

BFI’s annual poll spotlights 181 unique video essays, nominated by 48 international voters, showcasing the breadth and depth of current videographic practice. For more information, visit the BFI Best Video Essays of 2023 website .

Passionfruit

The 5 Best Video Essays of 2023 (According to Me) 

Steven Asarch

Man talking in front of wall of screens and trippy best video essays 2023

2023 was a wild year for YouTube. From MrBeast explosions to the blow-up of Colleen Ballinger’s career, it’s been a never-ending cavalcade of chaos and calamity. Focusing on the headlines and drama might be easy. However, it’s important to remember that YouTube is still a video hosting platform, full of the best analysts and deep thinkers with an internet connection. 

The video essay, where someone spews about a topic for a few minutes to eight hours, had a renaissance of a year, full of thought-provoking insights on culture and the internet. But with hundreds of hours of introspections on dank memes, there’s a chance quite a few of these videos fall through the cracks on your “Watch Later” playlist.

So, using my ability to stay inside for long periods and binge-watch content, I’ve compiled a list of my five favorite video essays released in 2023. 

1. “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling” – ContraPoints

Natalie Wynn is one of the most important video essayists on YouTube, with her talks on the alt-right and cancelation still wringing in my ear years after I’ve watched them. Though she had a fairly quiet year, the one two-hour video essay she did put out was a rollercoaster from start to finish. It covers her experience being interviewed for a podcast about J.K. Rowling, where she was clearly misled about the interviewer’s intentions (which to me, is pretty unethical). It’s a good reminder that you should always be wary of any interview opportunities, even when you expect them to be in good faith. 

2. “Why YouTubers Hold Microphones Now” – Tom Nicholas

As vast amounts of company capital and advertising bucks flowed into YouTube, content creation evolved. Gone are the days of scrappy emo-haired boys writing sketches filmed on their mom’s camcorder because big budgets and a professional aesthetic have replaced them. The British creator Tom Nicholas does a fantastic deep dive into how that transition happened with the most benign of framing devices: the microphone. 

3. “Everything Is Content Now” – Patrick (H) Willems

I made a recent tweet using the phrase “everyone who consumes content,” and the comments were flooded with people who despised using the “C-word.” And I agree that art, movies, music, animation, and every individual medium is so much more than just “content.” But thanks to YouTube and the constant need to fill every second of our day with entertainment, the dreaded term has snuck its way into every facet of our lives. Willems does some of the best video essays on media criticism, including another banger on what killed cinema . In one of my favorite essays from the year, he breaks down how the term “content” came to be all-consuming — and what we can do to stop it. 

4. “How SunnyV2 Ruined Video Essays” – Pinely

I’ve been following Orr Piamenta, known as “Pinely,” since he was still just an avatar of a cardboard box. This year, he released some truly inspirational content and collaborations. My favorite has to be his takedown of low-effort content farms parading around as video essayists. Because YouTube can be such a good place to make money, these creators have essentially perfected the ability to churn out videos with low amounts of research to maximize watch time. From his rooftop, Piamenta breaks down one of the most egregious channels and discusses why this style of content is making it harder for other video essayists. 

5. “Plagiarism and You(Tube)” – Hbomberguy

Chances are you are probably already one of the 10 million viewers to watch Harris Brewis’s 4-hour opus discussing YouTube’s plagiarism problem . It made waves in the creation space in ways that normal videos normally don’t, essentially leading James Somerton, one of the main plagiarists exposed in the video, to go into virtual hiding. Despite the length, the video is worth watching all the way through, even if you have to put it on double speed just to make sure you have the time to finish it. Plus, we got to speak with Brewis about the impact of his video , which is a sick bonus.

What were your favorite video essays of the year? Email [email protected] to send us your suggestions.

Steven Asarch is an internet culture reporter who lives on Twitch and YouTube. After graduating from Baruch College, he wrote for IBT Media, Newsweek, and Insider. In 2021, he executive produced the docu-series “Onision in Real Life” on Discovery +.

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10 best youtubers for gaming video essays, according to reddit.

From Jacob Geller to Game Maker's Toolkit, there are tons of YouTube channels for video game fans or makers who enjoy in-depth analysis.

Although video games can be mindless fun at times, some of the biggest releases of the later half of this year have included The Last of Us: Part 1 and the upcoming God of War: Ragnarök , titles that serve to highlight video games as an art form to rival traditional media. When it comes to what makes games like these work, YouTube has any gaming enthusiast covered.

From essayists who focus on the storytelling element of video games like Jacob Geller to ones that go in-depth to take apart the mechanical side of creating video games like Game Maker's Toolkit or even GDC, these are the channels that Reddit thinks fans should be checking out.

When most people think of video essays, they tend to think of channels where a single person presents their thoughts on a variety of topics but GDC is a little different. The name stands for Game Developers Conference and the YouTube channel presents clips and full talks from professionals.

Redditor rebilax13 comments that you can "never go wrong with GDC" as you get to "hear from the industry themselves." Whilst analysis from an outsider is always interesting, there's something about hearing developers, artists, and producers talk about their own methods of bringing video games to life that's uniquely insightful.

Writing On Games

Focusing on game design and what makes video game narratives so powerful , Writing on Games presents video game essays and reviews in a sharp and engaging style that has won the channel many fans over the years. That includes Redditor Party_McFly710 who rates them as a top channel when it comes to "general story analysis" for video games.

Whilst the channel isn't afraid to criticize games for their shortcomings, a lot of their videos involve going in-depth and taking apart exactly why highly-rated games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild , Elden Ring , and The Last of Us are so effective. Even better, Writing on Games generally draws attention to small details and game elements that most people would never pick up on.

Matthewmatosis

Well-researched, well-edited, and interesting video essays often take a lot of time to put together, which is why they aren't always easy to find. For those who don't mind infrequent uploads, Matthewmatosis provides just that, presenting videos that very obviously have a ton of thought and time put into them.

Redditor GhettoRussianSpy says they "wholeheartedly recommend" the channel and calls it "thought-provoking." Whereas some channels attempt to make videos about the most relevant game to ensure views, it's obvious that Matthewmatosis simply pursues whatever interests him at that time, presenting a fascinating dissection of Death Stranding nearly a year after Hideo Kojima's divisive title was released.

For retrospectives on awesome older video games , there are few channels that do so as effectively and entertainingly as Raycevick. Redditor Malix82 recommends the channel for "lengthy deconstructions" of exactly how and why a game once "made waves" or came to be perceived the way it is.

With his "... x Years Later" series, which includes "Metro Exodus... 3 Years Later" and "Need for Speed: Most Wanted... 13 Years Later," Raycevick uses the advantage of hindsight to look at games from a different perspective to usual and sometimes even challenge people's perceptions. Along with covering a wide range of games from different periods, Raycevick offers something for everyone.

Noah Caldwell-Gervais

There are plenty of channels that offer extremely long-form and comprehensive video essays on games but very few go to the extremes of Noah Caldwell-Gervais whose "Thorough Look" series has episodes that break the 5-hour mark. It's not just quantity he provides though as, according to Redditor Frittenbudenpapst , "His analysis, critique and description of games is just stellar."

"Whilst his almost-exclusive use of gameplay footage might not appeal to those who like more flashy and visually engaging video essays, it helps him to effectively capture the feel of the games he talks about and that's something his fans appreciate. This is especially true as he often talks about games where the atmosphere is one of the most important elements.

Tongue-in-cheek humor and sharp critiques go hand-in-hand in Whitelight's video essays, which often take on critically-lauded or critically-panned games and offer an interesting take. Whilst it's not a channel for fans who like their video essays to be completely serious, there are good reasons why Redditors like BrandalfFTW consider him one of "the best."

For example, despite taking a more humorous approach to the YouTube format , Whitelight's critiques tend to be fairly balanced, taking into account arguments for and against the games he takes on. Whilst no viewer is likely to agree with all of his opinions, that's a part of the charm of Whitelight's channel.

Though Hbomberguy takes on everything from politics and conspiracy theories to TV shows, some of his most popular and most compelling videos are those where he simply discusses video games. Redditor AMtheVile is one fan who says they "really like" his video game content.

Though his approach to video games can be divisive, often taking extreme stances on beloved video game franchises like The Elder Scrolls and the Fallout series and presenting his views in an over-the-top, impassioned way, the level of effort he puts into making his videos well-researched and visually interesting is something anyone can appreciate.

With the description on YouTube reading simply "Insightful gaming videos," Ahoy manages to perfectly capture why fans love the channel's video essays so much. Although not exclusively about video games, with many historical videos as well, their visually striking and perfectly composed video game essays easily rival that of completely game-focused channels.

That's why Redditor GustavGarlicBread calls them "amazing" at what they do, adding that they have "extremely clean editing, and original music to top it all off." Whilst this means uploads are infrequent, each essay has so much originality that they're more than worth the wait.

Game Maker's Toolkit

Presented by British video game journalist and game developer Mark Brown, Game Maker's Toolkit aims to deliver exactly what the channel name promises which is to help with the viewer's understanding of how games are made. Though this technical approach of drawing attention to how games are crafted is great for budding game developers, it's also fascinating as a fan of games too.

One of those fans is Redditor nas1992 who comments that the channel is their "favorite" when it comes to gaming video essays. Rather than focusing on a specific game in each video, Brown nearly always dedicates each one to a particular, and usually small, aspect of game design, providing a much more technical perspective.

Jacob Geller

Though he does consider specific elements of game design in his gaming video essays, the unique appeal of Jacob Geller's YouTube channel is that they often provide deep and interesting reflections on the thematic story elements of great games. For fans of the story-telling side of video game creation, there are few better than Geller.

Redditor Frosch90 recommends the channel for anyone "into a more intellectual and "artsy" approach to games." Taking in a variety of sources that go far beyond what most YouTube video essays consider, Geller's approach is just as thorough as those on the more technical side of video games which helps make each one a treat to watch.

NEXT: 10 Best YouTube Channels For Film Video Essays, According To Reddit

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    kate lindsay. ·. November 16, 2022. Read full story. Kaylani writes The Deep Dive, a newsletter in which she curates five video essay recommendations every week, although I discovered her on TikTok, where her videos highlighting recent stand-out essays have received millions of views of their own.

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