Two months ago, Aeon Magazine had its first birthday and I pointed to it and said it was my favorite magazine on the Internet. It is one of the best examples of “slow media” on the Web. By publishing just one longform story or essay a day under one of its six categories – which include “Being Human,” “Nature & Cosmos,” and “Altered States” – it resists the fast-twitch Twitterized culture of news in which pageview-obsessed publications spend all their time churning copy and figuring out how to get readers to click on the next page.
Today, London-based Aeon is taking that ethos to a new site that shows off short documentary films. Each week, Aeon Film will showcase three short films curated from archives, festivals, platforms such as Vimeo, and directly through filmmakers. Each is presented on the site alongside a short description and biography of the filmmaker. Aeon Film’s homepage displays links to each film in a very visually-oriented grid, with the title, director, short blurb, and duration of the video listed in a transparent overlay that sits atop a beautiful still shot from the documentary. The site is built in responsive design, so it adapts to the size of the browser you happen to be viewing it in.
Aeon has hired Brooklyn-based Kellen Quinn, who was most recently deputy director of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, as film programmer, charged with finding cinematic documentaries for the site that fit with Aeon’s sensibility. It will exclusively license some films that you can’t watch for free, or at all, anywhere else online.
“The aim is to give each of these films the same sort of sustained, engaged attention that we bring to the essays and the complementary designs reflect that too,” says Aeon editor Brigid Hains by email.
The site has launched with six films, including Adrian Steirn’s “When I Die,” a nine-minute documentary that features an interview with a 61-year-old British peer with terminal cancer who describes his emotional and intellectual states in the two weeks leading up to his own death. Another of the first batch is Glen Milner and Ben Hilton’s “Return of the Sun,” which packs into four minutes a stunningly beautiful but poignant illustration of the effects of thinning ice on a Northern Greenland Inuit community as it fully awakens to the permanent threat of climate change.
Hains says the Film site was a natural next step for Aeon. “There are so many feelings that a great short documentary film can provoke, and so many questions that they can investigate in ways that are humanizing and real.”
The publication did not want to expand by upping the number of stories it published. There is room growth in the text-based part of its site, but that will come from digging deeper and spending even more time with writers working on the pieces, she says. Film, meanwhile, gives readers a “completely different, immersive, visual and experiential approach to the same broad range of interests that animate Aeon’s essays.”
As with Aeon Magazine, Aeon Film has no business model. The self-funded company is focused on growing its audience and honing its products. The founders have enough money to fund the company without having to worry about profitability for more than a year from now. Unfortunately, another hallmark of “slow media” is that, just like the editorial process, the emergence of viable business models are also characterized by a noticeable lack of velocity.