2020 has been an absolute ride, and with it has come the full gamut of human emotions. Here in Melbourne, we're so tantalisingly close to restrictions easing that we can taste it. With this comes a rollercoaster of excitement and anticipation that might understandably reduce us to a bundle of nerves. What we need right now is to keep calm and ride this thing out. If you're struggling to maintain your zen and the weighted blanket just isn’t cutting it anymore, don't worry – we've got the calm content to keep you calm and contented through the final leg of isolation.
The Red Turtle (2016)
This gorgeous animated film by Studio Ghibli is the story of a stranded castaway told entirely without words. It's a quiet time, full of gentle sounds and scenery: rainfall, scuttling crabs, windblown trees and lapping waves. As the protagonist comes to accept his fate of island entrapment, we take our own journey of surrender. It's a beautiful reminder of the important things in life: companionship, love, family and the stewardship of nature.
By now, if you are lucky enough to experience ASMR (that's autonomous sensory meridian response) it's likely you've spent many hours deep down the cosy YouTube hole that is ASMR videos. With the current situation limiting our ability to be pampered with the triggering attention of a real-life hair stylist, let us recommend the tingly-wonders of ASMR haircuts. They serve as a double salve if you've fallen victim to the self-inflicted iso-cut – just turn the mirror away and pretend it was at the hands of someone else. Nearly two million subscribers go to Gentle Whispering (above) for their ASMR needs, or for an Australian creator, try this haircut by Subtle Sounds.
Stop choking on your feed, visual artist Hannah Brontë provides the resuscitation you need. For online festival BLEED 2020, Brontë created mi$$-Eupnea, a suite of audiovisual works named for the mode of breathing that occurs at rest: unconscious, unforced, meditative. Start with these six videos that each explore one person's experiences of sitting in nature. Like a form of slow TV, they layer rich natural imagery over contemplative conversations about nature's inherent slowness. The viewing experience will slow your breathing, recalibrate your brain and help you reconnect to your own sense of place – whether you take that as the walled spaces we've been stuck in for months or the community and Country beyond.
Short Trip (2017)
In this game you get to live out everyone's fantasy of being an old-timey scenic railway driver (who is also a cat). You may not yet know that this is your fantasy, but once you get lulled by the sight of the passing countryside, the gentle twittering of birds, the steady sound of the tram rolling along the track and the ding of the bell, you'll understand that it is. Artist Alexander Perrin has created this game as an "interactive illustration", and each brick, roof shingle or apple that you pass is rendered in the black and white of graphite on paper. The concept is simple and the calm awaits you. Please, start your trip, the town cats would like to hop on.
The Beach (2020)
Before isolation was the 2020 default mode, director Warwick Thornton (Samson and Delilah, Sweet Country) decided to embark on an eight-week journey of self-imposed "isolation" in the stunning Dampier Peninsula, on the north coast of Western Australia. His goal was to reconnect with himself and with Country. In his six-part documentary, The Beach, we see him fish and forage for food, prepare an array of mouthwatering dishes and reflect on moments from his past that shaped him. It makes for mesmerising viewing. Read our interview with Thornton about the making of this candid work.
This is the perfect antidote to isolation woes and a fascinating look into someone else’s world. Virtually visit Italy, Poland, Malaysia, Russia, Ukraine, New Zealand, the USA and more. Notice the differences in architecture, agriculture and weather. Each clip has background audio that may include snippets of conversation, the soothing sound of trees blowing in the wind or music. Window Swap is a simple idea, but it delightfully connects us with others, even if we can’t see our new acquaintances in frame. While we’re unable to explore our world physically, look through someone else’s window for a while. You might even get to see their very cute cats while you’re there.
John Anderson's home movies
When you take out your camera to capture this moment we're living through, you're taking after the generations of home movie makers that came before us. Here's a chance to watch a simple slice of life from times more precedented than today. There's a huge supply of home movies on the ACMI Collection YouTube channel, but start with the one above by John "Jack" Anderson. Full of candid family interactions and the affectionate gazes of loved ones, it lets you borrow a hint of the human connection we're all starving for. Peering into another era through the flickering frames of 16mm is enough to get you nostalgic for someone else's childhood. And it feels just fine.
North to South: NZ’s Wildest Journey (2018)
Missing the great outdoors? Us too. North to South: NZ’s Wildest Journey is a calming train, car, and boat voyage from Auckland through to the deep south. The perfect remedy for the suburban blues, enjoy three hours of mesmerising New Zealand scenery. Listen to the train making its journey along well-worn tracks, the low rumble of a car engine, and the rushing sound of a boat cutting through water. Check out the history facts and quirky local knowledge that pop up on screen and see if you can spot the odd sheep! Beautifully edited, each town is digitally signposted as you pass through, so you know exactly where to plan your next relaxing vacay when borders reopen.
David Bull's Woodblock Printmaking
If you don't yet know the soothing presence of Bob Ross and his happy little trees, please go and experience them immediately (The Joy of Painting is available on YouTube and SBS on Demand). If you are familiar, no doubt you have consumed as much calm as the permed painter has to offer and you're ready for the next big thing in careful craftsmanship. Meet the next hero of wholesome, Tokyo-based woodblock printmaker David Bull. Learn about traditional Japanese woodblock printmaking processes via the dulcet tones of David's voice, accompanied by the atmospheric sounds of sanding, carving and page turning (hello unintentional ASMR). Also coming for the calm crafting crown is Japanese watercolourist Shibasaki, and for pure visual satisfaction you can't go past the Moiré printing process videos on Pat Kim's Instagram.
Surf's Up (2010–19)
There's something about the might of the ocean that pulls things into perspective. You can find calm in surrendering to its power (especially when observing its majesty safely through a screen). Watching this surf series by NOWNESS lets you revel in the freedom of the surfers' movements and the beauty of the crystalline water. The films are meditations on elements of surfing from the spirituality of wood-carved Hawaiian surfboards to the natural rhythm of the waves. They transmit a sense of mindfulness too, as surfers pit themselves against the extremity of the sea with respect and intention. For even more moments of calm caught on camera, also try this NOWNESS Satisfaction playlist and follow NOWNESS on Instagram for regular #MorningMeditation content, which delivers such delights as this deer skipping along a beach.
This game is set to be released in 2021 and we predict it's exactly what we'll need to heal from the frantic energy of 2020. Unpacking's creators, Brisbane-based games studio Witch Beam, describe it as "a zen puzzle game about the familiar experience of pulling possessions out of boxes and fitting them into a new home." With no score, time limit, or other added pressure to play competitively, the game is as meditative and soothing as tidying up IRL. Hear more about the making of Unpacking from our Games Talks 2020 episode with creator Wren Brier. To tide you over until its release, try Wilmot's Warehouse, another game that celebrates the joy of putting things in neat little rows.
Looking for more to watch? Let us guide you through this period of solitude with home-viewing options for every lockdown mood in our Isolation Guides.