my latest obsession: the video essay genre


“Essays are having a little bit of a cultural moment right now,” says Evan Puschak of The NerdWriter. In his TEDx Talk “How YouTube Changed the Essay” (above), he discusses the evolution of the written essay to a multimedia form. To me, this is wonderful news. I will always love the written essay, but sometimes I become frustrated with its limitations; I will always love film, but sometimes I tire of its ambiguities. For the moment at least, I am finding great solace in a multidisciplinary genre that marries audio-visual stimulation with clarity of thought: the video essay.

If some films are like novels or poems, video essays are multimedia works of creative nonfiction, often distinct from full-length journalistic documentaries. A video essay is just an essay: an articulation and expression of a thesis, or another way of writing, defined by Puschak as “thought.” Beyond written language, video essayists use multimedia tools (images, sounds, editing) to convey an idea. I found Puschak’s talk and the genre itself through kismet. I was passively watching YouTube videos (as I am wont to do) when I discovered a thoughtful compilation called “The Zero Waste Movement,” and then, perhaps even more importantly, the creator’s Behind the Scenes commentary. Until coming across Haley’s series, I had of course seen several video essays, but had not given them much consideration as a genre all their own. Once I did, I stumbled down the rabbit hole.

I fell further, and further in love, when I searched for other definitions of the genre. I became fond of Julia Vassilieva’s definition in “The exciting new genre of the audio-visual film essay”. I learned that, along with Puschak and others, award-winning filmmaker Kevin B. Lee is one of the genre’s most significant (and prolific) creators. Lee offers at least two gems that serve as primers on the video essay:

Though the vast majority of video essays created thus far are in fact about film, there is certainly no hard and fast rule that they have to be; filmmakers just happen to have recognized that showing film makes sense when you’re analyzing film, and they have the toolbox at the ready. Video essays, just like written essays, can be about anything. In the Spring of 2017, I even tasked my research writing students with creating their own video essays about sustainability solutions, and several were eager to share them with the world and so created a YouTube playlist.

I hope you will fall in love with this genre as much as I have, and will look forward to seeing original video essays as a new category of content on New Southerner. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite professional examples of the genre, Part 3 of “The Long Game” series by Adam Westbrook called “Painting in the Dark.” Creators of any type can resonate with the push-and-pull between the years it takes to deeply learn a craft and the 24-hour cycle of 21st century life:

If you are a video essayist (or would like to be), please submit your work for consideration here.


Maggie Brown, the Editor-in-Chief of New Southerner, is an Associate Professor at Elizabethtown Community & Technical College, where she has taught writing, literature, film studies, and rock & roll lit. She resides in Louisville, Kentucky, and enjoys giving talks and leading workshops about her experiences with the zero waste and vegan lifestyles. Her philosophy is that sustainability for the planet perfectly aligns with sustainability for the self. She’d love to hear from you at maggie [at] newsoutherner [dot] com.




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