‘Where is My home?’ by Cecelia de Jesus was the official winner of the USC Shoah Foundation’s Student voices film competition in 2013. The film tells the story of Vera Gissing and her escape from Czechoslovakia during the start of the Holocaust. The USC Shoah Foundation is home to one of the largest collections of digital archive footage of Holocaust survivors and witnesses, currently housing over 55,000 video testimonies.
De Jesus used archive footage, along with sand animation, to bring Vera Gissing’s story to life. When watching the film, you can’t help but be entranced by the macro sequences where we see individual grains of sand and translucency. The abstract imagery De Jesus creates with the sand spotlights Gissing’s testimony, the moving images accompanying her voice rather than pulling attention away from it. The film tells a harrowing real-life story, emphasising Vera Gissing’s voice.
Applications are now open – Deadline 03 March 2023 ANIDOX:LAB is a tailor-made professional training course – for documentary and animation creatives, directors, producers and professionals with an animated documentary project in development.
The Lab is based in Denmark, Viborg and Copenhagen, and is supported by the Danish film Institute and the Animation Workshop.
They offer a series of seminars and consultation sessions running between May and August 2023. For in-depth guidance and a supportive framework. Expand participant’s international network and engage in new collaborations.
The ANIDOX:LAB uniquely addresses visual and immersive animation storytelling. The goal is to pitch a teaser/trailer and build knowledge, network and resources. We focus on collaborative processes, matchmaking, reaching audiences and new frameworks. The coaching seminars and creative workshops are designed to progress from fine- tuning an initial idea, through visual and narrative development, to a pitch package and a teaser/trailer.
It is a laboratory which brings professionals together to maximize their capacity and cultivate new skills, while developing their respective projects. Teams are encouraged to apply as well as artists working in cross-media, hybrid forms and new technologies.
Select participating ANIDOX:LAB projects have the opportunity to showcase their work at various prestigious international events and festivals.
With Holocaust Memorial Day coming up on January 27th, we want to share a couple of films with you over the next couple of weeks which share the stories of Holocaust survivors.
In 2014, collage artist Martin O’Neill and animator Andrew Griffin (GRIFF) were paired with Bettine Le Beau, a holocaust survivor, to interpret and retell her story. Seven artists in total were paired with survivors living in the UK as a part of the Holocaust Memorial‘s Memory Makers’ Project. Bettine Le Beau, former Bond girl, actress and author, was 82 years old when she collaborated with O’Neill and Griffin to share her story and have it retold through O’Neill’s beautifully intricate collages.
The illustration is bright and detailed, visualising Bettine’s narration as she recounts the events of her escape from a concentration camp in France and the course of her life after. The film’s style has the feel of a scrapbook, which goes well with the personal storytelling from Bettine. It’s a moving, tragic, yet strangely uplifting animated documentary about personal and cultural identity.
Bettine passed away in 2015, a few months after the film’s release.
This 2013 animated documentary by Ellen Bruno is a personal animated documentary which focuses on the perspectives of children aged 6-12 who are experiencing the divorce of their parents. Made in collaboration with children, ‘Split’ puts them at the forefront of the issue. Approximately one million children experience divorce in the family each year, but often the children’s experiences and viewpoints fly under the radar. Bruno’s film is for children and by children.
The aim of the film is to not only give voice to children of divorce, but also to inform parents and encourage them to make better choices with their children in mind, as they navigate divorce.
Ellen Bruno is an award-winning filmmaker from San Francisco who focuses on issues surrounding human rights, often working with refugee-related issues. ‘Split’, like many of her other films, gives a voice to those who more often than not go unheard.
Stacy Bias is a Glasgow-based animator, activist and artist. A part of her animation studio, Your Story Studio, ‘Yoga For Larger Bodies’ is a 2016 animated documentary which tells the story of one woman’s experience as a plus-sized yoga instructor.
The story is told through a continuous line-drawn animation which visualises the experiences and emotions shared through the narration. The piece aims to put emphasis on all bodies and all kinds of health being of equal value. The continuous line of the animation represents meditation, union and connection, all of which are key elements of yoga practice. ‘Yoga For All Bodies’ is a beautiful and heartfelt short animated documentary which is definitely worth a watch.
Jess Mountfield‘s short animated documentary titled ‘The Untold Story of Brain Injury’ collaborates with Emilia Clarke’s charity Same You to give a voice to those who have been affected by traumatic brain injury. Mountfield reached out to the brain injury community and recorded their stories, editing over 30 voices into ‘one cohesive tapestry’.
Mountfield uses more limited visuals in order to give more emphasis to the voices and stories used in the film, while also making use of visual metaphor shards and deconstructed shapes. The painterly textures give a sense of movement and texture, bringing further life to the narration. ‘The Untold Story of Brain Injury’ also complements a report of the same name, which is illustrated by Jess Mountfield and highlights the missing emotional and mental health recovery services essential for brain injury recovery.
Anna Ginsburg’s ”Living with Depression’ visually interprets the experiences of two people giving their personal accounts of experiencing depression. The 2D hand-drawn animation style is expressive, each frame is detailed and full of life, yet beautifully encompasses the struggle of living with depression.
Ginsberg has a certain quality with all of her films which is very open and honest. ‘Living with Depression’ is no different as she aims to portray the aspects of depression which can’t be easily explained to those who do not experience it. The use of animation gives a visual to the interview narration and brings it to life in an engaging way.
Roger Ross Williams‘ feature film ‘Life, Animated’ is based on the book ‘Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism‘ by Ron Suskind, which tells the story of his son, Owen, and his experience with autism. At the age of three, Owen became non-verbal but Suskind and his wife soon came to understand that Owen would use Disney animated movies as a way to connect and communicate with the world.
The film is comprised of the Suskind family’s home video clips, present-day interviews, and animation. Disney animation is a huge part of Owen Suskind’s life, and the animation in ‘Life, Animated’ has echoes of movies we know such as ‘The Jungle Book’ or ‘The Little Mermaid’. The fluid movements and expressive characters also have an organic, hand-drawn element to them which brings the animation closer to reality. The colourless palette also lends further emphasis to the real-life interviews and recordings which are included in the film, putting Owen and the story he has to tell at front and centre. Allowing Owen to share his own story was William’s main concern, “All too often in films about people with disabilities, the narrative gets taken away from them.”
The trailer gives us a glimpse into this personal and heartfelt film, and the insight it give us into the lives of those like Owen who struggle to understand and connect with the world around them in a conventional way.
Eternal Spring, Jason Loftus’s feature-length largely animated documentary about the 2002 hijacking of a state TV signal in China by members of the banned spiritual group Falun Gong, is currently playing at Bertha Dochouse in London and at other cinemas across the world. The film chronicles a small group of Falun Gong practitioners, whose aim through the hijack was to counter the government’s narrative about their practice at a time when Falun Gong faced growing pressure and persecution.
The film uses the surviving hijackers’ memories as material through which scenarios are visualised by artist Daxiong, also a Falun Gong practitioner, who was forced to leave China as a result of the government crackdown following the hijacking. The design includes elaborate architectures and environments, through which the camera travels revealing characters and scenarios. As the action progresses we are introduced to a group of characters who come together as a community of activists, and are subsequently torn apart by the repercussions of their activism.
Eternal Spring does not completely get away from some of the problematic elements of animated reconstruction (and indeed of any reconstruction or reenactment), whereby richly detailed scenes are presented without the audience having full access to the knowledge of which details of the action and environment come from rigorous research, memory or record, and which come from the imagination of the filmmakers and designers.
However the film does constantly work to legitimise its representations, by adopting the reflexive technique of showing the research and development process through the eyes of Daxiong. The artist reflects on his own life and memories at the same time as talking to surviving hijackers and reconstructing theirs.
This process of making what Daxiong describes as ‘art based on a shared memory’ forms the spine of the film, with reconstructions emerging from live action interview scenes in which Daxiong is sketching as interviewees are describing their memories. At other times we see interviewees looking at designs and work-in-progress animated scenes, and responding to them, before we are plunged into the fully rendered glossy scene itself.
The visual design of the animated scenes gives the action, including scenes of physical abuse, a comic book / gangster heist quality. Gangster film tropes are also referenced in the cinematography, down to freeze-frame character introductions and even a dolly zoom in a diner, à la Goodfellas. This use of cinematic language can add drama in certain moments – the hijack itself gets quite tense – but gives it also gives the film a genre sheen that can be distancing at times.
The film also breaks with this design at moments, including a beautifully fluid expressionistic sequence at an emotional climax, in which a character’s psychology is represented through more abstracted images and action, leaning into symbolic imagery and evocative sounds, in an inky black-and-white aesthetic. Moments such as this elevate the film, heightening emotion and exploiting animation’s ability to do more than merely reenact.
Eternal Spring focuses its action almost exclusively around the run-up to and the fallout from the 2002 hijack. The absence of a wider contemporary context for Falun Gong has led some reviewers to view the film with notes of suspicion. The absence of any reference to the movement’s links to far right US media, for example, raises eyebrows in otherwise positive reviews in Indiewire and The Guardian. But this is a film that is honestly and unashamedly one-sided. It tells the story from the point of view of the hijackers – their experience of persecution, and of the sometimes exhilarating, ultimately tragic, events that changed the course of their lives. It’s an absorbing watch, a polished production, and essential viewing for anyone with an interest in the animated documentary form.
Carrie Hawks‘ (they/them) is a gender non-conforming artist, designer, animator and filmmaker based in New York, US. They work with a wide span of media and methods of making such as performance, doll-making, drawing, animation, motion graphic design and multimedia design.
Hawks’ film titled ‘Black Enuf*’ explores expanding Black identity by interweaving personal stories from their great grandmother’s autobiography, interviews with friends and family, and hand-drawn visualisations of their own memories. The 22 minute film offers a mix of media and is experimental in style; it uses hand-drawn elements alongside scanned textures and digital artwork.
Hawks summaries the film as follows : ‘A queer oddball seeks approval from Black peers despite a serious lack of Hip-Hop credentials’ (via).