Ecstatic Truth VII: Decolonising Animation – recorded presentations, abstracts, bios, and live drawing

To watch the full symposium proceedings follow this link:


This symposium is jointly organised by Professor Birgitta Hosea, Anna de Guia-Eriksson and Nikki Brough, Animation Research Centre, University for the Creative Arts, UK; Helen Starr; Dr Tereza Stehlikova, University of Creative Communication, Czech Republic; Tangible Territory Journal; Dr Pedro Serrazina, Lusófona University of Lisbon, Portugal.

About Ecstatic Truth

According to Werner Herzog, mere facts constitute an accountant’s reality, but it is the ecstatic truth (a poetic reality) that can capture more faithfully the nuances and depths of human experiences. Given that animation (or manipulated moving image in all of its expanded forms) has the freedom to represent, stylize or reimagine the world, it lends itself well to this aspirational form of documentary filmmaking. This year’s symposium will be held at UCA in Farnham, Surrey and its theme of decolonising animation has been developed in collaboration with our Keynote Speaker, curator, producer and cultural activist, Helen Starr.

Decolonising Animation

Foregrounding subjective experience and freed from adherence to the physical, medical and scientific norms of photo-reality, just what is animation capable of? After a disappointing trip to Hollywood in 1930, Sergei Eisenstein travelled to Mexico where he socialised with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, absorbing non-Western ideas from a subaltern culture he very much admired and that clearly influenced his evolving thoughts on animation. In his writing on Disney, Eisenstein considers animation as a subversive form of shapeshifting that resists Western rationalism and binary thinking in its appeal to ancient, evolutionary memories of being formless protoplasm; to the limitless imaginative freedom of childhood and to a joyous return to a state of animism in which all aspects of nature are interconnected. He points out that animated figures squash and stretch with plasmatic elasticity; these unstable forms can change shape, species, gender or any other imposed boundary; can perform impossible tasks or survive death.

Despite all of its potential, Eisenstein asserts that animated film ultimately lacks consequence and is an escapist, golden daydream: “Disney is a marvellous lullaby for the suffering and unfortunate, the oppressed and deprived.”[1] But could animation be more than escapism and be made to matter? How might animation engage with notions of the human, of possible worlds, of post-, anti- and de-colonialism?

Coming from an intersectional perspective, this symposium seeks to listen to, unite, engage with and extend notions of opposition to ideologies of colonialism as applied to the practice and analysis of animation. All forms of colonialism, whether settler colonialism, exploitation colonialism, surrogate colonialism or internal colonialism, have one thing in common: the destruction of local and indigenous knowledge systems. Colonialism leaves in its wake extractive, material-based and non-sustainable cultures. How can we articulate and process these complex histories and struggles? Can animation liberate us from internalised empires of the mind? We are interested in debates around form and strategy as well as subject matter.

[1] Sergei Eisenstein, On Disney, trans. Alan Upchurch (London; New York; Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2017)

Panel 1: Participation and Memory: Diasporic Space, Violence and War

Chair: Jane Cheadle

Preserving Personal Stories of Diaspora Communities Through Participatory Stop-motion Animation

Nairy Eivazy (Presenting) PhD Candidate, LUCA School of Arts, Ghent, Belgium
Jan P.L. Peeters, Sandy Claes, LUCA School of Arts, Ghent, Belgium

Abstract: Diaspora communities, such as the Armenian diaspora, have lost their tangible connection to their homeland. They tend to carry objects with them that are representative of their roots and create a sense of belonging. Objects travelling along with diaspora members often hold personal stories. While these stories may seem insignificant and negligible, they do form collective expressions of intercultural exchange, displacement, loss etc. A prior definition of cultural heritage, put observable physicality at the centre, mainly considering monuments, objects and structures as examples of heritage. However, a shift in understanding recognizes cultural heritage in a broader sense as an assemblage of tangible and intangible forms including speech, ideas, interpretations, and memories. Considering this, cultural heritage has gone from being understood as property, an object, to being assessed as a process and emerging from oral or written stories, accounts and reflections, and performance. As such, the objects of diaspora communities and the personal stories connected to them are an essential part of the cultural heritage of these communities.

Stop-motion animation puts attention into inanimate objects and materials and brings them to life. This illusion of life happens not only by adding movement to the objects, but also by visualising the stories that they embody, by attributing human characteristics to the object (anthropomorphism), adding sound effects, written text etc. These unique characteristics of animation have been commonly used from its early days until now. However, in most animations, the viewers do not engage actively in the process of creating and visualising the stories of the objects. They are passively seated in a fixed position in front of a screen. This may result in the neglect of local stories and an internalized attitude of cultural inferiority, etc. However, the intricate process of creating a stop-motion has the capacity to engage individuals and communities in an active and creative way, to give them the agency to bring their own stories to life. More specifically, a participatory stop-motion animation process, in which participants are constantly and actively present in all stages, can encourage participants to pay attention to their objects and the connected stories. They can share their stories in a social setting, touch and place the objects and think of visual composition and sequential presentation. They can bring the objects to life by touching and moving the objects with their hands and visualizing the story attached to the objects. In this way, all the different stages of the animation process can trigger reflection and memories of the community, while manifesting the stories embedded in the objects.

Thus, the research question that guides this work is: how can a participatory animation process use characteristics of animation to document these expressions and stories? How can stop-motion animation give voice to the unheard stories by giving agency to participants to visualize their own stories? And in particular for this case study, how can a participatory stop-motion animation approach support a better understanding and preservation of the tacit knowledge of the Armenian diaspora community?

Bio: Nairy Eivazy is an Iranian-Armenian animation artist and researcher. Her work mostly falls into the field of stop-motion animation and inter-media practices. She holds a MA in animation directing from Tehran University of Art and currently she is a PhD candidate at LUCA School of Arts in Belgium, focusing on documenting and reflecting on memories connected to objects in the context of the Armenian diaspora.

Animating Memory: Creative explorations of migrant memories and postcolonial identities in the British Bangladeshi Diaspora 

Diwas BishtSchool of Digital Arts, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, United Kingdom

Abstract: The British Bangladeshi diaspora is located at a complex intersection in postcolonial Britain. It not only embodies the unfolding legacy of the erstwhile colonial empire but is also a critical site of contemporary debates around race, religion, and nation. However, the links between Britain’s colonial histories and its dominant politics of racialisation and marginalisation of Muslims in the present remain unexamined. Using an innovative interdisciplinary approach that combines key concepts from memory studies, diaspora studies, and participatory animation methodologies, the paper thus locates how ‘hidden’ histories of colonialism, South Asian partition, migration, and settlement, are implicated in the community’s negotiations of the meanings of being British, Bangladeshi, and Muslim in the present. Mapping key shifts in the temporal and spatial locations of three generations of British Bangladeshis, the paper analyses how multidirectional anti-colonial and anti-racist memories are gradually forgotten as young British Bangladeshis increasingly mobilise a pan-Islamic identity framework to resist racialisation and alienation. More importantly, the paper showcases a case study that locates how collaborative animation filmmaking into these collective intergenerational pasts helps the younger generations of British Bangladeshis take on these critical but fading memories of the community, enabling them to articulate their own experiences of religious marginalisation in process. The case study including the participatory animation film made as part of it, documents the events surrounding the murder of Altab Ali, a young Bangladeshi migrant worker, amidst the rise of the Far-right racism in East London during the 1970s, exploring how this racist murder mobilized the community to take action and fight in a united manner against the violent racist forces of the time. By actively involving young community members in researching these anti-colonial and anti-racist histories and representing it through collaborative production of an animation film, the paper explores how it allows them to take on memories of these pasts and equips them with multidirectional ways to represent and articulate their postcolonial condition and challenges of xenophobic nationalism in the present. It further examines the potential of such creative memory products like the animated documentary to disseminate these memories and elicit further responses from within the community. Furthermore, through this case study, the paper not only offers a theoretical framework for using animation-based research in sociological contexts but outlines practical ways of applying these methodologies for socially engaged enquiries in the future. In process, it locates how applied memory work through participatory animation methods allows for the expression of the embodied and affective forms of knowledge and can be an effective tool for enquiring into the experiences and concerns of marginalised and underrepresented communities in the future.

Bio: Dr Diwas Bisht is a researcher and animation film maker currently working as a lecturer in animation at the School of Digital Arts (SODA) and as a Research Associate on a British Academy project, ‘Digital Media and Participation and Political Culture’ at Loughborough University. His recently concluded PhD research focussed on creative explorations of intergenerational memories and identities in the British Bangladeshi community through participatory animation methodologies. He also holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) from Delhi University (2010) and a Master of Design (MDes) in Animation from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad (2013). His research interests include Diaspora and Cultural identity, Transcultural memory, Postcolonial studies, and Media studies. In his animation practice, Diwas bridges his academic research interests with collaborative, community led film projects to document marginalised experiences of the British South Asian diaspora. Over the last few years, he has worked with both community and academic partners like Swadhinata Trust, King’s College London, University of Liverpool, Loughborough University etc. on a diverse range of topics such as experiences of coronavirus pandemic, disaster heritage and environmental awareness amongst others.

Reimagining Spaces: Animation, Architecture and Anthropology

Paula Callus, Bournemouth University, Bournemouth, United Kingdom

Susan SloanBournemouth University, Bournemouth, United Kingdom

Abstract: Spaces bear witness to often-silenced, everyday histories of, for example, civic resistance and societal cohesion, before or after war and violence. “Composed of intersections of mobile elements…in a sense actuated by the ensemble of movements deployed within it.” (De Certeau, 1987), space has the potential to embody layered contested voices. 

Over the course of two years, the AHRC research project ReSpace set out to critically engage youth in Rwanda, Kosovo, and the UK  through a series of art-based workshops, to research and reimagine specific sites using a combination of methods from animation, architecture and anthropology. Similarities of experience, of history, memory, and perhaps above all the over-signification of these post-conflict spaces (Rwanda, Kosovo), challenge standard assumptions about pre-war and post-war social realities. As insiders to violence but outsiders to each others’ experiences, the project set out to discover new epistemic grounds, exploring new methodologies, and empathetic learning.

A reimagining of place through participatory and experimental methods enabled a reconstitution of memory, stories and voice – ‘a vital human strategy for sustaining a sense of agency in the face of disempowering circumstances.’ (Jackson, 2004). Young people studying anthropology (Prishtina, Kosovo), architecture and animation (Kigali, Rwanda) shared their methods with each other as they reflected upon how to come to understand a place/ space as a post-memory generation (Hirsh, 2008) in a post-conflict context. A re-invention of these spaces was explored through animation methods using the Quill, interactive platforms (Unreal), stop-motion, direct and under-the-camera animation. 

In this presentation, Paula Callus and Susan Sloan (artist & practitioner) will revisit the animations created with/by young people on this project to consider how these interdisciplinary methods enabled different articulations of histories and memory. We will consider what sets of knowledge can be activated through animation practice that cannot be articulated through conventional research methods – or as anthropologist Tim Ingold (2013) put it, how does one think through making? 

Project Details: ( )

Bio: Prof. Paula Callus is based at the National Centre for Computer Animation, Faculty of Media and Communication, Bournemouth University. She has led on two AHRC funded research projects, Artop: The Visual Articulations of Politics in Nigeria, and ReSpace (Reanimating Contested Spaces): Designing Participatory Civic Education for and with Young People in Kosovo and Rwanda. Her research expertise is in Sub-Saharan African animation, the socially engaged arts and Global South. Callus has worked as a consultant and educator on the UNESCO Africa Animated projects in Kenya and South Africa, leading teams of artists to collaborate to make animated shorts. She has conducted participant-observer fieldwork in the DRC, Zimbabwe and Kenya on animation and related artistic practices in the Sub-Saharan region resulting in publications on aspects of African animation such as subversive animation and politics in Kenya, remediated documentary through African animation and new technologies and animation in Morocco. She was part of an AHRC Network for Development grant, e-Voices, that was looking at marginalization and the use of digital technologies. She was co-responsible for the sub-theme; Arts, Activism and Marginalization that took place in Nairobi, Kenya and consisted of curating an exhibition, workshops with artists, and focus groups with activists.

Keynote 1: Helen Starr

Chair: Prof Birgitta Hosea

Helen Starr, Founder @ The Mechatronic Library

Helen Starr (TT) is an Afro-Carib curator, producer and cultural activist from Trinidad, WI. She began curating exhibitions with artists such as Susan Hiller, Cindy Sherman and Marcel Duchamp in 1995. Helen founded The Mechatronic Library in 2010, to give marginalised artists access to technologies such as Game Engines, Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR). Helen has worked with many public institutions such as Wysing Art Centre, FACT, Liverpool and QUAD in Derby. Being Indigenous-American Helen is interested in how digital artforms transform our understanding of reality by world-building narratives through storytelling and counter-storytelling. How, by “naming one’s own reality” we can experience the Other. Helen is on the board of QUAD, Derby and on the Computer Animation Jury for Ars Electronica, Linz. In 2020 she developed the concept of a Fluid or DAAD Futurism with Amrita Dhallu and Salma Noor.

Panel 2: Animating Ancestors: Postcolonial Approaches to Retelling Indigenous Oral History

The Stories of Our Ancestors:  Retelling tribal tales in the medium of animated film
Dr Tara Douglas, Adivasi Arts Trust, London, United Kingdom

Bio: The Tales of the Tribes (Douglas 2015 [1]) and the Stories of Our Ancestors are projects that explore the presentation of indigenous narratives in the medium of animated film. Indigenous knowledge is remembered and transmitted through the rituals, myths, legends and the folklore of local communities around the world. The spoken recollection is a co-creative process that takes place in the space between the storyteller and listener, in which the layers of story and meaning are to be found, deciphered and interpreted. As the stories have animated the cultural landscape, animation as an art form brings life to that which is static; its audio dimensions, the visual splendour and the imaginative, poetic quality seem to be suited for a modern presentation of ancient cultural stories and world views.   

The lasting impact of colonialism is seen in the continued interpretation of indigenous cultures and identities in India using Western conceptual models. The abiding representation as ‘backward’ people (Dean and Levi 2003[2]; Veerbhadranaika et al[3]. 2012) illustrates the importance of indigenous young people reappraising their cultural heritage. Literature in English is only sometimes accessible to students in the North East region of India and at other peripheries, but animation is seen and enjoyed on mobile technology which reaches even the more distant areas, and competes for the attention of young people.  

In India the creative industries look for projects that are expected to have popular appeal and generate profit, shying away from experimental presentations and marginalized, unknown content. When animation is perceived as juvenile entertainment, it is produced in bulk quantity and it is linked to brand merchandising. The strategies of Disney that are leading the industry tend to produce simplified, universalized narratives that are aimed at making the films more interesting for viewers (Mitra 1999[4]). In contrast, the original tribal stories are open ended and do not offer resolution.  How can animation speak about these narratives, and project the voices of community?  Can the language of animation be appropriated to expose and critique the neocolonial practices of the industry?

Animation can be explored as a tool to engage with the content across cultures, languages and age groups. Can the practice transcend purely academic frameworks and embark on an intellectual challenge to connect more deeply with indigenous ideologies? Through participatory production and co-design in an environment of knowledge exchange with members of the community, the film-makers encourage indigenous voices and perspectives and reduce the reductive strategies of commercial animation.  

Bio: Dr Tara Douglas was born in India. She is a co-founder and Secretary of the Adivasi Arts Trust ( Tara graduated with BA Hons Animation from West Surrey College of Art and Design (UK) in 1993.In 2002 Tara became the coordinator in India for an animation project based on tribal stories produced by West Highland Animation (Scotland): The Tallest Story Competition (2006). She directed and animated one of the short films in the series. In 2007 Tara screened The Tallest Story Competition films to 10,000 children in schools in Central India. Tara completed a Professional Doctorate in Digital Media in 2016 at Bournemouth University (UK) for the practice-led research Tales of the Tribes: Animation as a Tool for Indigenous Representation. She has organised animation and film workshops for indigenous tribal artists and storytellers in Nagaland, Sikkim, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Gujarat. She filmed and directed a documentary film: The Journey of the Tales of the Tribes (2018) which was broadcast in India on Doordarshan 1. She has since done post-doctoral research at North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong, Meghalaya (Department of Anthropology), for the project titled The Stories of our Ancestors.

The Representation of Cultural Space and Practice in Animated Documentary on the Theme of Ethnic Minority Oral Literature: Taking ‘Mei Ge – Kai Tian Pi Di’ as an Example

Dr Yijing Wang, Beihang University, Beijing, China

Abstract: The use of animation in creative expression compensates for the limitations of information transmission and promotion in traditional media. Animated documentaries have a unique advantage in presenting facts, interpreting non-literal materials, and sharing cultural experiences. This presentation examines: 1) the unique qualities of ethnic oral literature and the creative ideas of animation, 2) the shaping and representation of cultural space in the animated documentary, and 3) the practical approaches of the Mei Ge – Kai Tian Pi Di. The study aims to display the cultural system of ethnic minorities through animation, transforming ethnic oral literature from an isolated “story” to a lens for interpreting ethnic minority culture and cultural perspectives.

Oral folk literature encompasses a wide range of narratives myths, legends, folktales, chanting ballads, and more. For instance, the Yi oral literature of Mei Ge encompasses the entire history, culture, production, and way of life of the Yi people. The history of the integration of oral stories and animation among ethnic minorities in China will first be briefly explored followed by an analysis the linguistic characteristics of ethnic minority oral literature and the cultural contexts in which oral literature is performed within minority communities. Lastly, this section delves into the creative considerations (such as content composition, discourse, and perspective) behind the animated documentary on ethnic oral literature featured in this study.

Building upon the definition of cultural space, the interconnections of its key components (time, place, people, and cultural activities) will be examined within the context of Mei Ge. Using the author’s animated documentary Mei Ge – Kai Tian Pi Di as a case study, how cultural space among minorities is formed and portrayed will be explored through the creation of animation content framework and visual representation.

The collection and research of ethnic minority oral archives, including oral literature, should be grounded in the local knowledge, internal perspective, and self-narration of cultural holders, rather than external interpretations. The presentation will end with an examination of the cooperation paradigms in anthropological fieldwork methods and other design projects, offering insights into animation practice methods including the collaboration path with community members in the animation process, based on the author’s field investigation experience. This allows the carriers of oral literature (ethnic minority community members) to actively participate, incorporating their perspectives into the animation, and the “personalized” cultural interpretation and screen presentation form can be presented.

Bio: Dr Yijing Wang is an Assistant Professor at Beihang University. She was awarded a PhD in Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London (2020). Her research is using animation as a form of ethnographic documentary, exploring animation’s potential to document the underrepresented cultures of minorities. Her ethnographic animation Longhorn Miao’s Love Songs was selected for the exceptional program of 2022 Society for Visual Anthropology Film and Media Festival held by the American Anthropology Association. She currently teaches animation documentary and related courses on minority’s folk arts, and at the same time conducts research on ethnographic animation and protection of minority intangible cultural heritage.

Panel 3: Decolonising Technology

Using Indigenous Design to Explore Contemporary Ideas in Quantum Mechanics

Mark Chavez (presenting) and Ina Conradi, Media Art Nexus Studios, Singapore, Singapore

Abstract: This paper discusses two case studies created as animated films that use cultural design archetypes to explain aspects of quantum theory. Drawing on the notion of Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation as a metaphor for perceived and imagined reality, the films – Quantum LOGOS (Vision Serpent) and Moirai, Thread of Life – employ abstract animated imagery to represent quantum mechanics basics and string theory using Mesoamerican and Southeast Asian cultural motifs. These case studies focus on two core issues – Young’s Double Slit Experiment and the Observer Effect – relevant to the artwork’s use in explaining quantum phenomena. By using design archetypes inspired by ancient cultural art and philosophy, the films provide visual metaphors that explore the beauty of quantum reality, while highlighting the illusory nature of perceived reality. This research underscores the use of new creative technologies to construct designs that demonstrate similarities between current scientific notions and ancient indigenous thought, emphasizing the blurring of boundaries between reality and representation. Finally, the paper highlights how this research utilizes design inspired by ancient observations of natural wonders to offer fresh insights into quantum theory, revealing the interconnectivity between general relativity and quantum reality.

Bio: Mark Chavez is an artist/animator, educator, and entrepreneur with a wealth of experience in various media, including laser light, broadcast television, video games, and visual effects for fully animated and live-action films, as well as immersive performance animation. He has received numerous awards for his work and has been recognized for his contributions to the field of animation. He has worked on visual effects for various films at companies such as DreamWorks SKG and Rhythm and Hues Studios and in the gaming industry, having worked on PlayStation games at Acclaim Entertainment. In addition to his work in animation, Mark has also made contributions to the field as an educator. He served as the founding faculty for the digital animation program at Nanyang Technological University Singapore’s School of Art, Design & Media, where he has helped numerous students launch successful careers in animation. Mark has received funding from the National Research Foundation/Media Development Authority of Singapore and has received a prestigious National Award from the Singapore Prison’s Yellow Ribbon Project for his work with game software for storytelling with students and inmates.

Using data as materiality
Maybelle Peters,
 PhD Candidate, UCA

This presentation foregrounds motion capture technology, blackness and creative practice.  I study contemporary artists’ racialised black identity and their use of motion capture data.  I explore how new knowledge is produced through an examination of technical processes, subjectivity and world-making practices.  These overlapping and entangled meaning-making activities are analysed at iterative stages simultaneously using case studies to explore lived experiences.  The talk will comprise moving image work produced in response to key texts and their application to a technologically driven practice.  Additionally, a summary of the selected methods will be given.  This account uses a reflexive journal method to recount some of the decisions made during a series of tests.   Following an outline of processes relating to the research objectives, the presentation concludes with three excerpts using motion capture data.  The research considers how an interrogation of subjectivity and self-making produces a particular interest in using digitised captured motion.  Despite the development of virtual production aimed at supplying ready-made avatars, initial research has shown that black artists’ interest in working with motion capture remains largely unaccounted for.  Therefore, this study stages black subjectivity in relation to the digital human movement found in motion capture libraries.  One of the primary aims is to examine whether the use of motion capture data contests or reproduces colonial practices of cultural, dominant hegemonies.  From an initial investigatory series of practices, I outline how my argument that motion capture should be viewed as an extracted resource is connected to constructing racialised bodies.  I expand on this idea further through iterative tests to interrogate the (in)stability of identity as visually represented.  The research output is used to raise questions on how black artists navigate both imposed and self-defined notions of blackness.  The presentation focuses on my engagement with motion capture data.  By using computational information as a resource, I discuss how an exploration of movement is informed by adopting a politics of black navigational strategy.  This positioning aligns with scholar Katherine McKittrick’s assertion that “black lives are necessarily geographic but also struggle with discourses that erase and despatialise their sense of place” (McKittrick, 2006, p. xiii).  I outline how moving image as place-making probes a set of research questions.  The presentation centres on my use of existing motion capture data.  I explain how motion capture libraries are studied while making work.  The research aims to determine if the examination of movement contests or reifies ideas of racialised black bodies.  Recognising that descriptors such as Human are contested categories connected to colonial domination, the research presented will acknowledge this central theme and its connection to the study’s objectives.  

Bio: Maybelle Peters is a visual artist working with film, video and computer-generated images. Her practice explores the movement of Black bodies in time and space using an archive of ephemera, gestures and sounds. She gained her bachelor’s degree in Animation at Farnham where she made her first commissioned film for BBC2. Her Channel 4 commissioned film, Mama Lou, has been shown extensively at animation festivals including Annecy, Ottawa and the Edinburgh Film Festival. Her work was shown as part of ‘The Place is Here’ exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary, and South London Gallery in 2017. She is the recipient of the inaugural Womxn of Colour art award 2020. Her recent work includes installations at Primary, Nottingham 2022 and Alchemy Film and Video Festival 2023. Maybelle is a practice-based PhD candidate at UCA Farnham. Her research area includes contemporary artists’ use of motion capture technology and anti-extractivist practices.

Keynote 2: Dr Liliana Conlisk-Gallegos

Liliana Conlisk-Gallegos aka. Dr. Machete or Mystic Machete is from the Tijuana-San Diego border region in Southern California. With the goal of advancing the certain decolonial turn, her live, interactive media art production and border rasquache new media art pieces and performances generate culturally specific, collective, technocultural creative spaces of production that reconnect Chicana/o/x “Mestiza” Indigenous wisdom/conocimiento to their ongoing technological and scientific contributions, still “overlooked” through the logic of the decaying Eurocentric project of Modernity. In her Tijuana-San Ysidro transfronteriza (perpetual border crosser) perspective, the current limited perceptions of what research, media, and technology can be are like a yonke (junkyard), from which pieces are upcycled and repurposed to amplify individual and collective expression, community healing, and social justice. She has organized and curated over 14 community-centered, interactive, decolonial, community building, and environmentalist, research-based multimedia artivism and critical intervention performances and her work has been exhibited at ACM|SIGGRAPH, The García Center for the Arts in San Bernardino, Human Resources Art Museum in Los Angeles, the PAMLA Arts Matter of the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association, and the Guizhou Provincial Museum in China. Her most recent curation was The Future Past v. Coloniality: Decolonial Media Art Beyond 530 Years, supported by the Digital Arts Community for ACM SIGGRAPH (

She is Associate Professor of Decolonial Media and Communication Studies at CSU San Bernardino and a member of the ACM SIGGRAPH Digital Arts Committee. Her writings have appeared in Critical Storytelling from Global Borderlands: En la línea, Vol. 8, 2022 (Brill Publishers), Re-Activating Critical Thinking amidst Necropolitical Realities: Politics, Theory, Arts and Political Economy for a Radical Change, 2022 (Cambridge Scholars Publishing), A Love Letter to This Bridge Called My Back, 2022 (The University of Arizona Press), Departures in Critical Qualitative Research 3 Vol. 10, 2021 (UC Press), and Journal of Latinos in Education Vol. 20, 2018 (Taylor and Francis).

Event Website:


AniDox:LAB call for applications

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.

for more information and to apply visit

ANIDOX:LAB 2022 Call-for-applications

Our friends at the Animation Workshop, Denmark, have a new call-for-applications for ANIDOX:LAB ’22

Application Deadline 20.04.22

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.

We offer a series of seminars and consultation sessions running between June and September 2022. For in-depth guidance and a supportive framework. Expand your 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 ways of working.

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.


ANIDOX:LAB is a part of The Animation Workshop / VIA University College’s professional training programme. With support from Creative Europe MEDIA and in partnership with the Danish Film Institute, The Swedish Film institute, Viken Filmsenter, CPH:DOX, Nordisk Panorama and Documentary Campus.

Michelle Kranot
The Animation Workshop
VIA University college
Kasernevej 5, 8800-DK

Round up of Factual Animation Film Festival 2020

FAFF this year took place from 17th – 25th October, as an entirely online event. Here are some collected highlights:



Best film: Drop by Drop, directed by Alexandra Ramires and Laura Gonçalves

Best student film: Right now, I am, directed by Ciara Kerr

Animated award: Not For Money, Not For Love, Not For Nothing, directed by John Robert Lee

Festival organiser Daniel Murtha and I interviewed many of the filmmakers about their films:

Rosa Fisher wins the FAFF award for best film

London’s fifth annual Factual Animation Film Festival was hosted at the Cinema Museum on 8th December 2019.  21 short animated documentaries were screened across two programmes. Between the screenings there was a discussion panel featuring Rory Waubly-Tolley, director of There’s Something In The WaterDiana Gradinaru, director of What Is Consciousness?, Simon Ball, director of Do I See What You See?, and Haemin Ko, director of No Body.

The team are delighted to announce that the FAFF best animated documentary of 2019 has been awarded to Rosa Fisher director of Sent Away.

Sent Away explores the psychological impact that attending boarding school had on Rosa’s father, Tom. The film addresses the atmosphere of punishment, obedience and isolation that led each pupil to develop a hardened exterior. The film concludes by speculating how this emotionally traumatic cultural practice, common among Britain’s political elite, has shaped the UK. Sent Away, despite focusing on the childhood of a middle-aged man, is prescient in the lead up to the UK’s general election.  One of the candidates for prime minister forged his identity in the competitive toxicity of Eton, the UK’s most elite boarding school. The other did not.

FAFF was organised by festival director, Daniel Murtha, with help from Marina Belikova, project leader for FAFF Berlin, and me, Alex Widdowson, panel host.

FAFF 2019 Programme
Programme 1, 12pm
1 There’s Something In The Water 7 Dinosaur Blues
dir Rory Waudby-Tolley 2019 UK dir Oleon Lin 2019 China
There are two types of lakes in the South: them that’s got giant salvinia, and them that’s about to. In urban China, a man makes plasticine figures of popular characters.
2 No Body 8 What Is Consciousness?
dir Haemin Ko 2019 UK dir Diana Gradinaru 2019 UK, Romania
An autobiographical experimental animated poem on the director’s immigrant experience. Classic cartoon tropes are manipulated in this nightmarish story about memory.
3 Passage 9 Do I See What You See?
dir Asavari Kumar 2019 USA, India dir Simon Ball 2018 UK
An Indian woman revisits her immigration journey through the illusion of the American Dream. How do changes in the brain cause us to see differently?
4 A Letter To Myself At 16 10 Patchwork
dir Claire Tankersley 2019 USA dir Maria Manero 2018 Spain
Five years after her sexual assault, there is so much that she wishes she’d known when she woke up the next morning. The story of a 60 year-old woman’s liver transplant, as told by her donor.
5 Embraces & The Touch of Skin 11 Solos
dir Sara Koppel 2019 Denmark dir Gabriella Marsh 2019 UK
An animated poem about the vital need for embraces and contact with other beings. A portrait of a day in a single square in Barcelona.
6 My Dad’s Name Was Huw
dir Freddie Griffiths 2019 UK
Freddie’s late alcoholic father left behind a number of poems through which we might understand his experience.


FAFF 2019 Programme
Programme 2, 2pm
1 Bloomers 6 Gambler
dir Samantha Moore 2019 UK dir Michaela Režová, Ivan Studený 2018 Czechia
Animated fabric brings the story of a lingerie factory in Manchester to life. In urban China, a man makes plasticine figures of popular characters.
2 Sent Away 7 The Elephant’s Song
dir Rosa Fisher 2019 UK dir Lynn Tomlinson 2019 USA
A child sent to boarding school must contend with the trauma of abandonment. The sad but true story of Old Bet, the first circus elephant in America.
3 Fifteen-Two 8 The Children of Concrete
dir John Summerson 2019 UK dir Jonathan Phanhsay-Chamson 2017 France
The filmmaker’s mother recalls her parents’ indomitable relationship, strengthened by their love of games. An immigrant child’s conflict with ethnic and national identity.
4 O Hunter Heart 9 Eadem Cutis
dir Carla MacKinnon 2019 UK dir Nina Hopf 2019 Germany
Nature and domesticity collide in a dark take of love and loss. A person’s attempt to frame their conflict with dysphoria.
5 The Drip 10 1 Minute History of Image Distortion
dir Leonie Ketteler 2019 Netherlands dir Betina Kuntzsch 2017 Germany
You’ve never seen Chlamydia in quite this way before. Material resistance in film history.

‘Escapology: the art of addiction’ directed by Alex Widdowson


Escapology: The art of addiction is a short animated documentary about addictive behaviour,  which attempts to be non-judgmental while avoiding gritty drug clichés. This film was recently released on Vice Media’s online platforms and received over half a million views in the first week. As a long term contributor to I thought this was a good opportunity to write about my own work, dissecting a project from the director’s perspective.

Having attended two Alcoholics Anonymous open meetings in 2013 when supporting a friend who was struggling, I was struck by how practical the advice was. Their stories and rhetoric helped me understand my own cannabis abuse as a teenager, but also put into perspective my less pronounced addictive behaviours. Part of the focus of those meetings involved encouraging new attendees to acknowledge that their relationship with alcohol was problematic.I connected with notion of ambiguity when defining addiction; if one enjoys a substance with complete clarity it must, on the surface, seem rational to seek it out at every opportunity. However at this point the difference between wants and needs become indistinguishable. Having quit cannabis in 2008 I couldn’t help but adopt a strong anti-drugs policy. Over the years I observed the nuances of those AA meetings being played out in my friends drug use and frequently appropriated the rhetoric when dispensing unsolicited advice.

In early 2016 I was looking for a warm up exercise before enrolling in the inaugural year of the Documentary Animation masters degree at the Royal College of Art. The Philadelphia Association seemed an obvious starting point. I had been working for this psychotherapy organisation as a graphic designer and had come to know many of the therapists. Nick Mercer, before completing the PA training, had worked for decades as an addiction counselor, often in prisons. Nick had struggled with heroin addiction in his youth and entered recovery through the Narcotics Anonymous fellowship.


Nick invited me to a discussion group on addiction at the PA. His charisma and storytelling abilities were striking. It became clear that NA and AA functioned as a training ground for public speaking. Each member ceremoniously took the lectern in order to transform their fractured and painful experiences into a set of coherent and digestible narratives.

Following the meeting I set up my recording equipment in the PA’s historic library and began our interview. Once I’d whittled down the 2 hour tape to a 3 minute edit my task was to develop a visual translation of his words. There is always a danger that an interview based animated documentary becomes an illustrated podcast. I feel this risk increases the more interesting your interview material is. Thankfully a moment of inspiration split my visual and verbal narratives, helping me to avoid the drudgery of tautology. (Read ‘Show and Tell’, chapter 6 from Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud for more on the interplay between image and text).


Nick spoke eloquently about the feeling of existing in the moment for the first time when he took morphine. I pictured the excitement of a performer who comes into his own on stage, but as he repeats the process all meaning is lost until he’s just going through the motions. This image brought me back to my heady days as a drug user. I remember boasting to my uncle about my adventures. He responded calmly, explaining that “it sounds like you’re just self medicating. You’ll figure it out eventually.” This short phrase shattered the romantic notions I’d conjured about my rebellious lifestyle. I realised, as Nick says in the film, my life had condensed down to something very conservative.

The narrative arc of an addict also reminded me of Exposed: Magicians, Psychics and Frauds, a documentary about the Amazing Randy, whose magic act escalated from simple tricks to incredibly dangerous feets of escapology, until finally he came close to dying live on television while trapped in an enormous milk tank. I was excited by the slightly discordant parallel between an addict and magician. There was enough substance for an audience to draw parallels regarding the excitement of the early days, along with the increasingly extreme self destructive behaviour. I also liked that the links weren’t seamless; the audience would need to do a little work to fit the two sides together.


After the film was animated I developed the audio with a long running collaborator, Vicky Freund: musician, engineer and sound designer. The rich foley, atmospheres and score helped balance the stark black and white aesthetic, transforming the project from an elaborate exercise into a finished film.

Escapology was a watershed moment for my practice. It was partly responsible for my first experience of international recognition. I was invited to  participate in the Au Contraire mental health film festival in Montreal and later recruited as assistant festival programmer. On the back of this project the Philadelphia Association invited me to become artist in residence, culminating in the creation of Critical Living, a film about critical psychiatry and the PA therapeutic communities. Finally, Vice UK licenced the film for distribution online. Today it has been viewed internationally 629,425 times.


Ecstatic Truth II: ‘Lessons of Darkness and Light’ 27th May 2017 Symposium at the Royal College of Art

The second Ecstatic Truth symposium was held at the Royal College of Art, London, on the 27th May 2017. This postgraduate research event was organised by Animation Research Co-ordinator Dr Tereza Stehlikova, working closely with the Animation MA programme leader, Dr Birgitta Hosea. It takes place a year after the launch of the RCA’s MA Documentary Animation pathway. The event was introduced by Professor Teal TriggsAssociate Dean of the School of Communication.

This article is composed of summaries of the speakers and their papers, taken from the symposium programme, illustrated by Alex Widdowson.


Bella Honess Roe is is a film scholar who specialises in documentary and animation. Her 2013 monograph Animated Documentary is the first text to investigate the convergence of these two media forms and was the recipient of the Society for Animation Studies’ 2015 McLaren-Lambart award for best book. She also publishes on animation and documentary more broadly and is currently editing a book on Aardman Animations (I.B. Tauris), co-editing a volume on the voice in documentary (Bloomsbury) and co-editing the Animation Studies Handbook (Bloomsbury). She is Senior Lecturer and Programme Director for Film Studies at the University of Surrey.


Traversing the terrain of space, time and form

Rose Bond “Broadsided”

Must documentary be confined to a single screen?  How does the siting of a screening influence its perception?  This screening/talk focuses on documentary strategies in Rose Bond’s multi-screen animated installation Broadsided! which was sited in the windows of the Exeter Castle.  A screened excerpt from Broadsided! documentation provides the basis for brief examination of documentary methods used to convey a point of view: research, reenactment, data visualization and parataxis.

Rose Bond creates monumental, content driven animated installations. Rear projected in multiple windows, her themes are often drawn from the site – existing as monuments to the unremembered. Her installations have illuminated urban spaces in Zagreb, Toronto, Exeter UK, New York City, Utrecht, Netherlands and Portland, Oregon.

Carla MacKinnon “Immersion and alienation: animated virtual realities”

This presentation will explore how animated documentaries are pioneering creativity in virtual reality (VR). I will propose that animated documentary is a good fit for VR technically and creatively, and that the distancing quality and ‘absence and excess’ (Honess Roe, 2013) of animated documentary complements the dual sensation of immersion and alienation evoked in the dreamlike experience of VR.

Carla MacKinnon is a filmmaker and practice-based PhD candidate at Arts University Bournemouth, whose moving image work has been exhibited widely. Carla has a Masters in Animation from Royal College of Art and has worked as a festival producer and manager of technology projects. She is also director of interdisciplinary events organisation Rich Pickings.


Deeper strata

Vincenzo Maselli: “Deeper strata of meanings in stop-motion animation: the meta-diegetic performance of matter”

Can puppets’ skin materials express deeper levels of signification in stop-motion animation cinema? The paper suggests the concept of autonomous performance of matter in stop-motion animation and aim to demonstrate that matter can express a sense of tactility and metaphorically act autonomously from the diegetic narrative, staging a second level of narrative (meta-diegetic).

Vincenzo Maselli is a PhD student in design at Sapienza University of Rome. His research aims to demonstrate how materials and puppets’ building techniques can communicate narrative meanings in stop motion animation cinema. In October 2016 he moved in London, where he is continuing his research at Middlesex University.

Sally Pearce “Can I draw my own memory?” A visual essay

I try to use my pencil as a scalpel to extract a memory whole, but the memory will not be drawn out like a lump of tissue, instead it changes as soon as the pencil touches it. As my memory changes under the pencil, I am changed, I redraw myself.

Sally Pearce studied philosophy at Cambridge, then became a nurse. She started making films while studying Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam, followed by an MA in Animation Direction at the NFTS. Her films have screened and been awarded at Festivals around the world. She hopes to start her PhD in October 2017.

Barnaby Dicker “A Quivering Terminus: Walerian Borowczyk’s Games of Angels, animated documentary and the social fantastic.”

This paper explores how Borowczyk’s Games of Angels (1964) utilises a fantastic topography to play with tropes of documentary and fiction in an effort to engage with painful social history in a direct, but far from literal way; its design and structure conveying, through a disturbing momentum, the experience of a quivering terminus.

Dr Barnaby Dicker teaches at Cardiff School of Art and Design. His research revolves around conceptual and material innovations in and through graphic technologies and arts.

Panel discussion chaired by Birgitta Hosea



Lei Lei

Lei Lei always pay particular attention to collecting and collating historical texts and images during his experiment animated works and try to search for elements of the poetic and dramatic between reality and fiction. In Hand colored No.2, through the use of manual painting, Lei Lei and Thomas Sauvin try to connect black and white images of different people, attempting to construct a fictional character, narrating his personal history.

LeiLei 雷磊 Artist / Filmmaker 1985 Born in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, is an experimental animation artist with his hands on video arts, painting, installation, music and VJ performance also. In 2009 he got a master’s degree in animation from Tsinghua University. In 2010, his film < This is LOVE> was shown at Ottawa International Animation Festival and awarded The 2010 Best Narrative Short. In 2013 his film <Recycled> was selected by Annecy festival and was the Winner Grand Prix shorts – non-narrative at Holland International Animation Film Festival. In 2014 was on the Jury of Zagreb / Holland International Animation Film Festival and he was the winner of 2014 Asian cultural council grant.


Animation: Lessons of Darkness and Light

Guli Silberstein: ‘The Schizophrenic State Project’

The Schizophrenic State Project, which started in 2000, contains a series of videos that appropriate mass media footage of violence, war, and protest, in the context of Israel, Palestine and the region. The images are processed via digital means in diverse ways, creating poetic works that formulate news media critique.

Guli Silberstein is an Artist and video editor, based in London UK since 2010, born in Israel (1969). In 2000 he received his MA in Media Studies from The New School NYC, and since 2001, he creates work shown and winning awards in festivals and art venues in the UK and worldwide.

Becky James: “Expanding the Index in Animated Documentary”

Documentary animation examining mental state is a robust subgenre; often these works try to recreate an unusual psychological state to promote empathy and understanding. Using patient records and contemporaneous film strips, Betina Kuntzsch’s 2016 animation Spirit Away avoids speaking for, explaining, or diagnosing the female patients at the Heidelberg Psychiatric Clinic. Kuntzsch does not use the index to provide truth claim or to promote understanding, but instead the index acts as metaphor and distancing mechanism in this work about isolation.

Becky James explores the intersection of the individual and social through animation. She has exhibited in galleries throughout the US and at film festivals including SXSW, Jihlava Documentary Festival, Filmfest Oldenburg, and IFF Rotterdam. A native New Yorker, James graduated from Harvard and received her MFA from Bard. She currently teaches at Parsons School of Design.

Susan Young: Bearing Witness: Autoethnographic Animation and the Metabolism of Trauma”

This presentation and short film screening examines my use of autoethnographic animation methodologies (which include myself as an experimental case study), in order to excavate and bear witness to the memories and lived experience of psychological trauma, and to challenge their related, often stigmatising and ‘othering’, psychiatric diagnoses.

Susan Young is an animation director who has worked principally in advertising, commissioned films and music promos. Her current RCA research is based on personal experience of psychological trauma, and includes a series of short experimental films that explore how animation might ameliorate trauma sympt oms.

Concluding panel discussion, chaired by Barnaby Dicker

This event is supported by the Society of Animation Studies, an international organisation dedicated to the study of animation history and theory since 1987. For more information:

For more information about studying MA Animation: Documentary: 

Video documentation of this event will be archived on our Vimeo channel at:

‘Animation Therapy’ workshop and ‘Animation on Prescription’ screening at Encounters Festival 2016


Helen Mason, founder of Animation Therapy, has been running Animation on Prescription conferences biannually at Encounters Festival since 2010. This year she organised a free public screening and a workshop for medical, dental and veterinary professionals designed to help them confront their own compassion fatigue. Helen explained that compassion fatigue was brought sharply to her attention when an occupational therapist colleague committed suicide. Further research revealed that both the dental and veterinary industries had very high suicide rates. Mason suggested that the same must be true for medical professionals, though the National Health Service here in the UK (NHS) does not keep records of staff suicides. She pointed out the irony that NHS staff absences due to illness or fatigue, are documented rigorously.

Lord Stone of Blackheath, an active political advocate for issues relating to mental health, started the morning session by sharing his personal perspective on compassion fatigue. He also discussed the awareness campaign he’s helping Helen Mason to launch.

Unfortunately I missed Lord Stone’s group discussion, but waiting for the next natural interval afforded me time to sketch the beautiful workshop setting. Floating Harbour Films is a Dutch barge moored to the Welshback stretch of the river Avon in the centre of Bristol. This venue, along with the workshop facilitators, donated their time and resources without charging in order to raise money for the Bluebell Charity fund. Bluebell supports people struggling with pre and post-natal depression and anxiety.



After some brief introductions the group began the first set of exercises. The majority of participants were occupational therapists (O.T.’s) looking to learn Helen’s techniques to use in their own practice. Each participant was given a few sheets of uniformly sized card and instructed to draw in landscape format. The first image could be whatever we liked, presumably to warm us up. For the second we were asked to express the concept of compassion (see example drawing above).


Maria Hopkinson-Hassell, the animation facilitator, encouraged us to place our drawings carefully within the defined brackets on a well-lit board. One by one we photographed our images, importing them straight onto a laptop which was running stop-motion software. When looped, the end result was a chaotic flickering montage, held together visually by the consistent paper size and positioning.


Our next task was to recall a moment of resilience from the past, a time when we had to keep going despite fatigue or distress. We were asked to express these feelings on a piece of paper, cut to the shape of our hand. An unexpected intimate moment was subtly orchestrated by Helen as she encouraged each participant to have their hand traced by someone else from the class.

This activity resulted in an explosion of colour. A herd of occupational therapists gathered around the art supplies table, gradually spreading them in disarray across the workshop. Time restraints prohibited us from attempting an animation with our kaleidoscopic hands; instead Helen insisted we write our names diligently on the back with the promise that they’d be animated in our absence and safely posted back to us.

After drawing Simon Critchley colouring in his paper-hand, we had a quick chat. In a few words he articulated why animation seems to lend itself so well to art therapy: for a lot of his clients, control is not something they have experienced much in their recent history: animation offers a chance to play with extraordinary levels of control, if only for the duration of these short improvised productions.


Nigel Smith, a retired-doctor-turned-animation-workshop-leader, volunteered his face to co-star in the next pixillation exercise. A rostrum-mounted camera photographed his expressions from above as a second workshop participant moved figures, cut from magazines, across a glass table which intersected the photographic field. This method sparked a conversation about Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer music video, produced in 1986 by Bristol- based Aardman Animation.

Following a sunny lunch on the deck of the barge, Helen gathered us in a circle to facilitate a group discussion about compassion fatigue.


Helen (above, identifiable by the black dress) concluded the group discussion by asking us to write a postcard to our future selves. In two weeks this will be sent back to us, along with our illustrated hands. We all wrote supportive advice that should remind us how to be kind to ourselves and help us prioritise our well-being.


The final animation activity was facilitated by Tim Webb, Royal College of Art, and the director of ‘A is for Autism’ (1992), a seminal animated documentary which emerged from a collaboration with several young people with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).

Each workshop participant was instructed to make a miniature version of themselves out of colourful lumps of Newplast Modelling Material.  The 11 tiny figures shared the limelight in a claymation ensemble within the short film which gradually emerged. In between frames we participants huddled around the set, incrementally adjusting our respective putty avatars.

At 3pm we dispersed across Bristol city centre, congregating a few hours later at the Watershed, Encounters Festival base camp. Helen presented two programmes of films; the first consisted of animations created in collaboration with service users. The aforementioned ‘A is for Autism’, kicked off the programme as an example of best practice.

The screening also included films produced by Animation Therapy such as ‘The Haldon’, a film made by staff and service uses at a ward for people struggling with eating disorders in Exeter.

The second programme included films by professional animators, many of whom are well known for their animated documentary work. Helen emphasised the value of collaborative work with animators when exploring therapeutic topics.  Andy Glynne’s production company, Mosaic Films, featured heavily; several shorts from their British Animation Award winning series ‘Animated Minds: Stories of Post Natal Depression’ were included. ‘Mike’s Story stood out to me, as particularly touching.

Follow this link if you wish to donate to the Bluebell Charity fund for people struggling with pre and post-natal depression and anxiety. We look forward to many more years of Helen Mason hosting Animation on Prescription events at Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival.

Moving Pictures & Top of the Class – Encounters Festival Animation Programme 2 & 3

Encounters, the Bristol based UK animation and short film festival, continues with an excellent array of animated shorts in their second and third animation programmes.

Animation 2 – Moving Pictures was a collection of shorts that explored complex emotive narratives. Of the fiction work in the programme, ‘My Home (Chez Moi)‘ directed by Phuong Mai Nguyen, shone through as a truly touching and sophisticated exploration of a young boy coming to grips with his mother’s new romantic partner.

Two films from programme 2 that hit the animated documentary remit, both of which take place during the Second World War.


Zoltan Aprily, director of ‘Ungvár’, explores his grandfather’s memories of working on a Hungarian commercial ship which was leased to the German navy and appropriated for war.

The central moral dilemma of working alongside the historical villains of the 20th century is illuminated through crystal clear symbolism: the Nazi soldiers are quite literally depicted as faceless or monstrous henchmen, while the civilian crew are shown as a hapless bunch of normal-looking lads struggling through a precarious situation.


Michael Brookes was commissioned by the Bletchley Park Trust to reconstruct a key moment in British military history. Notes rescued from a captured German U-boat led to the British code-breaking teams cracking the German Enigma encryption. This 3D animation is rendered in a soft colour palette, with intricate textures reminiscent of the early 20th century printing of posters used during the Allied war effort.

‘The Petard Pinch’ is essentially a tale of duty and sacrifice. The stiff-upper-lip stoicism of the film serves only to sharpen the emotional response in the audience.  This informative and moving short film clearly deserves the success it has already received from D&AD, Shorts of the Week and as a Vimeo Staff Pick.

Animation 3 – Top of the Class draws attention to animated films selected for their craftsmanship. Three of the films were identifiable as animated documentaries, but the of fiction and non-narrative work my attention was grabbed by the French-Hungarian co-production ‘Love‘, directed by Réka Bucsi.  This fantasy nature documentary tracks the impact solar movement have on a weird and complex ecosystem.


Volker Schlecht & Alexander Lahl co-directed ‘Broken – The Women’s Prison at Hoheneck (Kaputt)’. This beautifully crafted film is narrated by Gabriele Stötzer and Brigit Willschütz, political prisoners from Hoheneck Castle in East Germany. These unfortunate women were forced to make garments which were sold for great profit across the border in West Germany.

The animation is classically drawn frame by frame. After scanning one step, the drawing was erased, changed or completely re-drawn on the same sheet of paper and re-scanned (a technique used by William Kentridge). The attention to detail in this film is truly astonishing. It seemed somehow telling that the directors chose to integrate the subtitles, perfectly matching the aesthetic of this powerful animated documentary.

‘Stems’, directed by Ainslie Henderson, is a straightforward documentary about creating stop-motion puppets. The director narrates as his characters are assembled is if through the magic of stop-motion. It’s all very meta.  Henderson laments, “they are like actors who are destined to play just one role”.

‘Mamie’ is a touching portrait of director’s grandmother. Janice Nadeau tries to decipher her personal memories of this aloof and unforgiving matriarch. Although not explicitly stated, it seems clear that this is based on first hand recollection. If ‘Mamie’ is entirely invented character I must apologise for suggesting this is an animated documentary and commend Janice Nadeau for the realism in her writing!

Encounters short film and animation festival runs from the 20th -25th September across a number of venues in Bristol, UK.


The Weight of Humanity – Encounters Festival Animation Programme 1

The first Encounters Festival animation programme focused on politics, conflict and cultural identity. Amongst the short animations were a number of works of fiction which directly satirise world affairs and political systems. Others made unambiguous references to hot topics like North Korea. In terms of documentary approaches, four films stood out for me:


Having completed the AniDox:Lab under Uri and Michelle Kranot’s tutorage, I feel compelled to support the notion that their experimental film, ‘How Long, Too Long’, is a documentary. The animation conveys a loosely structured message of tolerance through appropriated historical footage and symbolic imagery. Each live action scene is manipulated though their highly distinctive paint on paper rotoscoping technique. The scenes are contextualised by the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. whose voice has come to symbolise tolerance. This film developed out of a collaboration with live action director Erik Gandini. His film ‘Cosmopolitanism’ (2015) on Vimeo is a more conventional documentary short which addresses similar subject matter and shares some of the animated scenes.

Click here to watch the ‘How Long, Too Long‘ trailer

While thinking about how to categorise this film I was reminded that Uri had said animators often dismiss his and Michelle’s recent films as not real animation; while the structure and form of their films are lyrical enough for documentarians question their authority as a documentaries. However you might choose to define this short, Michelle and Uri’s contribution to animated documentary as educators is invaluable.


‘City of Roses’, directed by Andrew Kavanagh, mixes live action and animation to distinguish between recent history in Ireland and 1930’s USA. A young boy discovers an abandoned suitcase filled with letters home, written by an Irish emigrant.

These written documents both form both the basis of the narrative, and litter the aesthetic of the film. While the animated sequences are clearly an earnest attempt to represent historical documents, it is hard to know how literally one should read the live action scenes.


‘A Terrible Hullabaloo’ was commissioned to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the Easter Uprising. In 1916, while the United Kingdom was distracted by war in Europe, Irish republicans rose up in an attempt to end British sovereignty.  This film depicts a first hand account given by a fourteen-year-old patriot who found himself garrisoned in a biscuit factory during one of the most deadly weeks in Irish history.

Director, Ben O’Connor, initially conceived a stop motion animation but the sensitive historical deadline forced his production team to adopt live action puppetry. One of the more distinctive aesthetic choices was to composite human eyes onto the puppets. The uncanny effect some how makes the film both more and less realistic. O’Connor remarked in a Q&A session after the screening, that he considers the film a documentary because he made every attempt to remain faithful to the historic subject matter. Vinny Byrne’s testimony was recorded in 1980 for the documentary ‘Ireland: a television history’. While this is most certainly a documentary, it is fair to argue that this should not be considered an animated film. The vast majority of the footage is not created frame-by-frame or interpolated; instead puppets are filmed moving in real time, as are the digitally imposed eyes.


The final film on the Weight of Humanity programme was ‘Tough’, directed by Jennifer Zheng. This student film, from Kingston University’s Illustration and Animation undergraduate degree, explores the film-maker’s relationship with her mother and her own dual national identity. Zheng adopts a bold colour palette and traditional Chinese imagery while confronting difficult personal and political truths.

In the same Q&A session Jennifer declared her own problematic feelings about categorising this film as a documentary.  She considers her audio interview as authentic documentation, but the animated action was entirely invented and features unrealistic or devised scenes.  I would argue an artist’s interpretation of a conversation is just as valid and perhaps more meaningful than a ‘talking heads’ shot. Zheng, however, prefers the term “docu-fiction”.

Encounters is an international animation and short film festival basted in Bristol, UK. It is running from the 20th to 25th September 2016.