‘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.
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.
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).
‘I am interested in the concept of skin and race, and what they imply; the ideas and theories sown into our flesh that change with the arc of time’ – Ng’endo Mukii (via)
Ng’endo Mukii holds a Master of Arts from the Royal College of Art (2012) in London, and a Bachelor of Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design (2006), USA. She is an award-winning filmmaker and is currently Professor of Practice at Tufts University, School of the Museum of Fine Arts. She is a writer on Netflix’s Mama K’s Team 4 series, and is one of 10 directors selected for the upcoming Disney+ and Triggerfish animated anthology, Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire.
Mukii describes ‘Yellow Fever’ as an exploration of the international fashion and beauty industry and it’s racist hierarchy. Her focus is the impact this has on the psyche of African women:
‘I believe skin and the body are often distorted into a topographical division between reality and illusion. The idea of beauty has become globalised, creating homogenous aspirations and distorting people’s self-image across the planet. In my film, I focus on African women’s self-image, through memories and interviews, using mixed media to describe this almost schizophrenic [sic] self-visualisation that I and many others have grown up with.’ (via)
“‘Hold Tight’ explores the importance of Carnival across the UK and how it’s celebrations provide an important lifeline to heritage and identity for younger generations of the Black Caribbean diaspora in Britain. It is a journey into the feeling of belonging, through the rituals of Carnival attendance and the power of bass.” – (via)
Ashman’s short animated documentary is a 2018 film which attempts to connect Caribbean people to their heritage, and celebrate London’s diversity. Using spoken word narration and hand-drawn 2D animation, layered with pixilation, Ashman illustrates the vibrancy of Carnival.
‘Hold Tight’ was part of a six-part series of micro-animated films titled ‘Untold Tales’. The project was commissioned by Anim18 and Animate Projects with the aim of creating films which would explore Britain’s culturally diverse communities.
Approximately a minute in length, the film has a vibrant aesthetic. The shaking lines echo the sound of the carnival bass, the mix of hand-drawn animation and pixilation footage gives a collage feel, further emphasizing the filmmaker’s personal relationship to the subject.