Animated documentaries at LIAF 2021

Every year, London International Animation Festival shows a programme of global documentaries in a specially dedicated screening. In last year’s festival, the selection included a wide range of films, from personal, autobiographical independent short films, to branded content and museum commissions. Many of these films are now available online, so here is a short overview of the programme.

Save Ralph (Spencer Susser, 2021) is a darkly comic mockumentary following a rabbit who “works” in the cosmetics testing industry. With a star-studded cast of voice actors and very high production values, the film has much to admire technically and creatively, and a message that cuts through the humour to leave the viewer feeling very uncomfortable indeed. The film ends with a message from The Humane Society encouraging action to help ban animal testing. 

Timeline (Osbert Parker, 2020) is a poetic film commissioned by The Migration Museum. The film weaves together single frames with diverse imagery. From this visual cacophony, the fluctuating image of a single line emerges. This takes us through an abstracted history of migration, from 1620-2020, and beyond, hinting at a possible future of human migration to space. Patterns develop and evolve, punctuated by interjections of stop-motion and mixed media animation. It’s a dynamic piece that stands repeated viewings, as it is easy to miss details on a first watch. 

Heart of the Nation (Tribambuka, 2020) is another film commissioned by the migration museum. This is a more explicit narrative focusing on the contribution that migration has made, and continues to make, on the staffing of the British NHS. It focuses on communicating a clear message informatively, attractively, and persuasively, and achieves its aims in this.

The Train Driver (Zuniel Kim, Christian Wittmoser, 2021) examines the psychological impact on a train driver of the six suicides of strangers that he has been caught up in through his job. Simple blue and yellow tinted sequences develop against a black background, offering an elegant counterpoint to the narrator’s words and allowing the audience to focus on the sensitive story he is telling. 

In Nature (Marcel Barelli, 2021) takes us to the other end of the spectrum. Using vivid and varied colours alongside a cartoony aesthetic, this film playfully demonstrates diverse manifestations of homosexuality in nature. The film is funny and well-paced, full of excellent visual gags, and does a great job of educating without ever feeling preachy or lecturing. 

In the Shadow of the Pines (Anne Koizumi, 2020) is a meditative piece in which a woman reflects on her memories of her Japanese father, and the shame he felt as a child at his culture, character and his job as a school janitor. In the second part of the film, we hear her father’s voice explaining his actions, and how his behaviour was a response to his own traumatic childhood. Finally, we are told that this conversation never really happened; her father died before they could make sense of the past, and of their relationship, together. The film is affecting. Some of the details in the memories are so raw and real that they cut to the bone, and there is a pervasive sense of melancholy throughout.  

Only a Child (Simone Giampaolo, 2020) is a well-executed mixed media animation illustrating a speech made by twelve-year old Severn Cullis-Suzuki at a UN summit. She speaks powerfully on the dangers of climate change, pollution, and mass extinction. At the end of the film, we discover that the words were spoken in 1992, a chilling reminder that the urgent call to action they contained was not heeded, and our environmental crisis has deteriorated in the years that have passed since the speech was made. The film is beautifully animated, with a production process that engaged more than 20 animation directors working on separate sections, and it moves gracefully between styles and techniques.  

The Chimney Swift (Frédéric Schuld, 2020) is a brooding film, with a script drawn from accounts of ‘Master’ chimney sweepers, who sent small children up chimneys in the Victorian era and who had themselves been sent up chimneys as children. A sketchy and stylised, artistic design approach combined with a flowing animation style creates an immersive viewing experience, while the savagery of the experiences described are still disturbing to hear almost two centuries after they were written down – partly due to the final frame, which reminds us that child labour practices still continue around the world.

Darwin’s Notebook (Georges Schwizgebel, 2020) delves into Charles Darwin’s notebook from 1833. He was aboard the Beagle as the ship travelled to return three kidnapped indigenous Alakaluf people of Tierra del Fuego to their home country. The film flows beautifully from one image to the next, with a painterly style combined with impressive, cinematic camera moves. The film follows the kidnapped people, from their previous life in their homeland through their violent abduction and attempts to replace their own culture with contemporaneous European ideals. When they are returned to their home they are adorned with the clothes and materials of the ‘civilised’ world, but these are soon abandoned. The film ends with a title card stating that the Alakaluf people were ultimately destroyed by western disease, persecution, and the deprivation of their natural resources. 

The Torture Letters (Jocie Juritz/Laurence Ralph, 2020) is a New York Times Op-Doc about racism and police violence in Chicago. The voiceover describes the narrator witnessing two young people being stopped-and-searched, an incident which triggers painful memories of his own. The narrator then discusses his research into wider police violence in the city, and tells the stories of Dominique “Damo” Franklin, who was killed at 23 by police taser, and of Andrew Wilson, who in 1989 filed a civil suit which brought down a police commander who had encouraged a culture of torture in custody. The film ends with a broader reflection on discrimination and violence in the US. The film is dense with information, which means it offers more with each viewing, suggesting avenues for further research. The monochrome visuals, moving between literal illustration, symbolic interpretation, and abstract shapes, lead the viewer through the multiple stories.

All Those Sensations in my Belly (Marko Djeska, 2020) tells the story of a young trans woman, her developing identity through childhood and adolescence, and her struggle to find a loving and lasting relationship. The film progresses through a range of visual and animation styles as the lead character moves through stages of life, from the darkest places, to transcendent moments of self-discovery. The sound design adds a strong layer of emotion to the story, ratcheting up the tension at points and at others creating a deep empathy, without resorting to sentimentality. The result is a moving film portraying a complex, vulnerable, resilient, sympathetic and highly relatable character.

One of the striking things about this programme of shorts is how many of the films have strong social and political messages, often accompanied by explicit calls to action. The social issues presented here span discrimination, identity, racism, abuse, migration, climate, mental health, and animal welfare. The creative approaches taken are as broad as the subjects covered, but every film in the selection points clearly to a desire to tell stories that can help us to move toward a better, fairer, and kinder world.

London International Animation Festival (LIAF) is an annual event taking place in November and December across multiple London venues. Full listings for the 2021 festival can be found on the website.

Factual Animation Film Festival 2021

The 7th Edition of Factual Animation Film Festival was held at Queen Mary University of London’s Hitchcock Cinema on the 16th October 2021. The festival programme was also made available online until the 24th October. For full details visit factualanimation.com

The programme consisted of curated screenings and a series of interviews with animation directors conducted by Holly Murtha, festival director, and Alex Widdowson, festival producer.

The Beauty of Mathematics, an interview with Sarah Gorf-Roloff

In Absentia, Interview with Adriana Monteforte

I Want To Be Bored & The Things Around Us, interview with Magda Kreps

Skeleton of A Moth, interview with Emma Kay Smith

Moosehide Slide – Interview with Dan Sokolowski

Awards

There were two awards presented at FAFF this year: Best Student Film and Best Animated Documentary Film

The award for Best Student film went to Magda Kreps for I Want To Be Board

The award for Best Film went to Laurent Leprince for Waka Huia

You can visit the FAFF website here https://factualanimation.com/

Rising of the Lusitania Festival 3, Gdansk Poland

The festival who shares the name of the first known Animated Documentary features a stellar line up of films. Their selection includes a mockumentary category and a Rising of the Pandemic category on films made about and during the pandemic.

The festival is screening on location, alongside a hybrid online/ offline conference. You can find more details here: www.animadoc.pl

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:

Programme

Winners

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

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

Animated Documentary.com 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 AnimatedDocumentary.com 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 AnimatedDocumentary.com 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.

A day at Deptford Animadocs

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Deptford Cinema

The Deptford Animadocs symposium took place on a warm July day in Deptford Cinema, London. A converted shop edging the bustle of Deptford Market, the venue, which is run entirely by volunteers, is plastered with cult film imagery and local information, combining the laser focus of film obsessives with the inclusivity of a community space. The event attracted an audience  including animated documentary die-hards as well as newcomers to the form and there was a buzz throughout the day as filmmakers, academics and audience members compared thoughts and ideas.

The day included three programmes of short films. Each had a theme. The first, ‘Borders’, was a harrowing collection of stories of migration, protest, and imprisonment. From the near-invisible modern-day slavery of some domestic workers in Leeds Animation Workshop’s They Call Us Maids to the brutal detention of migrants in Lukas Schrank’s Nowhere Lines: Broken Dreams from Manus Island, the films told urgent stories with a strong social message.

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Nowhere Lines: Broken Dreams from Manus Island Dir. Lukas Schrank (UK/ Australia)

The second programme, themed as ‘Memories’, was a more upbeat and varied screening, lifted by the humour of Dustin Grella’s Animation Hotline and the lateral charm of Carina and Ines Christine Geisser’s Durrenwaid 8. The programme also featured dark moments, notably Susan Young’s visceral The Betrayal, a film in which she explores a traumatic period from her past in which she was put in the care of a manipulative and destructive mental health professional.

Following this was a screening of the feature animated documentary Another Planet (dir. Amir Yatziv). The film follows the creators of various virtual simulations of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. These worlds have been created by very different people, each with very different motivations: police forensics, game development, museum exhibit modelling. In the film we see the creators of each simulated camp as avatars exploring their own virtual Auschwitz.

This was one of those films that is very difficult to describe or explain, or even to make sense of your feelings about during or after watching it. It’s strange, chilling, depressing, reflective, and at times blackly funny. It asks smart questions not only about its subject but also about the documentary form, leaving the audience unsettled and unmoored, unsure of whose voice we have been listening to.

The final short film programme of the day, ‘Body and Mind’, saw filmmakers looking inwards and making films that dealt with physical and mental illness, and emotional highs and lows. Kate Ranmey’s Lingua Absentia was a powerful story about a young woman with schizophrenia and cancer, told through the eyes of her mother, while Lizzy Hobbs’s BAFTA-nominated I’m OK was a wonderfully fluid, rich and satisfying way to wrap up the screening.

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I’m OK Dir. Elizabeth Hobbs (UK)

The day concluded with a roundtable discussion, with: myself; Susan Young; Terry Wragg and Jo Dunn from the Leeds Animation Workshop; Dr Victoria Grace Walden, who had organised and programmed the bulk of the day; and Dr Bella Honess Roe, who has written widely on animated documentary and who helped programme the event. It was a lively, discursive panel with a very active audience. Earlier in the day both Honess Roe and Walden had made presentations and led discussions, laying strong groundwork for more in-depth debate at the end of the day. It was particularly interesting to hear Young talk about her process of making The Betrayal, which she produced following a period of poor mental health, building a script from fragments of her real medical and legal records:

I had gone through this experience of being someone who had a voice, an animation director, et cetera, and then ending up with a mental health label and suddenly becoming voiceless. And that was totally shocking. So I wanted to explore that, to actually explore what it meant to me, how it felt to be voiceless. Which is why I used the medical records, to subvert them and take control of that narrative.

Most of the words in the film are seen as flashes of typed text, shot so close-up that the texture of paper and ink is visible, illuminated by sudden flashes of light. The doctor’s words are embodied in a disturbing voiceover, voiced by Young herself in audio that was then processed heavily to create a dark simulation of a man’s voice. This literal using of her own voice exemplifies Young’s intention:

it was really, really important to find my own voice again through playing with the voice of this individual who I’d created through his medical records he wrote about me, and also legal records.

It was also good to hear Wragg and Dunn talk about their work with Leeds Animation Workshop and how it has changed over the years. Particularly interesting was Wragg’s opinion that it is harder now to find ways to get a film seen in a good environment with the opportunity for discussion than it used to be. She explains that:

a lot of our films are quite dense and intensively researched and designed to provoke specific questions. They really work best if they’re in a group where people are around to talk about things, and sometimes that’s not as easy as it used to be.

More positively, the panel discussed animated documentary as a space where alternative and diverse stories and storytellers can flourish. Walden commented on how encouraged she was not only by the quantity and quality of submissions that Deptford Animadocs received, but also the diversity of the filmmakers and the stories represented.

Walden also talked about the way that the documentary value of animated documentary is problematised by the subjectivity of the form, the intent that is inherent in animation. While all filmmaking involves construction and decision-making on the part of the filmmaker, there remains a sense that animation is more constructed and therefore less trustworthy than live action. Walden and Honess Roe discussed the fact that while animated documentary is generally considered to be good at representing subjective, internal experiences, these representations are usually mediated by the animator or director, rather than emerging purely from the subject (Samantha Moore’s work within the collaborative frame is an example of a filmmaker addressing this limitation).

This Animadocs festival, or symposium, or ‘sympestival’ as Walden calls it, was a rich day for fans of animated and alternative documentary. The programme of films was very strong, favouring high-intensity work packing an emotional gut-punch over information-heavy or highly illustrative films. This made the viewing demanding as well as rewarding, but the frequent breaks, presentations and discussions that peppered the day provided relief and variety, as well as seeds of thought and collaboration that will no doubt grow beyond the event itself.


To keep up to date with the future work of Deptford Animadocs, join their facebook group here.

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‘Doozy’ by Richard Squires, UK Cinema Tour

‘Doozy is a creative documentary that mixes original animation, re-enactment, archive and expert testimony to look through the lens of one of Hollywood’s hidden queer histories’

Another chance to see the fantastic ‘Doozy’ and a brilliant lineup of Q&A’s, featuring the cast of Doozy.

23 April 2019   Fabrica, Brighton  Q&A with Jamie Wyld                

25 April 2019   Close-Up Centre, London  Guest Dr Sophie Scott   

30 April 2019   Exeter Phoenix  Q&A with Dr Benedict Morrison

4 May 2019   Flatpack Festival, Birmingham  Q&A with José Arroyo

7 May 2019   University of Warwick  Q&A with Dr Julie Lobalzo Wright

9 May 2019   Phoenix, Leicester  Guest Professor Paul Wells

10 May 2019   Birkbeck Cinema, London  Guest John Airlie

You can read our review of Doozy here

 

Selected Films at London BFI Film Festival 2018

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Image credit: DOOZY by Richard Squires

Coming up from the 10th – 21st October is the London BFI Film Festival, featuring a brilliant selection of feature films, amongst which you can see two films of note; ‘DOOZY’ by Richard Squires and ‘Irene’s Ghost’ by Iain Cunningham. We will feature a review of the festival on animateddocumentary.com

DOOZY (UK, 2018), the debut feature from UK artist-filmmaker Richard Squires, is a creative documentary that employs ‘Clovis’, an animated antihero, as a means to explore the particular “voice” casting of cartoon villains in the late 1960s. Through the lens of one of Hollywood’s hidden queer histories, DOOZY contemplates the psycho-social relationship between villainy and hysterical male laughter; the use of voice as a signifier of ‘otherness’ and the frequently uneasy symbiosis of character and actor.

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Image credit: Irene’s Ghost by Iain Cunningham, animation by Ellie Land

Irene’s Ghost is the debut documentary film from Iain Cunningham and features animated segments directed by Ellie Land. follows a son’s search to find out about the mother he never knew.
The birth of his own child inspires a journey to discover the truth about Irene, who passed away when he was a child. Piecing together fragments of the past to make sense of the present he uncovers a long held secret. Using animation mixed with filmed footage Irene’s Ghost movingly rebuilds a lost life.

Motivations for Animated Documentary Films by Lawrence Thomas Martinelli, Lecture as part of Anima Festival 2015

A few years ago now, but none the less, a fantastic lecture by academic Lawrence Thomas Martinelli, Uri Kranot and Soetkin Verstegen.

Martinelli introduces us to the various motivations for making animated documentary, through a series of case studies, whilst Kranot and Verstegen round up the lecture with some insights into the practicalities of making such animated films.

Martinelli investigates the “re – creating and re -constructing” of animated documentary, he talks about filmic hybrids and the need to complete in complete material, which is one of the motivations for using animated documentary.

Martinelli is also the founder of DOCartoon, Animation and Non Fiction Comics festival, Italy. http://www.docartoon.it/

A brilliant watch, rich with content – I know I will be sharing this with my students in their studies of animated documentary.

The first AnimatedDocumentary.com Award at FAFF 2016!

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We were thrilled to be part of this years Factual Animation Film Fuss festival: hosting an event, giving our first ever award, and mingling with the great and the good of the UK animated documentary crowd.

The festival is in its second year, run by Daniel Murtha, and hosted at the Genesis Cinema in London, UK. In addition to several programmes of the best new work in animated documentary, a Q&A with film-maker Samantha Moore, chaired by Alys Scott-Hawkins, opened out discussions with a number of film-makers in the audience, including Mary Martins, Emma Calder and Alex Widdowson.

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Still from Truth Has Fallen by Sheila Sofian

The AnimatedDocumentary.com award was presented on the final night of the festival. We were very pleased to have our award sponsored by animated documentary director Sheila Sofian. The winner received signed original artwork from Sheila’s film ‘Truth has Fallen’, a feature length documentary we have featured on the blog. The film is about about people wrongfully convicted of murder and the weaknesses in the US justice system that allowed these injustices to occur. You can find out more about Sheila’s work on her website here.

The winning film was Spirit Away by Bettina Kuntzsch. We thought that the film was a fantastic example of using existing documentary evidence to engage the audience.

We also awarded two Special Mentions: Loop by Samantha Moore and Life Inside Islamic State by Scott Coello. We made a third award for Best New Voice and this went to The Divide by Mary Martins.

Loop by Samantha Moore

Life Inside Islamic State by Scott Coello

The Divide by Mary Martens