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 foreign 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 Dunne 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 Dunne 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 issue).

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 some cerebral and social relief. Walden and Deptford cinema even bought the audience a drink and provided crisps and cheese at the end of the day, which was nice.


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

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‘The Divide’ and ‘Childhood Memories’ by Mary Martins

Mary Martins is a London based filmmaker making animated documentaries and experimental films. Her short film The Divide won the Mother Art Prize in 2017 as well as the Best New Voice award at the Factual Animation Film Fuss in 2016.

The Divide from Mary Martins on Vimeo.

In 2018 Martins was commissioned by the BFI and BBC4 to make the short film Childhood Memories, based on her memories of a holiday in Lagos as a young girl. The film combines archive footage with stop-motion and 2D animation to build a rich and evocative picture of a time and place remembered. The narrative for the film emerged from a poem that Martins wrote, which also led the visual development.

Discussing her process, Martins tells me “I turned my memory into a poem to create the rhythm, and that led the animation,  so the animation flowed from the rhythm of the poem”. Her decision to use a mixed media method was driven by both tonal and storytelling needs. “The reason why I chose the puppets was because I wanted to create that feeling that it was a real person going back in time” she explains. “I think you can capture that well with puppets, you can really bring them to life. And then there were bits that I couldn’t quite get from the footage no matter how much I edited it, and that’s where the hand-drawn came into it. To kind of fill in the missing gaps, between the visuals, the footage and the actual memory itself – the narrative”.

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Childhood Memories (2018)

Martins is set to study for a Masters at the Royal College of Art from September, as part of their animated documentary pathway, and sees it as an opportunity to develop her own distinctive voice. “My work is always going to be very experimental” she predicts, “I still don’t know if I have my own style yet, I hope going to the RCA will help me get closer to that… I see my work as a personal journey and really want to work on discovering myself through my work”. 


Childhood Memories can currently be seen online in the UK only at: https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-childhood-memories-2018-online

Background on the project can be found at: https://abandonedmemories.weebly.com

More of Martins’ work can be seen on her website: http://www.marymartins.com

 

‘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

 

‘Chris the Swiss’ by Anja Kofmel

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Directed by Anja Kofmel and screened during Cannes International Critics Week in 2018, this feature length documentary ,which fuses a mix of live action, archive and animation, is a remarkable investigation into the death of war journalist Chris, Kofmel’s late cousin.

This personal story, rich with emotion explains how the death of Kofmel’s cousin has impacted her entire life. Chris travelled to the Croatian War of Independence in the 90’s, and much of the film is set in and around Zagreb. Kofmel appears herself in the film both as a child in animated form and as an adult in live action. We see her visit the places Chris had been, such as hotels and battle grounds and talk to the people he met, such as fellow journalists and ‘soldiers’, in an attempt to discover why and how he died. I thought the inclusion of the animation production process as part of the film was a nice touch, the storyboarding and concept sketches forming part of her search.

The animation is spellbinding, black and white 2D and created in TV Paint, there is the feeling of movement and texture in the drawings as the ink  bleeds into the ‘paper’ whilst images are formed and animated. The depiction of Chris and other characters is very clear, the characterisation of them and Kofmel’s direction holding up well against any photos or live action of those people. In particular the key characters, not alive today to give testimony, the animation is adding and ‘filling in’ for the missing live action that we require in order to tell Chris’s story. But the animation is not merely a device for the live action. It brings a new level of understanding to the documentary in the way in which it morphs, transcends time and geographical boundaries. There are symbolic themes in the animation, such as that of the animated lines that denote the lines in Chris scarf, or the black painterly marks that follow Chris, which instantly make me think of death. These devices guide us through the narrative, and act as signifiers of important events. The animation explores memory, loss and emotion and through it’s movement is evocative of all these states.

A wonderful film, truly deserving of its critical acclaim. In my opinion, this is a fine addition to the animated documentary genre.

http://www.christheswiss.net/

 

‘Nowhere Line’ by Lukas Schrank

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An important Animated Doc featuring the voices of Asylum Seekers detained on Manus Island, whilst en route to Australia. This animated doc is available on 99.media, a free platform broadcasting documentaries in 6 different languages.

“In July 2013, the Australian Government introduced a controversial immigration policy, transferring asylum seekers arriving by boat to remote offshore detention centres on foreign Pacific islands.

Seven months later, the Manus Island centre erupted in violence when police and guards put down protests with sticks, machetes and guns, and 23 year-old asylum seeker Reza Barati was killed.

We spoke to Behrouz and Omar, who are currently detained on Manus Island.

https://www.99.media/en/nowhere-line-broken-dreams-from-manus-island/

‘The Stereoscopic Society’ by Kate Sullivan

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The final film in the ‘Untold Tales’ series

Please put on your 3D glasses because I’d like to give you an immersive tour of a place I love.

Welcome to The Stereoscopic Society. We’re a bunch of 3D enthusiasts who meet once a month in a church hall in Euston. We share tips tricks and our latest 3D photos.

58 seconds probably isn’t enough time to experience how I feel when submerging for the usual full 3 hours at the club, but I hope you enjoy your quick cup of tea, meeting my friends and watching a digital slide show with us.

https://vimeo.com/296861425

https://www.instagram.com/kate_sullivan01

 

 

‘A Place to Think’ by Anushka Kishani Naanayakkara

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A film in the ‘Untold Tales’ series

A Place to Think is a meditative film, inspired by the architecture and natural environment found at the Amaravati Buddhist Monastery. The monastery welcomes all faiths and backgrounds, and gives people the space to reflect on their lives and the outside world which can at times seem overwhelming.

https://vimeo.com/296899375

https://www.instagram.com/nushy_peas