|We’re super-excited to share details of our upcoming panel discussion with three film-makers working with autobiography, in partnership with Animate Projects and British Council:|
Our next Animation Salon is programmed by Alys Scott-Hawkins and Ellie Land from Animated Documentary, is on 4 November. It’s our second in partnership with Animate Projects. The animated documentary genre continues to grow, featuring in a variety of formats: shorts and feature films, explainer videos, interactive documentary; and showcasing an array of techniques such as the autoethnographic film, the investigative film, the call-to-action and reconstruction films, to name just a few. Animators Mary Martins (UK), John Summerson (USA), and Signe Baumane (Latvia/USA) will share their insights and experiences with us, alongside some clips of their work.
Animation Salon/Accelerate Sessions
18:00 (UK time), Wednesday 4 November
More information here.
Free. Register here.
Spaces are limited – please join early to make sure you get in. Supported by Arts Council England’s Emergency Response Fund.
Still: My Love Affair With Marriage, Signe Baumane, 2021
Next Accelerate session coming up…
Animation and VR
With Tom Higham (York Mediale), Liz Rosenthal (Venice Film Festival), Juergen Hagler (Ars Electronica), Helen Starr (Mechatronic Library), and Ulrich Schrauth (London Film Festival Expanded). More details soon.
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.
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.
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.
On July 13th Deptford Cinema in London will be hosting a day of film and discussion exploring and celebrating Twenty-First Century animated documentary. The event includes:
An international programme of 16 animated documentary films
Introductions by academics working in animation studies
Roundtable discussion with filmmakers and scholars
Speakers include: Dr Victoria Grace Walden (University of Sussex), Dr Bella Honess Roe (University of Surrey), Dr Nea Ehrlich (Ben-Gurion University, Israel TBC), Susan Young (Royal College of Arts), Carla MacKinnon (Arts University Bournemouth), Terry Wragg (Leeds Animation Workshop).
Doors 11.30am / Tickets: £10 (£8.50 concessions)
More information on the website: http://deptfordcinema.org/new-events/2019/7/13/deptford-animadocs-1
‘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.
You can read our review of Doozy here
The 2017 Ecstatic Truth Symposium took place on May 27 and explored the field of animated documentary. Presentations by scholars and practitioners from around the world covered topics including memory, trauma, visual and verbal language, industry structure and new technologies.
The day kicked off with a keynote by Bella Honess Roe, who expanded on the idea of ‘absence and excess’ that she put forward in her monograph Animated Documentary. Using the examples of two short films – Abuelas and Irinka and Sandrinka – Honess Roe demonstrated that animation can be used both as metaphorical wish fulfilment and as an exploration of memory, both memories of events directly experienced and memories passed down through families and cultures. Honess Roe spoke about how animation studies academics strive to pin down animation in theoretical terms, but find that definitive conclusions are elusive. She suggested that this is due to the vastness of animation as a discipline: “Very few animated documentaries look alike”. Perhaps this resistance to reductive conclusions is one of animation’s strengths.
In her presentation “Traversing the terrain of space, time and form”, Rose Bond gave an insight into her research and production process when making large scale architectural animations. Her work interprets the histories of buildings into narratives and symbolic motifs that are then projected back onto the windows of the building itself. Her storyboarding process was particularly interesting to see, as she boarded the different narratives that played out across the different windows – a more lateral process than traditional storyboarding. She referred to this “multiscreen” boarding as “a different kind of editing, composing”. The process of storyboarding was the moment of ‘parataxis’, the juxtaposing of individual visual and narrative elements together to create new meaning for those elements. Bond explained that in her work it is important that the audience do not see all the material when they watch – they are required to chose which images to focus on throughout, so the experience is different with each viewing.
Next up I presented a paper about animated documentary and virtual reality, proposing that the absence and excess (Honess Roe, 2013) of animated documentary is complemented by the dual qualities of immersion and alienation present in VR. I supported my argument with the analysis of two recent animated VR documentaries – Nonny de la Peña’s Out of Exile and Michelle and Uri Kranot’s Nothing Happens.
Vincenzo Maselli’s presentation on “Deeper strata of meanings in stop-motion animation: the meta-diegetic performance of matter” explored ideas of performance and materiality of stop-motion, referencing the work of Marks, Sobchack and Barker in an analysis of the relationship between the human body and the texture of filmed material.
Sally Pearce’s paper entitled “Can I draw my own memory?” focused on her work tracking memory, and the problems presented by this. She showed a piece of work in which an animated horse wanders through bleak live action landscapes that represent her fractured memories from a time of serious illness. This record of illness is, she explains, “straight from the horse’s mouth”. She discussed her process of trying to capture and visualise memory, and the frustrations that come with this: “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.” Pearce particularly noted that her drawings can feel trapped in the language we commonly use about memory and illness and bound up in accepted metaphor, frustrated that “my drawing mind remains locked into the forms of the spoken and written word”.
Barnaby Dicker’s paper “A Quivering Terminus: Walerian Borowczyk’s Games of Angels, animated documentary and the social fantastic” analyses how Borowczyk uses ‘fantastic topography’ to play with tropes of both documentary and fiction, in order to a explore disturbing historical subject. Dicker’s analysis of Borowczyk’s disturbing and powerful short looked at how both imagery and structure worked to create meaning for the audience.
He commented on the clues the filmmaker’s uses to guide the audience, such as the inclusion of a title card providing assurance that characters and events portrayed in the film are not intended to resemble characters living and dead. Dicker noted that the film is highly abstract and would not in any way invite an assumption that it was portraying real characters – so in fact the title card may be working inversely, to suggest to an audience that what they are watching does, in fact, reflect reality.
The afternoon sessions included a talk from Chinese artist Lei Lei who offered a lively tour of the process behind his compelling and visually stunning artwork. LeiLei uses found materials and processes of enhancing and degrading images to interrogate history, memory and culture.
Guli Silberstein’s presentation of his work “The Schizophrenic State Project“, gave an insight into the personal context which led him to appropriate and adapt media footage of violence to specifically explore conflict in Israel, Palestine and the region. The presentation offered an intimate view of an artist striving to find a voice to communicate his complex relationship with a disturbing subject matter which is both deeply personal and boldly political. In processing and re-presenting footage of war and protest Silberstein recontextualises it, challenging a viewer to watch and consider it in a new way.
Becky James’ paper “Expanding the Index in Animated Documentary” considered the subgenre of animation about mental states through a close reading of Betina Kuntzsch’s Spirit Away. James also offered insights into the culture around animated documentary production in comparison to the fine art industry where she previously worked, suggesting that there is an absence of critique and serious professional support for emerging filmmakers through canonical institutions in the field of experimental animation.
Susan Young’s presentation “Bearing Witness: Autoethnographic Animation and the Metabolism of Trauma” showcased her PhD research on psychological trauma, in which she reflects on her own experience. Young showed her visceral short film The Betrayal and discussed her process, sharing the ways in which she managed the risks associated with conducting any research on trauma.
The 2016 Ecstatic Truth symposium had concluded with a sense of agreement that the arguments around the legitimacy of animation as a documentary form which have dominated much of animated documentary scholarship have reached the limits of their usefulness, and that we can progress better if we start from a working assumption that animated documentary can exist as a valid form. The 2017 event followed on from this, taking a broad perspective on animated documentary that allowed for an open, discursive atmosphere in which diverse ideas could be raised, considered and challenged. There were no definitive answers but, as Honess Roe suggested at the beginning of the day, maybe animation’s ability to elude the finality of concrete definition is at the heart of its charm.
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 Triggs, Associate 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.
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 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. www.susanyounganimation.com
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: https://www.animationstudies.org
For more information about studying MA Animation: Documentary: http://www.rca.ac.uk/schools/school-of-communication/animation/documentary-animation-pathway.
Video documentation of this event will be archived on our Vimeo channel at: https://vimeo.com/channels/documentaryanimation.
With the next Ecstatic Truth symposium coming up on Saturday, this seems like a good time to revisit last year’s event and share the recordings of the jam-packed schedule of speakers, workshops and networking.
Video documentation of all the speakers who presented at the 2016 symposium, including keynotes from Paul Ward, Abigail Addison and Brigitta Iványi-Bitter, as well as our own Carla MacKinnon, is available here on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/channels/documentaryanimation
Our own post from the event can be found here: https://animateddocs.wordpress.com/2016/05/28/ecstatic-truth-symposium/
The 2016 symposium was held to launch the new MA Animation: Documentary Animation pathway: http://www.rca.ac.uk/schools/school-of-communication/animation/documentary-animation-pathway
Ecstatic Truth: Lessons of Darkness and Light is the second animated documentary symposium at the Royal College of Art, London, on Saturday 26th May 2017.
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.
The AniDox:Residency is a fantastic opportunity for international filmmakers from The Animation Workshop, building on their successful Open Workshop residency and AniDox:Lab programme.
The organisers are looking for an artistic approach, exploring the possibilities and potential of animation documentary. They will provide studio facilities, workstations, accommodation, support and 27.000 EUR in financial support. For more information and to apply for the residency, go to the AniDox website.
I recently returned from the second module of The Animation Workshop’s ANIDOX:LAB in Denmark. This development lab, supported by Creative Europe, brings together animators, documentarians, artists and producers from across Europe, all united by a common interest in exploring the form of animated documentary. Each participant enters the lab with a documentary idea which is then developed across three modules. At the end of the lab, the participant is expected to have a strong pitch package supported by a two-minute promo for their project. The team behind the programme then continue to support a selection of these projects, bringing them to European film markets where finance may be secured to take the project further.
Anidox is put together by filmmakers Uri and Michelle Kranot, and has emerged from their own practice and research in the field of animated documentary. The Kranots were originally animators, drawn to non-fiction through “a desire to make films politically”. Their work has gained international acclaim and continues to compel audiences with its combination of fluid, poetic imagery and strong political meaning.
Communities of Practice
ANIDOX launched in 2013, with the original aim of bringing documentarians and animators together to find out what differences there are in their practice, and what challenges this brings to the production of the animated documentary. Over time common challenges which have been identified include:
- Communication issues stemming from differences in use of language and terminology between the animation and the documentary community;
- A lack of understanding in the documentary community of the production processes, timelines and budgets necessary to produce animation;
- A mutual lack of understanding of the very different editing and post-production processes in documentary and animation production; and
- Other difficulties with effective communication between animators and documentary directors and producers.
In response to these and other challenges, ANIDOX aims to foster dialogue between documentarians and animators, while providing business opportunities and a rich environment for creative development, helping filmmakers to develop the essence of their project and visual approach.
As well as being an excellent opportunity for project development, ANIDOX offers a diverse programme of talks from and about filmmakers, commissioners and other players working across animation and factual film production.
In the first Module of the programme, Uri and Michelle Kranot were joined by filmmaker Paul Bush to lead several days of workshops. Kicking off with an overview of animated documentary, Uri Kranot and Paul Bush discussed the history and current state of the field in broad terms. Bush voiced his opinion that while drama has always been influenced by documentary, animation is only now catching up as part of a “coming-of-age for the animation form”. Bush acknowledged that the ‘contract’ with an audience is different in an animated documentary from a live action one, since with animation the audience is clearly aware that what they are watching is not an indexical record of real events, but he claimed that this is a strength of the form. In his opinion the British documentary industry has given up on ethically trying to present any kind of objective reality, although audiences will still automatically believe live action documentary and assume it is ‘real’. In this way, he claimed, animated documentary is less ethically problematic than its live action sister – through it’s transparently constructed nature it is more honest in its complex truth claim.
While documentary often uses animation as a way to limit the damage of missing or poor quality live action footage, there are also many other approaches and opportunities for the form. Bush specifically mentioned the power of animation to show alternative viewpoints, stories told from perspectives other than the point-of-view of the traditionally empowered. This ability of animated non-fiction to challenge hegemonic power structures has been discussed by various scholars and the potential of the form to weave alternative histories to those recorded and presented by the mainstream is widely considered one of its key creative strengths.
In a presentation about the history of animated documentary, Uri Kranot showed a range of films spanning a century and discussed the merits of each, in the context of their time. Kranot believes that we are seeing a coming-of-age not just for animation but also for documentary – an age of creative docs which can question as well as represent reality.
This pit-stop tour of animated documentary took us from Winsor McCay’s The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918), through WW2 propaganda films to the more personal work of John and Faith Hubley and Aardman Animation, whose pre-Creature Comforts short films Conversation Pieces (1983) used the conventions of documentary alongside stop-motion to reenact mundane and amusing scenes and situations. Kranot showed how over time the animated documentary moved from telling big political stories to smaller personal stories, such as Chris Landreth’s Ryan (2004) and Jornal Adele’s Never Like the First Time (2007). With this came a plethora of ethical and creative considerations that continue to challenge contemporary filmmakers. The animated documentary form has shown itself to be a powerful medium for exploring these ideas, with films such as Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy (2013) deconstructing itself even as it tells its story, raising questions of transparency and authorial voice.
Kranot also touched on the importance of technological novelty in animation trends, showing how many of the most successful short animated documentaries have found their success in part through the innovative use of new creative technologies.
Presentations on the first ANIDOX module also included talks by alumni filmmakers including Martina Scarpelli, who presented her recently commissioned work-in-progress short EGG, a poetic documentary about an anorexic woman’s complex relationship with food.
The second module of ANIDOX took place in Copenhagen with guest tutors including: Swedish-Italian documentary director Erik Gandini; animated documentary producer Andy Glynne (Mosaic Films); Katrine Kiilgaard, Head of Industry at CPH:DOX; Ane Mandrup, Head of Documentary and Shorts at the Danish Film Institute (DFI) and Cecilia Lidin, Documentary Film Consultant at DFI.
Gandini, who works predominantly with live action, screened his feature film The Swedish Theory of Love (2015) and talked about his relationship to documentary. After growing up in Italy, saturated as it was with flashy, misogynistic, Berlusconi-controlled media, Gandini then moved to Sweden where he had the life changing-experience of stumbling upon Claude Lanzmann’s 9+ hour long Holocaust documentary Shoah (1985) on television. He describes this encounter with documentary as a “reconquering of reality”. Gandini went on to study film and make many documentaries including Videocracy (2009), an indictment of the Italian media and its social context.
At film school Gandini leant the rules of documentary storytelling, which at the time favoured a journalistic approach: an invisible filmmaker interfering as little as possible in the action, no music and closeness to character identified as the most important element. Gandini believes that this approach is “gone now, thank god”, destroyed in part by the rise of reality TV.
Gandini’s own work moved towards an essay-film approach, focusing not on recording objective fact but rather building personal arguments: “Taking command of storytelling… not showing reality as it is, rather showing reality as I feel it”. His work uses manipulation of sound, image and situation to construct a representation of the filmmaker’s subjective perspective on a subject, and he believes that the concept of authenticity in film should include being true to your own thoughts and feelings as well as your objective observations. Despite this, he strongly identifies as a documentary filmmaker, believing that documentary contains an unpredictability which isn’t present in fiction or animation and that documentary storytelling should be open to including representations of fantasy and internal life as well as hard fact – an area in which animation can be a useful representational tool. It is this co-habitation with unpredictability that makes documentary magical for Gandini, and his challenge to animated documentary filmmakers is “to what level can we keep unpredictability a friend even when using animation?”
Producer Andy Glynne brought some good practical advice to his talks. At Mosaic Films approximately 30% of the documentary output is animated docs, usually with subject matter that deals with the internal and psychological world as well as subjects and situations that are inaccessible for various reasons, or that demand anonymity. Glynne spoke about Mosaic’s process for engaging contributors, through which they have placed safeguards to ensure the story they tell remains authentic and respectful to the contributor despite the mediation process of editing and animation. He also offered some valuable insights gleaned as a result of the development of Nothing to Envy, a feature length animated documentary about North Korea, currently in very early production. Originally conceived as a foreign language documentary, the film’s development process has seen it take on more fiction qualities as well as becoming an English language production – changes that were made partly in response to the requirements of the feature film industry.
Both Glynne and the representatives from DFI spoke at length on the issues that can arise when pitching animated documentary. A recurring challenge is the expectation in the documentary industry of having a promo to show of the film being pitched – relatively straightforward for a character based live action documentary but more complex for an animated documentary, where each second of footage incurs significant expense and visual development.
Representing the fast-growing documentary festival CPH:DOX, Katrine Kiilgaard spoke of the festival’s focus on hybrid and interdisciplinary work. With larger audiences than DOK Leipzig and Sheffield Docfest (though smaller than IDFA and Hotdocs) CPH:DOX is a force to be reckoned with on the documentary festival circuit. It is significant that it demonstrates a progressive attitude to form, with a programme that includes industry forums for art-documentary projects, some of which are intended for gallery exhibition rather than theatrical or broadcast. Despite this embrace of alternative forms, Kiilgaard noted that only a small percentage of work screened at the festival is animated – estimated at less than 5%. When asked why this was she responded that the animated documentaries they receive are often at odds with the larger programming direction of the festival. Hans Frederik Jacobsen, a programmer for CPH:DOX also present on the module added that animated documentaries “often don’t fit our understanding of what a film should do”, although he indicated that this was changing, partially due to the work of programmes such an ANIDOX, which help to develop innovative productions that exploit the potentials of both the documentary and animation form.
Through these and other talks, the ANIDOX programme offered its participants a rich insight into thought and industry process related to the animated documentary field. It also provided a fantastic forum for project development, in which ideas could be presented and worked on in a supportive environment with the help of tutors and participants with a great diversity of experience. Ultimately, as with most training programmes, it is this rich peer network which offers the strongest and most lasting benefit. Through this network, participants are able to draw on each other’s knowledge and experience across the spectrum of the industry, in order to develop and strengthen their own creative voices and professional acumen as filmmakers pushing the boundaries of the animated documentary.
More information about ANIDOX:LAB and other residencies the initiative offers can be found at anidox.com.