Jan Nåls writing on ‘A Kosovo Fairytale’ by Anna-Sofia Nylund, Samantha Nell, Mark Middlewick

A new online journal, the International Journal of Film and Media Arts, launched this year with a special issue dedicated to animated documentary. The articles in Vol 1 can be viewed online, and offer some valuable insights into the field. They include Drawing the Unspeakable – Understanding ‘the other’ through narrative empathy in animated documentary, by Jan Nåls.

Nåls uses A Kosovo Fairytale (2009), an educational film project for which he acted as a supervisor, as a case study to explore how the use of combined animation and live action can encourage empathy for a documentary’s subject. The film tells the story of a family who were forced to leave their youngest child in Kosovo, seeking safety as refugees in Finland.

A Kosovo Fairytale

A Kosovo Fairytale

In the article Nåls discusses documentary within the historically ethically problematic field of ethnography, noting that “documentary representation is fundamentally informed by the challenges of inter- and multi-cultural encounters since it always entails a dialogue between a film-maker and a subject that exists in the world outside of the narrative – a person, a community or a culture.” He views animated documentary as a valuable tool within contemporary ethnography, which can be used to bring breadth and depth to representation of ‘the other’.

A Kosovo Fairytale was made by five exchange students from Africa and Europe. It combines roughly-made animation with live action footage of a Skype call. The lo-fi look of both the animated and live action sections means that the film’s aesthetic is consistent throughout. Nåls notes that although animation is traditionally an expensive and time-consuming process, it is possible to produce a film such as A Kosovo Fairytale on a very low budget and in a very limited timescale (the film was made in less that three months), and for the film to still be successful and well received in some exhibition contexts. In a tradition familiar to animated documentary and famously used by Tim Webb in his groundbreaking A is for Autism (1992), the characters in A Kosovo Fairytale are presented as figures hand-drawn by the real life subjects, and this integration of the participatory self-portrait helps to justify the rough-around-the-edges aesthetic style.

A is for Autism

A is for Autism

Nåls believes that the combination of animation and live action footage can create a particular empathetic response in the viewer. The animation allows an audience to relate to what is being shown as a universal human story. Nåls believes that much of the specificity and complexity of the situation being portrayed is negated through the use of iconic, “naive and minimalistic” characters and backgrounds. In contrast, book-ending the film with stark live action footage reminds us that this is in fact a very specific story; it is not a fairytale, and it has no happy ending. Nåls relates this to the Brechtian concent of Verfremdung – alienation or distancing which disrupts audience immersion in a story, highlighting construction and challenging the viewer to question the action. He sees the combination of live action and animation in documentary as “a technique of alienation… also a technique of persuasion, a way of convincing the audience of the authenticity of the story.”

Nåls mentions the “unique quality of animated non-fiction as a medium to represent traumatic events”, which has also been written about in detail by scholars such as Annabelle Honess Roe. He believes that the juxtaposition of live action and animation can be particularly effective in evoking traumatic experience, a technique also used to great effect in the final scene of Waltz with Bashir.

While many of the concepts put forward in Nåls’ essay have been discussed in existing scholarship, his use of A Kosovo Fairytale as a case study provides a useful lens through which to explore the ideas in practical terms. His thoughtful exposure of the nuts and bolts of the production process behind the film adds an extra layer of meaning to the viewing of it.

A Kosovo Fairytale from Anna-Sofia Nylund on Vimeo.

Vol 1 No 1 of the International Journal of Film and Media Arts also includes work by Paul Ward, Annabelle Honess Roe, Filipe Costa Luz, Pedro Serrazina and M. Alexandra Abreu Lima.

‘Health Issues and Animation’ blog posts by Animationstudies 2.0

Over on the Society for Animation studies blog, ‘Animationstudies 2.0’, there are a number of articles written on the theme of animation and health, two of which feature writing about animated documentary.

Samantha Moore’s piece called “Secret Architecture – the construction of  Loop” is about her recent work on the Silent Signal project with Animate! and Wellcome Trust, for which she paired up with scientist Dr Serge Mostowy. The r&d work they produced explored Mostowy’s work with zebrafish models in microbiology. In this article Moore discusses her exploration of the gap between theory and methods in the scientific process and her response to this through animated documentary. We featured the Silent Signal project here on the blog a few months back.

Dr Nichola Dobson in her article ‘From one extreme to another’ writes about two animations which explore genital cutting in women and questions the practice of female genital mutilation. Both of these animations have featured on this blog, ‘Everything was Life’ and ‘Centrefold’ and were directed by me –  Ellie Land.

A quick search for animated documentary on the animatiomnstudies blog, brings up many relevant posts about the topic and the blog covers many more areas of animation. Well worth exploring:

http://blog.animationstudies.org/?p=716

‘Animated Documentary’ – a book by Annabelle Honess Roe

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The long awaited book on animated documentary by Bella Honess Roe is now available to buy!  We have our copies on order and will post a review in the future.

You can get a copy in the UK from this site http://www.palgrave.com/products/title.aspx?pid=581517 and if you visit Bella’s blog you can get a code for a 50% discount!

http://bellahonessroe.wordpress.com/

Review of ‘Tanko Bole Chhe’ – The Stitch Speaks by Nina Sabnani

download

I saw this beautifully crafted film at the Animated Realities conference in Edinburgh in 2011. The film animates a traditional sewing and textiles technique developed by the Kutch community, who are from a coastal region in Ahmedabad, India and has for a long time inspired fashion and textiles all over the world.

Here is a link to a review of the film following the latest in a long line of awards the film has received  We will keep an out out for an online release of the film and if anyone knows where we can link to the film online, please do get in touch.

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-05-10/ahmedabad/39168012_1_sundance-film-festival-world-heritage-week-heritage-textiles

Review of ‘The Congress’ trailer – a new film by Ari Folman, from Screenrant

Well, I was very pleased this morning to find this review, and eager to watch the brand new trailer for the latest animated feature from the director of award winning animated documentary – Waltz with Bashir – Ari Folman.

However the trailer has already been removed for copyright reasons! So if anyone out there knows of a link to the trailer still online, please do let us know. Otherwise we will re-blog when the trailer is re – released!

In the meantime here is a short review to whet your appetite:

http://screenrant.com/the-congress-trailer-2013-movie/

‘Blogging the animated documentary’ – article on Society for Animation Studies blog

SAS article 29apr13

An article about this very blog, which I was invited to write for the the Society for Animation Studies blog. Blogging about blogging!

Well in this case it’s reviewing films we’ve looked at on the blog so far, in order to assess the animadoc landscape; as something of a follow-up to other articles on the site’s current theme of animated documentary.

If you haven’t checked them out already have a look at:

Bella Honess Roe on Animated Memories

Sheila Sofian on The Camera and “Structuring Reality”

Who said that? The dispensability of original sound in animated documentary, by Samantha Moore

Paul Ward’s “To document differently”: random thoughts on a taxonomy of animated documentary.

And do leave comments – there are some fascinating points and debates to be had…

Interview with Jeff Simpson, co-director of ‘A Liar’s Autobiography: The untrue story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman’

liars-autobiography-chapman

Here is our first interview with a film maker in what we hope to be a regular feature on our blog.

Jeff Simpson, one of the three co-directors of A Liar’s Autobiography, talks about the experience of making the animated feature based on Graham Chapman’s life.

I asked Jeff to explain the genesis of the project. He sprang into a well rehearsed monologue, recounting professional encounters with the Pythons in which he had dropped in the idea of making a documentary about Graham Chapman, the only deceased member. With the help of David Sherlock, Graham’s long-term partner, Jeff tracked down the voice recordings Chapman did of his autobiography.

Jeff talked about his formal training as a BBC Arts documentary maker, so unsurprisingly his first instinct was to approach the great British Broadcasting Corporation for a talking heads documentary.  To quote Jeff “In their wisdom they turned it down; they didn’t feel Graham Chapman was interesting enough”. He made it clear he was not bitter, the tone of light sarcasm bubbling underneath, and proceeded to spell out the surname of the BBC executive who rejected the project.

The other two co-directors, Bill Jones and Ben Timlett, seemed to come into play soon after this point. Similarly to Jeff, they had been working with the Pythons recently on a big budget documentary series for U.S. television. Bill (who is the son of Terry Jones) was crucial in gaining them access again to the other Pythons. However Jeff was repetitious in his emphasis that this was a Graham Chapman film, not a Monty Python feature.

Saying that, inspired by Terry Gilliam’s cut-out paper interludes, Bill & Ben had explored animation as a structural device in their documentaries, while Jeff had done the equivalent for his pitch to the BBC. Jeff described a eureka moment which happened after the three of them partnered up. This was where they realized the autobiography was more or less divided into a series of scenes with dialogue.  “We realised we could take out Graham’s voice from the other characters and replace them with other members of Monty Python… so effectively you’ve got a new scene. As soon as you say we can get Terry Jones to play the mum, Michael Palin to play the dad then you’ve got it.” As the project developed into an animated feature, the other Pythons were keen to come on board as they all had great respect for Graham as a writer. Palin in particularly used a passage from A Liar’s Autobiography to describe their first visit to America in his one-man show.

In reference to working as one of three directors, Jeff explained, “When I signed up for this I thought it would be a disaster”. As it turns out now Jeff recommends it as a formula; “With two [directors] I can see it would be difficult. There’s no way of brokering a disagreement… It happened on Holy Grail, the plan was that Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones would co direct it but they ended up fighting.  One Terry would shoot something in the morning and then the other Terry in the afternoon would re-shoot it differently… With three there’s always a majority vote.” Jeff used to tell his editors at the BBC “ I probably come up with ten new ideas every day, but only two of them are any good and your job is to tell me which two are the good ones.”

The animation was a technically daunting process. Not only had they recruited over a dozen different animation studios but also they took on stereoscopic cinema or 3D with none of the crew having much experience. Luckily for Jeff, Bill and Ben they had Justin Weyers, the animation producer. Jeff humbly proclaimed at the cast and crew screening “…people wonder what the directors actually do on a film. We tell Justin what we want and he makes it happen.” Justin was not only the go between, animation wrangler, director of animation and technical guy, he was also one of the animators, directing the Biggles scene in the fighter plane. Jeff explained it was the directors’ role to concentrate on script and story while also keeping the over view, making sure what was essentially a set of shorts works as a feature film.

Later he went into detail about the process of gaining funding. Crucially Ben Timlett managed to negotiate a final cut with Epix, a US broadcaster who footed half the bill. Initially another channel had rejected the script because it was a bit raunchy while Epix picked up the project for the reason the other studio discarded it.

When I asked how he saw this film fitting into the wider context of animated documentary Jeff retorts “We do see our film as something completely different. It’s interesting that you think of it as a documentary. Because we actually see it as fictionalised. It claims to be fictionalised. So how could it be a documentary?  In fact it was put up for an award as a documentary and we asked for it to be withdrawn from the category as we didn’t want it to be seen [that way].”

“Ben calls it a new genre; a fabricated animated bio-pic. We always liked the idea that Graham is teasing you with what’s true and what’s not true. As it happens when you dig into it you find that a lot of it is true, apart form his abduction by space aliens.”

A Liar’s Autobiography, which is now available in store on Blue ray and DVD, will be reviewed in a forthcoming Animated Documentary post.