Iki – See you soon (Iki – Bis bald) by Florian Maubach

Florian Maubach documents his bicycle journey from Kassel, Germany, to the coast of Lithuania. In one minute twenty Maubach convinces us of his reverence for landscape, passion for adventure and artistic dynamism.

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The viewer adopts a satellite perspective while the surroundings immediately visible to the cyclist distort into a miniature globe. This frenetically changing sphere helps communicate the joy associated with propelling ones self across great distances.

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Further definition is added to his activities and various modes of transport through clear and simple sound design, avoiding the use of a narrator. For instance, his passage through the town of Palanga is punctuated by both the name appearing briefly across the skyline and a ringing of his bell. The visual emphasis placed on the movement of the sun and the moon helps abbreviate the passage of time in this very short film.

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In the final moments Maubach breaches the realism of his constructed universe by having the character jump up from the sea, cling on to the sun, plunging the world into darkness. It might be fair for one to assume this is a playful metaphor gesturing the traveller’s triumph over nature.  While this decision reduces the film’s authority as a descriptive document, its location at the very end minimises such an effect. As credits are bound to break all cinematic illusions, this filmmaker seems to have recognised an opportunity for conceptual freedom in the seconds beforehand.

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The 2012 student film, made at Kunsthochschule in Kassel, has screened at 14 festivals across Germany and the rest of Europe. I found the cheerful simplicity of concept and execution in this film resonant and refreshing.

‘Irish Folk Furniture’ by Tony Donoghue

Irish Folk Furniture [clip] (2012) from Alan Eddie on Vimeo.

https://vimeo.com/59224188

We must have been busy with all sorts of of other things here at the blog (we have! – more soon) as it’s taken us a few months to catch up with this short which won the Short Film Jury Prize for Animation at Sundance this spring.

It has screened at many festivals, including Sheffield Doc/Fest this June, who described it thus:
“A strikingly beautiful stop motion animation exploring a local craftsman’s restoration of rural furniture in a small Irish community. Experimenting with the vivid expression of folklore storytelling, artifacts of bygone days are transformed from decaying neglect and brought to life, with playful vivacity.”

An interview with director Tony here:
http://irishamerica.com/2013/03/irish-folk-furniture-an-interview-with-tony-donoghue/

And various news reports here:

And here:
http://www.thejournal.ie/sundance-irish-folk-furniture-763455-Jan2013/

The film was funded by the Irish Film Board’s Frameworks scheme:
http://www.irishfilmboard.ie/funding_programmes/Frameworks/65

‘The Whale Story’ by Tess Martin

This is a story constructed from second-hand accounts of a phenomenal occurrence where a trapped whale seemed to express gratitude to its rescuers. The true account is condensed into the narrative of a single fisherman’s efforts to free the entangled creature.

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Scenes are painted and repainted on a wall in Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park. Most noticeably this technique restricts motion; carefully composed images are constructed and then adjusted. A second feature is the presence of residual marks, also noticeable in the works of animators such as William Kentridge and Blu.

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This is where an image is adjusted rather than replaced and attempts are made to mask previous drawing, although this is never fully erased. As a result the filmmaker must embrace, accept or incorporate the traces left behind. Particularly interesting marks are created when water is used, presumably to wash away previous layers of paint, resulting in a dilution and dribbling effect,suggesting an underwater environment.

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The film is filled with broken illusions; a pixillated actor gestures swimming while mounted on top of a stepladder. Our disbelief is suspended by a mere thread, but half of the charm of this film is the inclusion of such mechanisms. Unlike some more technically complex animations, here we are provided with evidence as to how the scenes were constructed. For example, we are made aware of the filmmaker’s surroundings where the grass and the unpainted wall are visible at the edge of the frame.

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Tess Martin draws attention to the frame presumably because she felt process was as important as narrative. This is further indicated by the choice to include a link to a making-of time lapse film.

Some of the Vimeo user comments below the film refer to the sound as distracting. Personally I enjoyed the disrupted patterns of speech. This is an interesting device for editing down what must have been a much longer account. The film was based on the Radiolab Podcast ‘Animal Minds’. It was a public art project commissioned by Sound Transit’s STart program in association with Seattle Experimental Animation Team.

‘Allergy To Originality’: A New York Times Op-Doc by Drew Christie

Drew Christie’s animation explores notions of originality through the vehicle of an uncannily informative conversation between a cinema box office attendant and an inquisitive patron.

The animated sequence was commissioned by The New York Times’ Op-Doc forum, an online sub-section of the editorial department. This initiative hosts ‘short, opinionated documentaries, produced with wide creative latitude and a range of artistic styles, covering current affairs, contemporary life and historical subjects.’

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The pencil drawn short takes it’s visual cues from a rich assortment of internet imagery. These drawings are adjacent references which snap to the dialogue in such a quick succession that the viewing experience reaches the fringes of an information overload. The scrappy mark making and looseness of the mimetic drawings act as a buffer, slowing our recognition of what is depicted, further inhibiting the intake of information.  Such a process challenges the viewer to identify the visual references and establish their connection to the densely informative dialogue. Although I was not able to spot all the connections I found this an engaging and rewarding viewing experience.

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The documentary element in this animation can be justified by the casual introduction the film makes to complex ideas such as poststructuralist philosophy. Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes were among the first to articulate the illusion of originality in the arts.  In their respective essays, ‘What is an Author?’ and ‘The Death of the Author’, they proposed originality was scarcely achieved, if ever, while suggesting that creative endeavors, such as writing, are simply the amalgamation of an incalculable collection of conscious and unconscious influences. By referencing Wikipedia content this film exquisitely crafts sweeping summaries of such notions while tying them irrefutably to contemporary popular culture, specifically Hollywood cinema.

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The comedic value in this short animation is found in the juxtaposition of encyclopedic rhetoric in the context of every day conversation. Further tension is crafted as an element of one-up-man ship creeps into the dialogue. However I find this animation’s purest social commentary is found in the implausibly informed box office attendant. This character embodies a contemporary world where anyone is a few clicks away from appearing to be an expert.

‘In Jennifer’s Room’ by Ryan Gabrielson & Carrie Ching

A whistle-blowing story, which lends itself to the animated documentary genre, mostly because of the ethical considerations in protecting peoples’ identity. The following synopsis is taken from the films entry on YouTube:

“In August 2006, caregivers at the Sonoma Developmental Center found dark blue bruises shaped like handprints covering the breasts of a patient named Jennifer. She accused a staff member of molestation, court records show. Jennifer’s injuries appeared to be evidence of sexual abuse, indicating that someone had violently grabbed her.

The Office of Protective Services opened an investigation. But detectives took no action because the case relied heavily on the word of a woman with severe intellectual disabilities. A few months later, court records show, officials at the center had indisputable evidence that a crime had occurred.

‘In Jennifer’s Room’ is part of a reporting package that recently won a George Polk and an IRE award, and was named a finalist in the Pulitzer Prize’s Public Service category.”

Review of ‘Caldera’, by Evan Viera

It is not often one comes across a CGI film with such a consistently rich sense of artistry. With his film ‘Caldera’, Evan Viera and a substantial team of supporting artists demonstrate a brilliant sense of composition, lighting design and mastery of the 3D medium.

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This animated short attempts to represent a series of visual hallucinations that take place during a psychotic episode experienced by the female protagonist. Viera is not interpreting his own experiences, but those of his father, a long-term sufferer of schizoaffective disorder. The title refers to the self-destructive process of collapse when a volcanic crater is formed after a major eruption.

As there is no attempt by the film-maker to claim this to be a documentary it may be unfair to criticise this short on the grounds of accuracy when depicting an unstable mental state. The psychological phenomenon is by its very nature subjective, however the lack of discord present in the character’s demeanour was striking. The protagonist spends most of ‘Caldera’ looking calm and concentrated in the context of the fantastical happenings she experiences. When depicting a gross thought disorder such as this it might be be fair to suggest that the subject would likely be considerably less composed during such events.

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Evan Viera writes that his father has “danced on the rings of Saturn, spoken with angels, and fled from his demons”. The traces of these delusions are quite literally interpreted in ‘Caldera’ yet the feeling is very much second hand in tone. Watching this glistening film gives one the impression of a challenging CGI exercise more than that of a depiction of pathological imbalance.

When viewing this film on Vimeo we are confronted in the blurb by Viera’s statement about his father. The film-maker wants us to be aware of the direct link between the protagonist’s vision and his father’s experiences of mental illness.  For that reason I propose this is a documentary of sorts. Although it is based on second-hand observations, the film makes an effort to interpret a subjective experience that most of us could never fathom. Viera repackages it as a digestible image sequence granting the audience insight into a fascinating and difficult topic.

However, the story telling is carried on the back of the film’s aesthetic. The synopsis, for instance, is minimal. In essence a sad-looking woman decides to not comply with her medication (an enormously contentious point in its own right which is not really addressed), leaves the city and goes for a swim. Within the ensuing visualisations good and evil are represented through the colours blue and red, as well as by an animal sprit guide and a telekinetic daemon. Such simplistic symbols are surprisingly successful as narrative features and indicators of tonal change. The absence of dialogue inhibits our expectation of further explanation leaving the imagery to speak for itself. (Spoiler Alert) A lack of resolution is apparent at the end of the film; the screen fades to white during an unjustified moment of mortality. This sequence is treated with such casual romantic vagueness one can only hope, for the protagonist’s sake, that drowning is an extension of her delusion; if not then we are left with a quizzically cynical finale.

‘Caldera’ left me nourished visually but a little under-fed intellectually. A sumptuous film with an elegant air of visual poetry which sadly was not complimented by the reductive narrative.

Review – ‘30%: women and politics in Sierra Leone’ by Anna Cady and Em Cooper

This animated oil-on-glass and live action documentary is centered on the campaign in Sierra Leone to get a 30% quota of women in parliament. Titles in the film explain that women took a key role in negotiating the peace process at the end of an 11 year civil war, however since then female politicians have had to deal with intimidation and misogyny as they navigate the political sidelines.

Animated Documentary reported on ‘30%’ in the early stages of production back in February 2012 and again once the film was finished and publicised by The Guardian in January 2013. And we liked it so much we felt it was worth reviewing too.

The animated sequences possess a luscious mixture of figurative and abstract imagery found most commonly in impressionism. Paint swims across the screen, smudging and slipping its sensual gloopy material around our vision with all the vibrancy of the region it refers to.

The metamorphic nature of the animated medium lends itself to turbulent tonal changes that take place in the opening sequence. The viewer zips though a busy Sierra Leone street into a viscous black void where we pass burning cars, violent gestures and feel the echoes of civil war. These melting edits are brought to great effect when combined with snappy sound design.

Following visual and audio darkness the screen literally swirls into the shape of Dr. Bernadette Lahai, one of the key political figures pushing forward the 30% quota bill. The rotoscoped image dissolves into live action. My feeling is that several of the video sequences possess considerably less flair than their animated counterparts. Such an uneven aesthetic could be said to threaten the impact of the short; but here it might be worth considering how disorientating an entirely rotoscoped 10 minute short could have been. Instead animation is reserved for storytelling and live action covers the communication of important details.

This film is fruitful both in its visuals and content. As a documentary the short conveys an under-reported theme in an engaging manor, while the animated sections are sumptuous in their appeal. At Animated Documentary we are always pleased to see such formal beauty and journalistic professionalism combined harmoniously!

‘Nyosha’ by Liran Kapel and Yael Dekel

Nyosha is the story of a young Jewish girl who becomes fixated on a pair of shoes as the source of her salvation while her life is ripped apart by the Holocaust. Based on the diary and video recordings of Nomi Kapel, one of the young filmmaker’s grandmother, director Liran Kapel and Yael Dekel have employed both stop-motion and traditional 2D animation to render this harrowing tale.

A certain uncanny charm keeps the viewer afloat in the rippling currents of such a dejected context. Despite the truly terrible nature of the historic narrative, naïve optimism is provided by the child’s perspective. The medium also engages us with a toy like simulacra; for better or for worse this buffer dampens the emotional response to the distressing subject matter.

This towering project is impressive but by no means is it flawless. At times the stop-motion is a tad jerky, the models still have their flash lines and the illusion of scale is not fully realised. That said these are the imperfections that come hand in hand with such a challenging medium: an Aardman production, for example, would be missing a great deal if all thumbprints were removed. Set design on Nyosha is impressive and at times the lighting is too. Particular attention has been paid to attempting tricky post-production effects, like the beams of light that cut through the forest. Despite not always being entirely convincing, the over all atmosphere these create is invaluable.

You can watch a making-of film here:

Nyosha – Behind The Scenes! from liran kapel on Vimeo.

‘The Power of Outrospection’ by Roman Krznaric and RSA Animated

Roman Krznaric believes that developing empathy into a more highly regarded value could be the most promising approach to solving many of the world’s problems, whether they are related to climate change, violent conflicts or inequality. Krznaric’s idea of empathy as a catalyst of social change is a powerful contemporary mantra. Both practical and easily envisaged, the concept of encouraging understanding by seeing through the eyes of your counterparts has the potential to stimulate a minor revolution.

Krznaric – Britain’s leading lifestyle philosopher, as described by the Observer – is the voice of the latest in the RSA Animate series of short films: ‘illustrated’ talks selected from the free public events programme the UK charity runs ‘which seeks to introduce new and challenging thinking’.

In this episode as in others in the series, our eyes are guided across a growing mass of illustrations which concisely depict a fast stream of ideas. At times the barrage of uniformed visual and verbal information can feel tautological. At other points, one suspects, if the visual aids were missing it could be difficult to keep up with the deceptively fast current of fascinating ideas.

The animation is unconventionally diagrammatic; it lacks motion, a linear narrative or central characters. The pen wielding hand rhythmically jitters across the screen as if filling a lecture room wipe board in double time. The arm is surprisingly un-distracting, keeping our attention in time with the allegro pace of ideas. The pen directs our eyes in rhythm with the narration like a conductor’s baton.

Roman Krznaric’s Empathy project can be followed on his blog Outrospection.

More info and other RSA Animate films can be found here: 
http://www.thersa.org/events/rsaanimate

And downloaded here: http://vimeo.com/thersa

‘Are You My Mother’ by Alison Bechdel

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In this reflective, self-referential lesson in psychoanalysis, Bechdel sketches out every inch of her conscious and subconscious. She includes immaculately drawn extracts from Winnicot, Freud and Virginia Woolf, cross referencing and applying them to some complicated relationships with the women in her life.  It is impossible not to relate to this brutally honest memoir. It is even more impossible not to devour it in one sitting.

If you’re a graphic novel novice like I was, reading this will have you forever veering towards the comics section of your bookshop.
There are freshly signed copies at Gosh Comics, Soho, London.

See all things Alison Bechdel at http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/