‘Seeking Refuge’ series for television by Andy Glynne

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A series of animated shorts illustrating young people’s perspectives of living as refugees and asylum seekers. Part of the BBC Two Learning Zone, this series won a Children’s BAFTA in 2012.

Produced by Mosaic Films in London, UK.
Director: Andy Glynne
Animation Directors: Salvador Maldonado, Karl Hammond, Tom Senior and Jonathan Topf

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00vdxrk

Interview: William Marler on his film “Pep Mask”

Alex Widdowson: Your film, Pep Mask, was released a couple of months ago, can you describe the response you’ve had so far?

William Marler: The film kicked off at a small student-lead screening which was nice, because it allowed me to address the audience directly beforehand, and was an ideal opportunity for my close friends to see it for the first time. The first festival screening it had was at Flatpack Film Festival in April and I had lots of nice comments from various people. Some people focused on the animation itself, looking at the film artistically (such as my use of colour, which is purposefully limited), and others took the story as their main “souvenir”. Both types of response have fortunately been overwhelmingly positive.

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AW: How does it feel coming out so publicly as someone with cystic fibrosis?

WM: For me, Pep Mask isn’t some type of “coming out” moment for me, as most people know I have it, and those who don’t, don’t know because it’s an invisible illness. I’ve never tried to hide my CF and I’ve always been a very open person when it comes to my health. For example in 2015, I ran the London Marathon for the CF Trust, and promoted my doing so as a “CF patient running for CF”. It has been interesting to hear people’s responses who didn’t otherwise know I had it, or who had an incorrect view on certain aspects of it – but overall it’s not designed to be a revelation to people as such.

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AW: Have you heard any feedback from people who suffer from the same condition?

WM: One aspect of CF is that patients can’t mix due to cross-infection, so I don’t personally know many people at all with it. I specifically tweeted it out to a guy who I follow on Twitter so he could share it on, and he really enjoyed it. I’ve had very kind responses from people associated with it however, such as CF parents. I’d say the film is still in its larval stage of promotion at the moment, but my aim is to get as many interested parties seeing it as possible.

 

AW: Do you think the film will contribute to raising awareness of the issue of people living and dealing with cystic fibrosis? Have you had any experience of this yet?

WM: The film is yet to reach its full audience potential, but I have great hopes that it can at least introduce people to the existence of the condition and the routine it entails for some people. However, I had always set out to create a film about my CF in particular; it wasn’t designed to be a charity film, nor about CF in general. I’ve been a bit more relaxed when it comes to those potential aspects of the film, but really, this is just one single case of the condition, and it’s more about how I have personally dealt with it and how my parents kept me well through my childhood.

 

AW: Are you comfortable with the advocate/poster boy role?

WM: Absolutely. As I said, I’ve never had a problem with people knowing I have CF, and I’ve always been very open about it. Specifically though, I’d really like to be an advocate for what exercise, regular, strict treatment, and a focused attitude to the condition can achieve, I want people to know that a CF diagnosis is not the end of a fruitful life, but merely the beginning.

 

AW: Do you feel your film has helped you come to terms with your condition?

WM: I’ve never had any need to come to terms with my CF, that’s something I’ve done naturally as I’ve grown older. However, the film revisits a specific memory I have with my parents, and it’s helped me come to terms with that. It’s a memory I still find upsetting now, but I’ve realised that I should focus not on what I did to upset them in that moment, but what they did by not giving up on me.

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AW: Could you go into a little detail about the influences regarding your visual style and approach to storytelling?

WM: I was inspired to use the white stroke on black style by an animator I met in 2014 called Viviane Vollack. She joined my class at Uni and delivered a presentation in that style, and ever since I found it much more captivating than the standard black stroke on white background. The white really pierces your eyes and stands out more than black in my opinion. The colour and also the animation concept of breathing text in and out came from a drawing I did not long before production of the film began. I liked the link between breathing in and out, and receiving and giving speech. There’s a delivery-and-response aspect to both. The colour was designed to be a real contrast from the rest of the piece, particularly defining important foreground and background elements. For example, the red and white of the Michael Jackson BAD poster helped capture its constant presence on my left wall as I do physio every day. I often watch or listen to MJ during that time.

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AW: Do you consider this film a documentary?

WM: Certainly, I’m documenting both a specific time (the memory I revisit) and also document a general, repeated routine. I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as a documentary in the sense that I am teaching the audience or delivering information, however it fits that genre in that it captures a very important, and real, part of my life.

 

AW: When I was making a film about my own mental health experiences I felt like a bit of a fraud as an artist, as if transcribing events that I’d experienced was not a creative process. Do you relate to that at all?

WM: If anything, I am so much more inclined to enjoy stories with a real human element to them. If a narrative is picked out of thin air then I don’t feel as strong a connection with the artist, whereas if there is something real about the story, even if it’s more visceral, my attention is captured more strongly. Not having to construct a narrative allowed me to focus on how to tell the story, both visually and chronologically.

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AW: Can you compare your experiences of dealing with documentary and fiction in animation?

WM: Actually I wrote a whole dissertation about the blurred boundaries of animated documentary. Focusing on Ryan by Chris Landreth, I explored how both fictional and non-fictional elements can be merged within the genre. As I said, I tend towards non-fiction animation as my favourite, but what I loved so much about Ryan is how fiction, or more accurately, exaggerated elements of real life, can bring a whole new experience to the art form. Everyone reading this now open a new tab and watch that film, because it is absolutely superb.

 

AW: Do you wish to continue as an animated documentary director?

WM: No, or at least not just as an animated documentary director. I’ve never liked the idea of defining myself, even as an animator really. Whenever I think I’ve found my niche, I end up branching into more different areas and interests. For example, I’m currently exploring projects concerning dance film, infographics, documentary, and so on. I just create, a lot of it is animation, but not always.

 

AW: My apologies for asking such a clichéd question for a recent graduate; what have you got planned next?

WM: Not long ago I started my new job at Ember Television in Birmingham as their in-house Motion Graphic Designer which has been really exciting because I’ve had different types of projects to work with and recently allowed myself the opportunity to challenge both my work, and that of the company. I’ve also recently set up a dance film collective with fellow filmmaker Dilek Osman called Figure + Phrase which will hopefully begin operating soon. I’m also planning another project surrounding my CF, which is really exciting, but I’m keeping somewhat under wraps…

‘Oneironauts’ (the Dream Travellers) by Olivia Humphreys

Olivia Humphreys uses archive photography and hand drawn animation to create an evocative film about the memories of loss. A great example of how animated documentary can transcend the boundaries of reality.

More work on Olivia’s website here: http://www.oliviahumphreys.com/

‘The Beast Inside’ by Amy Enser and Drew Christie

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A great short film about a young man’s experience of homelessness and his reflections on the divide between the wealthy and the poor in modern day America. The film ends on an uplifting positive note which leaves you rooting for the protagonist.

Created for the American Refugees Service, were you can see three other animated documentaries – it’s worth a visit.

We found this film via our friends over at Short of the Week.

http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2014/05/23/the-beast-inside/

‘Tea and Consent’ written by Rock-Star-Dinosaur-Pirate-Princess, produced by Blue Seat Studios

Tea and Consent is a public information animation which is used with permission by Thames Valley Police to address and clarify issues of sexual consent as part of the Consent is everything campaign. This simply rendered Flash animation draws a parallel between sexual consent and the intuitive etiquette associated with offering someone a cup of tea.

In essence you can offer someone tea but it’s not acceptable to pressure or force him or her to drink it. The elegant metaphor behind the short film originates from a blog post written by the feminist blogger Emmeline May, a.k.a. Rock-Star-Dinosaur-Pirate-Princess.

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When exploring this work in the context of animated documentary it is important to recognise that this film does not comfortably fit with Annabelle Honess Roe’s 2013 definition of the genre, which follows a few rules:

Firstly, is it animated? Yes.

Secondly, does the animation reflect an imagined world of an auteur or ‘the world’? This is not as clear. The film primarily addresses a hypothetical scenario, which raises an ethical sexual dilemma. This dilemma is explored explicitly through a metaphor. It is also a distillation of the controversial social and political ideologies of the feminist writer, Emmeline May.

However, I don’t believe these points suggest the film is about an imagined world. The issues addressed clearly reflect a very real problem, while the ideology that is represented considers a majority perspective of our Western society and is supported by the legal system. It is also fair to suggest that theoretical or allegorical devices are a key part of the animated documentary language and help shed light on reality rather than an imagined world.

Finally, was it the intention of the filmmakers to create a documentary? I believe not. I would argue that it was the intention of Blue Seat Studios and Emmeline May in making it, and of Thames Valley Police in their use of the film, to change behaviour rather than observe and capture it.

Tea and Consent sits more comfortably amongst the state sponsored animated propaganda of the mid 20th century than contemporary animated documentary discourse: ‘Animation has historically been used as a tool for illustration and clarification in factual films… [It’s advantage over live action] led to an ever greater uptake of the medium by the US government in the Second World War.’ (Honess Roe, 2013)

Nonetheless, animated educational and propaganda films were an essential evolutional stage in the development of contemporary animated documentary and clearly still have a useful role to play.

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While the issue of consent is often received as a grey area topic, Tea and Consent proposes that it is a simple one. The analogy is powerfully robust. This very strong foundation facilitated the exploration of ambiguous and horrifying sexual conduct with incredible clarity and humour. It has not however been disseminated across the Internet with universal praise.

Comments on the film’s Youtube page have now been suspended, but I can testify that I was startled by the sexual aggression and anti-‘political correctness’ sentiments expressed in some of the comments posted previously. Sadly Youtube has a reputation for providing a platform for the vitriol of anonymous misogynists.

The simplistic Flash animation lends itself to easily rendered parodies. The two I’ve seen awkwardly contort the tea/consent analogy either for ‘comedic value’ or as a counter argument. The first version pushes the concept to an absurd extreme, suggesting that it is never safe to drink tea without lawyers present. The second explores an ill-conceived comedic inversion in which a “slut” wants tea in all scenarios. Neither of these spoofs deserves viewer hits so forgive me for not sharing their links.

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My bias is clearly highlighted by the fact that I feel naturally suspicious of the people who are offended by this film. I wonder if those who are most threatened are also individuals who would benefit most from its message. I suspect this argument is a little reductive and extreme.

The Internet is a breeding ground for such conflict after all and I resign myself to this. I neither have the energy or the skill to engage and attempt to change the minds of those I mistrust, unlike the makers of Tea and Consent.

Notes:

Honess Roe, A. (2013) Animated Documentary, London: Palgrave Macmillan. p.5&9

Animation courtesy of Emmeline May at rockstardinosaurpirateprincess.com and Blue Seat Studios. Copyright © 2015 RockStarDinosaurPiratePrincess and Blue Seat Studios. Images are Copyright ©2015 Blue Seat Studios.

‘What is Animation?’ by Martin Pickles

Martin Pickles is the director of an animated interview with Bob Godfrey titled What is Animation? This was one of two films by Pickles that were screened as part of London International Animation Festival’s animated documentary programme. Martin is well known through his role as the organiser of the London Animation Club, a monthly screening event in Fitzrovia.

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In What is Animation? Pickles animates a snippet of wisdom from Bob Godfrey (1921 – 2013), the British animation hero responsible for creating Roobarb and Henry’s Cat.

When thinking of this film in the context of animated documentary, I was struck by how relevant Godfrey’s words are to one of the larger tensions within the genre: how does a filmmaker faithfully document their subject matter without simply replicating it? Godfrey encourages animators to be whimsical and to forget the limitations of physics or representation.

The key phrase he uses, one which I have heard many times before, is “…if this thing can be done with a live action camera then for God’s sake do it with a live action camera.”

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While Godfrey wants animators to confront the “absolute freedom” of their medium, animated documentary makers maintain an adjacent balancing act. Our challenge, perhaps, is to find a subject that requires a Godfrey-esque whimsy in order for the story to be documented usefully.

Without wanting to sound pretentious, it’s all very ‘meta’. Not only is this an animation about how animators should animate, this short documentary is also structured around an almost visible feedback loop.

Firstly there is Martin Pickles the director, interviewing his hero Bob Godfrey, who effectively imparts wisdom and instruction to the audience. Then, much deeper in the mechanisms of this film, we can feel Martin tangibly being inspired by Bob’s words and legacy – Martin even credits meeting Godfrey as the stimulus that pushed him to study animation at the Royal College of Art. The next revolution of the feedback loop begins with me, the viewer, inspired enough by Bob’s words and Martin’s film that I chose to write about it. It’s fair to predict that this whole process might inform my own or someone else’s next animation; and so the wheel spins.

Ignoring my theoretical posturing, the true joy of this film can be found in its back-story. Martin Pickles and Bob Godfrey met in Croatia at the Animafest Zagreb festival in 2004. A fan since childhood, Martin sought every opportunity to foster a friendship with Bob. Officially, he found himself in the role of odd-job-man – when they met there was always a light bulb or whatever that needed replacing. Over time, his visits to Godfrey’s ACME studio in Deptford became much more social in nature.

Martin spoke about Bob’s aptitude for story telling and teaching with great affection. One day, as Martin sat opposite his hero, sipping tea, he felt that it didn’t seem right that he was the only one experiencing this. He was struck by the realisation that no one had made the effort to record these pearly nuggets of wisdom. With a real sense of urgency he got his hands an old tape recorder, and with Bob very much enjoying the spotlight, they recorded over two hours of rambling fun from one of the British animation scene’s more charismatic icons.

The two animators started to hatch grand schemes for what to do with the material. Collaboration seemed on the cards until Bob’s health began to suffer. By this point Godfrey was in his late eighties, and with great sadness Martin witnessed his gradual decline. Out of respect the project was put on hold indefinitely. A while after Bob’s passing in 2013, his family and the Bradford Animation Festival released an open call for archival content relating to Bob’s life and work. Following that the rest of the pieces fell into place.

You can read a full transcript of the interview here.