Anna Ginsburg’s ”Living with Depression’ visually interprets the experiences of two people giving their personal accounts of experiencing depression. The 2D hand-drawn animation style is expressive, each frame is detailed and full of life, yet beautifully encompasses the struggle of living with depression.
Ginsberg has a certain quality with all of her films which is very open and honest. ‘Living with Depression’ is no different as she aims to portray the aspects of depression which can’t be easily explained to those who do not experience it. The use of animation gives a visual to the interview narration and brings it to life in an engaging way.
Roger Ross Williams‘ feature film ‘Life, Animated’ is based on the book ‘Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism‘ by Ron Suskind, which tells the story of his son, Owen, and his experience with autism. At the age of three, Owen became non-verbal but Suskind and his wife soon came to understand that Owen would use Disney animated movies as a way to connect and communicate with the world.
The film is comprised of the Suskind family’s home video clips, present-day interviews, and animation. Disney animation is a huge part of Owen Suskind’s life, and the animation in ‘Life, Animated’ has echoes of movies we know such as ‘The Jungle Book’ or ‘The Little Mermaid’. The fluid movements and expressive characters also have an organic, hand-drawn element to them which brings the animation closer to reality. The colourless palette also lends further emphasis to the real-life interviews and recordings which are included in the film, putting Owen and the story he has to tell at front and centre. Allowing Owen to share his own story was William’s main concern, “All too often in films about people with disabilities, the narrative gets taken away from them.”
The trailer gives us a glimpse into this personal and heartfelt film, and the insight it give us into the lives of those like Owen who struggle to understand and connect with the world around them in a conventional way.
Carrie Hawks‘ (they/them) is a gender non-conforming artist, designer, animator and filmmaker based in New York, US. They work with a wide span of media and methods of making such as performance, doll-making, drawing, animation, motion graphic design and multimedia design.
Hawks’ film titled ‘Black Enuf*’ explores expanding Black identity by interweaving personal stories from their great grandmother’s autobiography, interviews with friends and family, and hand-drawn visualisations of their own memories. The 22 minute film offers a mix of media and is experimental in style; it uses hand-drawn elements alongside scanned textures and digital artwork.
Hawks summaries the film as follows : ‘A queer oddball seeks approval from Black peers despite a serious lack of Hip-Hop credentials’ (via).
‘I am interested in the concept of skin and race, and what they imply; the ideas and theories sown into our flesh that change with the arc of time’ – Ng’endo Mukii (via)
Ng’endo Mukii holds a Master of Arts from the Royal College of Art (2012) in London, and a Bachelor of Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design (2006), USA. She is an award-winning filmmaker and is currently Professor of Practice at Tufts University, School of the Museum of Fine Arts. She is a writer on Netflix’s Mama K’s Team 4 series, and is one of 10 directors selected for the upcoming Disney+ and Triggerfish animated anthology, Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire.
Mukii describes ‘Yellow Fever’ as an exploration of the international fashion and beauty industry and it’s racist hierarchy. Her focus is the impact this has on the psyche of African women:
‘I believe skin and the body are often distorted into a topographical division between reality and illusion. The idea of beauty has become globalised, creating homogenous aspirations and distorting people’s self-image across the planet. In my film, I focus on African women’s self-image, through memories and interviews, using mixed media to describe this almost schizophrenic [sic] self-visualisation that I and many others have grown up with.’ (via)
‘Our earliest childhood memories, often episodic, are one of our most intimate experiences’ – Mary Martins (via)
Mary Martins is a London-based animator and filmmaker. She is experimental in her practice, attempting to push boundaries of animated documentary and explore innovative new ways to portray reality. Martins was the 2017 winner of the Procreate Project Mother Art Prize and her films have been screened at multiple festivals around the world.
Commissioned by BFI and BBC4, ‘Childhood Memories’ by Mary Martins is a multi-layered film which utilises stop-motion and 2D digital animation, as well as 16mm colour film footage from 1970s Lagos, Nigeria. This autobiographical short explores childhood memories and cultural backgrounds.
Martin’s reflected upon the starting point for the film, linking it to her earliest child hood memory: “… when I accompanied my mother to Lagos, Nigeria in 1987. I was 4 years old. I was too young to remain in London with my Father and my two older sisters.” (via)
Watch ‘Childhood Memories’ here. (Available only in the UK)
Ana Mouyis is an animator, illustrator, filmmaker and educator based in Louisiana, US. In 2020, animateddocumentary.com’s Alys Scott Hawkins interviewed Ana about her film ‘Cambia Tutto’ which takes the viewer through the small Italian village of Canieza and emphasises how the town has changed over time. ‘Cambia Tutto’ was screened at multiple film festivals in Europe, the US and Brazil, and won Fisheye Film Festival’s 2021 Audience Award for best short documentary, and The Americas Film Festivals 2020 award for best experimental short.
Read Alys’s interview with Ana Mouyis:
How did the film come about?
The film was created as part of a residency opportunity in Canieza, Italy – musician Fox Schwach and I applied as a collaborative. The residency asked for work that connected to the location; a small village in Northern Italy. In our proposal we pitched the idea of creating a short film that would act as a portrait of the town, I would direct the animation and Fox would create a score. When we arrived we were so struck by the scenery of it all and wanted to make a contemplative piece that would highlight the beauty in the details of this small town.
Can you tell us about the motivation for / meaning of the film?
A lot of it had to do with the circumstances – we wanted to make a film about this small village but we had never been there so part of the process was getting there and immersing ourselves in the environment. For this reason we decided to work with replacement animation and hyperlapse as that would require us to explore and spend hours walking around photographing the surrounding area. One thing that became clear to us conceptually as we worked on this piece was that we were interested in building a portrait of this town through small/often-overlooked details. Photography (rather than video footage) allowed us to zero in on all these tiny details. For example, taking hundreds of pictures of different flowers from all over the village, we can put them together into a longer mesmerizing sequence, which would be different than just filming some flowers swaying in the breeze. In a general sense, both Fox and I, in our work, are interested in the sort of life and vibrancy that come from imperfections of hand-made/manual processes. Embracing some of the shaky/jittery processes of this kind of animation appealed to us for this project, so the viewer could get a feel for the human element that went into making it.
One aspect that really helped to inform the shape of the final film was the interview with Wilma Andrighetto, the mother of Paola De Martin, who is one of the residency organizers (and owners of the house we stayed in). Wilma has lived in that town her whole life. Her view on how the town has evolved over the years became a central conceptual element to how we put the film together. It was important to us to have some local perspective to keep it from just being a kind of travelogue
Where will it be screened or distributed?
We initially released it on Vimeo because of the pandemic, especially with how badly it was affecting Italy. With everyone in lockdown we felt it was a good time to put it online and share it freely, rather than only showing it at film festivals or galleries as we had originally planned. It’s been gratifying to share it with our friends and family and broader networks and hear that it’s helped people’s cabin fever in some small way. More recently it has screened at a number of film festivals and online showcases in Europe and the US.
What are you working on next?
This summer I will be returning to Cyprus, where I grew up and will be an artist in residence at Animafest Cyprus animation film festival. During the residency I will work on the production of an experimental documentary animation about the culture of Cyprus. By highlighting the commonalities between the customs and traditions of its divided peoples I hope to foster a greater understanding and empathy between the segregated communities in the North and South of the island. Fox and I will collaborate again on this project with him assisting me with audio recordings and sound design as well as composing an original score.
This animated documentary by students from the Lodz Film School in Poland is a protest film which protests the Polish government’s implementation of a stricter abortion law in October 2020. This film was brought to our attention by Thomas Martinelli, who interviewed two of the students and published an article over at Global Il Manifesto. We wanted to highlight here at animateddocumentary.com in light of the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade in the United States only last month.
#polish_women_resistance is a powerful piece which is made up of a multitude of voices. Many male and female students from Lodz Film School contributed to the 8-minute short film, and you can definitely see the distinct styles through the piece. Despite the variety of animated segments, the film is very cohesive. The black and red colours throughout are bold and striking, and the music by Pim Lekler gives a sense of urgency.
Martinelli’s article goes into further detail about the motivations and impact of the film, and explores how animation can be impactful when used to as a tool in social issues.
Nicola Destefanis‘ 33 second short ‘Quit Smoking’ is a personal project. Having had his final cigarette, Destefanis turned to animation to help distract from the cravings and symptoms that came along with quitting smoking. A loop of animation was made every week for nine weeks to help express how he was feeling. The result is a beautiful short which is expressive and vibrant.
The limited colour palette is bright and contrasting, and each reel is striking. Along with upbeat music, the film gives a sense of hope and triumph, despite the negative symptoms and emotions it conveys.
Watch the full film below, and see more of the behind-the-scenes process here.
Every year, London International Animation Festival shows a programme of global documentaries in a specially dedicated screening. In last year’s festival, the selection included a wide range of films, from personal, autobiographical independent short films, to branded content and museum commissions. Many of these films are now available online, so here is a short overview of the programme.
Save Ralph (Spencer Susser, 2021) is a darkly comic mockumentary following a rabbit who “works” in the cosmetics testing industry. With a star-studded cast of voice actors and very high production values, the film has much to admire technically and creatively, and a message that cuts through the humour to leave the viewer feeling very uncomfortable indeed. The film ends with a message from The Humane Society encouraging action to help ban animal testing.
Timeline (Osbert Parker, 2020) is a poetic film commissioned by The Migration Museum. The film weaves together single frames with diverse imagery. From this visual cacophony, the fluctuating image of a single line emerges. This takes us through an abstracted history of migration, from 1620-2020, and beyond, hinting at a possible future of human migration to space. Patterns develop and evolve, punctuated by interjections of stop-motion and mixed media animation. It’s a dynamic piece that stands repeated viewings, as it is easy to miss details on a first watch.
Heart of the Nation (Tribambuka, 2020) is another film commissioned by the migration museum. This is a more explicit narrative focusing on the contribution that migration has made, and continues to make, on the staffing of the British NHS. It focuses on communicating a clear message informatively, attractively, and persuasively, and achieves its aims in this.
The Train Driver (Zuniel Kim, Christian Wittmoser, 2021) examines the psychological impact on a train driver of the six suicides of strangers that he has been caught up in through his job. Simple blue and yellow tinted sequences develop against a black background, offering an elegant counterpoint to the narrator’s words and allowing the audience to focus on the sensitive story he is telling.
In Nature (Marcel Barelli, 2021) takes us to the other end of the spectrum. Using vivid and varied colours alongside a cartoony aesthetic, this film playfully demonstrates diverse manifestations of homosexuality in nature. The film is funny and well-paced, full of excellent visual gags, and does a great job of educating without ever feeling preachy or lecturing.
In the Shadow of the Pines (Anne Koizumi, 2020) is a meditative piece in which a woman reflects on her memories of her Japanese father, and the shame he felt as a child at his culture, character and his job as a school janitor. In the second part of the film, we hear her father’s voice explaining his actions, and how his behaviour was a response to his own traumatic childhood. Finally, we are told that this conversation never really happened; her father died before they could make sense of the past, and of their relationship, together. The film is affecting. Some of the details in the memories are so raw and real that they cut to the bone, and there is a pervasive sense of melancholy throughout.
Only a Child (Simone Giampaolo, 2020) is a well-executed mixed media animation illustrating a speech made by twelve-year old Severn Cullis-Suzuki at a UN summit. She speaks powerfully on the dangers of climate change, pollution, and mass extinction. At the end of the film, we discover that the words were spoken in 1992, a chilling reminder that the urgent call to action they contained was not heeded, and our environmental crisis has deteriorated in the years that have passed since the speech was made. The film is beautifully animated, with a production process that engaged more than 20 animation directors working on separate sections, and it moves gracefully between styles and techniques.
The Chimney Swift (Frédéric Schuld, 2020) is a brooding film, with a script drawn from accounts of ‘Master’ chimney sweepers, who sent small children up chimneys in the Victorian era and who had themselves been sent up chimneys as children. A sketchy and stylised, artistic design approach combined with a flowing animation style creates an immersive viewing experience, while the savagery of the experiences described are still disturbing to hear almost two centuries after they were written down – partly due to the final frame, which reminds us that child labour practices still continue around the world.
Darwin’s Notebook (Georges Schwizgebel, 2020) delves into Charles Darwin’s notebook from 1833. He was aboard the Beagle as the ship travelled to return three kidnapped indigenous Alakaluf people of Tierra del Fuego to their home country. The film flows beautifully from one image to the next, with a painterly style combined with impressive, cinematic camera moves. The film follows the kidnapped people, from their previous life in their homeland through their violent abduction and attempts to replace their own culture with contemporaneous European ideals. When they are returned to their home they are adorned with the clothes and materials of the ‘civilised’ world, but these are soon abandoned. The film ends with a title card stating that the Alakaluf people were ultimately destroyed by western disease, persecution, and the deprivation of their natural resources.
The Torture Letters (Jocie Juritz/Laurence Ralph, 2020) is a New York Times Op-Doc about racism and police violence in Chicago. The voiceover describes the narrator witnessing two young people being stopped-and-searched, an incident which triggers painful memories of his own. The narrator then discusses his research into wider police violence in the city, and tells the stories of Dominique “Damo” Franklin, who was killed at 23 by police taser, and of Andrew Wilson, who in 1989 filed a civil suit which brought down a police commander who had encouraged a culture of torture in custody. The film ends with a broader reflection on discrimination and violence in the US. The film is dense with information, which means it offers more with each viewing, suggesting avenues for further research. The monochrome visuals, moving between literal illustration, symbolic interpretation, and abstract shapes, lead the viewer through the multiple stories.
All Those Sensations in my Belly (Marko Djeska, 2020) tells the story of a young trans woman, her developing identity through childhood and adolescence, and her struggle to find a loving and lasting relationship. The film progresses through a range of visual and animation styles as the lead character moves through stages of life, from the darkest places, to transcendent moments of self-discovery. The sound design adds a strong layer of emotion to the story, ratcheting up the tension at points and at others creating a deep empathy, without resorting to sentimentality. The result is a moving film portraying a complex, vulnerable, resilient, sympathetic and highly relatable character.
One of the striking things about this programme of shorts is how many of the films have strong social and political messages, often accompanied by explicit calls to action. The social issues presented here span discrimination, identity, racism, abuse, migration, climate, mental health, and animal welfare. The creative approaches taken are as broad as the subjects covered, but every film in the selection points clearly to a desire to tell stories that can help us to move toward a better, fairer, and kinder world.
London International Animation Festival (LIAF) is an annual event taking place in November and December across multiple London venues. Full listings for the 2021 festival can be found on the website.
Did you know that the Anidox Lab was involved in the R&D process for the animated documentary Flee?
Here Michelle Kranot gives us some insights into the process of working on animated documentary ideas in the early stages:
“We salute the team of FLEE for their hard work and conviction. ANIDOX are proud to be engaged in the early development of this project, when director Jonas Poher Rasmussen joined our ANIDOX:LAB. We helped him make his first teaser, and ‘matched’ him with the Animation production studio SunCreature. We also followed the process closely and consulted whenever it was useful.
We hope others feel as inspired by this film and as energized as we do – We believe that more filmmakers, artists, journalists and producers will now consider this unique marriage of animation and documentary – and that audiences become more open and curious.
Applications for ANIDOX:LAB 2022 are open until 20.4.22