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.

‘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.

tea_and_consent_01b

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.

tea_and_consent_02b

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.

tea_and_consent_03b

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.

‘Animated Documentary’ – a book by Annabelle Honess Roe

photo (8)

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/

‘Feeling My Way’ by Jonathan Hodgson

Annabelle Honess Roe recently released the cover image of her new book, ‘Animated Documentary’ (published by Palgrave), on her ‘Animating Documentary’ blog. The image features a still from the film ‘Feeling My Way’ by Jonathan Hodgson. Honness Roe indicates the personal significance of this film when she writes that it ‘…first got me thinking about how animation can function in documentary.’

Commissioned by Channel 4’s Animate Projects and Arts Council England in 1997, the director, Jonathan Hodgson, combines live action point-of-view shots filmed in 35mm and Digibeta, overlaid with hand painted and drawn animation.

fmy2

Hodgson has been able to observe and deconstruct the thought processes which occur passively when one is engaging with one’s surroundings. This is a phenomenon which takes place when no deliberate attempt is made to think clearly about a particular topic. Personally, I am impressed by the lucidity and universal sense of subjectivity this film evokes. Simina Pitur comments on the film’s Vimeo page ‘At last, I have found a piece of art that accurately translates what I feel 24/7.’

fmy3

Rather than beginning by storyboarding, I wonder whether Hodgson first filmed his journey then tried to deconstruct why his eye was drawn in a certain way, or for what reason he was not actively observing anything. I am fascinated by how he was able to capture what is often an abstract cognitive experience in a believable sequence.

fmy4

While I often expect I am viewing my surroundings with the crisp objectivity of a video image in fact it is more likely my attention is shifting between weighted content, be it appealing or repulsive. I sometimes observe in hindsight that while on auto-pilot my mind had been taken completely from my surroundings. This film tangibly depicts subjectivity with rare effectiveness. Such a feeling of recognition of one’s self in another person’s work is more commonly restricted to less subtle field of observational stand-up comedy!

fmy5

‘Feeling My Way’ is strangely reminiscent of a scene in James Cameron’s ‘The Terminator’.  In an introductory scene the audience is granted the point of view of the murderous robot in which a combination of audio-visual information is processed by recognition software and cross-referenced with a database. These relatively crude visualisations help the artificially intelligent machine to navigate and decode its surroundings. Google have recently produced ‘Glass’ a voice-command operated headset with a transparent eyeglass frame-mounted screen. This allows you to observe the world augmented by smart device abilities such as satellite navigation and Google search. As this sort of technology develops and becomes more prevalent our technological experiences might become tangibly close to some of the scenes depicted in ‘Feeling My Way’.

‘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…

‘Animated Interjections: The use of animation in documentary’ talk by Bella Honess Roe

Up coming talk by academic and fellow blogger Bella Honess Roe – one not to miss!

‘Animated Interjections: The use of animation in documentary’
Monday 28th January
AUB campus
Room F102
4.30pm

In her forthcoming book Animated Documentary (Palgrave, 2013), Bella Honess Roe examines the convergence of animation and documentary and how animation functions as a representational strategy in nonfiction film and television. In this talk she will discuss the use of brief animated sections in otherwise live-action documentary, addressing the purpose of such animated interjections.

Bella Honess Roe gained her PhD in Critical Studies from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts in 2009. Her PhD thesis, entitled Animating Documentary, is on the epistemological and phenomenological implications of the convergence of animation and documentary. She also holds an MA in Critical Studies from USC and a BA in Philosophy from the University of Cambridge. Between her BA and MA Bella spent six years working in the film industry in Los Angeles and London, including roles in the development departments at Lakeshore Entertainment (Los Angeles), MGM (Los Angeles), and Granada Film (London). Subsequently, she tutored writers and script editors on screenwriting workshops in Italy, Australia and
New Zealand. More recently, she worked with the non-profit London- based DocHouse, an organisation devoted to the promotion and exhibition of independent UK and international documentary film.

If you wish to attend, please email me on pward@aucb.ac.uk – this is
so I can keep an eye on numbers and also direct you to the right
place!

Animated Awareness: a review of ‘Centrefold’

Here’s a review of the launch of ‘Centrefold’, Ellie’s new film, which was premiered last week at the Wellcome Trust in London. Friend of the blog Bella Honess Roe was there and here are her thoughts.

You will be able to watch the film on the Centrefold site from Friday. Watch this space and we’ll keep you posted…

Animating Documentary

Last week I went to the launch of Centrefold, at the Wellcome Trust in London.  The film, directed by Ellie Land (one half of the team behind this great animated docs blog), is about female genital cosmetic surgery and aims to provide a non-judgemental look at labia surgery and ‘encourage informed discussion’ on the topic.  It certainly provoked debate at the Q&A session after the screening last week, with a panel made up of Dr Phil Hammond, the director, consultant gynaecologist Sarah Creighton, consultant clinical psychologist Lih-Mei Liao, artist Jamie McCartney and psychoanalyst Susie Orbach.  In particular, things got heated around whether the film was balanced and the reasons that motivate women to have this surgery.

I was interested in the points made by Jamie about using animation, and art in general, to tackle tricky subjects and Ellie’s comments that animation helps you get closer to…

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