‘Private Parts’ by Anna Ginsburg (NSFW)

Anna Ginsburg’s snappy animated documentary, Private Parts, sidesteps social taboo by presenting frank and funny discussions about sex, with particular focus placed on the female anatomy.   

 Commissioned by Channel 4’s Random Acts, in partnership with It’s Nice That, Anna Ginsburg felt compelled to address the lack of attention given to carnal gratification when female sexuality is depicted in our society: “Conversations I’ve had with close female and male friends over the last decade have shed light on the continuing struggle that women have to engage with and love their own bodies, and to access the sexual pleasure they are capable of… I’ve been exposed to ‘dick drawings’ since primary school but have rarely, if ever, seen a vagina visualised other than in a clinical medical context. So I thought that talking to men and women about vaginas, masturbation and pubic hair – and then animating them as talking genitals – would be a good place to start in my crusade to open up these issues of sexual inequality and get the conversation started.”

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The ‘nuts and bolts’ of sex is a difficult matter to discuss both directly with an intimate partner but also between friends. In many respects the leap between the noticeably non-verbal language of sex and frank discussion is vast. This void is often first bridged by state sanctioned sexual education, however the increasing reach of internet pornography means that children as young as 8 are first learning about sex through media largely tailored to the male gaze.

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While it is not Anna’s explicit intention to make a sexual education film, she is clear about her interest in promoting open discussion: “Communication is the key to improving sexual confidence and sexual relationships… This documentary does not give any answers it just presents the sexual struggles, insecurities and successes of a range of people.”

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Ginsburg is working in the tradition of Creature Comforts, Aardman’s first Oscar winning short featuring non actors in vox-pop style interviews. Each subject was represented as a personified animal. Crucial to the success of this claymation documentary was the enormous attention paid to the characters facial expressions and gesticulation.  

 Directing 14 animators, Ginsburg places special focus on the design of each personified genitalia,: “Details like the foreskin, pubic hair and labia are used to give each penis and vagina a specific character, reflecting the specific human voice it embodies.” 

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Anna interviewed 22 participants for the film: “Usually it was just a case of talking to the person and giving them enough time to relax and adjust to the fact they were being recorded…I found interviewing people in small groups worked well as people would be encouraged by each others’ honesty and often get over-excited and hysterical which led to entertaining interactions.”

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Anna was compelled to address these issues as an interview based animated documentary.  Such a methodology allowed for authentic voices to be brought into the limelight without pushing the participants into a public forum. This anonymity minimised their feelings of embarrassment and inhibition. 

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Ginsburg added that this process also puts the audience at ease: “Drawings are abstract enough to bring the feeling of universality to an individual voice… The use of animated characters in place of photographic footage works as a protective barrier which can quash ingrained prejudice and allow empathy to flow unobstructed. It is way easier to pass judgement on a person based on a photograph than based on a drawing – even if it is a drawing of a giggling vagina.” 

Reference:

Source of interview itsnicethat.com/features/anna-ginsberg-private-parts-channel-4-random-acts-170516

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‘Jeffery and the Dinosaurs’ by Christoph Steger

Christoph Steger directs a mixed-media, live-action and animated documentary centred on the cinematic aspirations of Jeffery H. Marzi, an outsider science fiction screenwriter. Steger and Meghana Bisineer adopt the visual language of Marzi’s illustrations, bringing a selection of his fantasy scenes to life. The animated sequences are interwoven with an observational documentary style that dominates the film.

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Jeffery was born with brain damage. Although he exceeded doctors predictions concerning his learning ability, the 42 year old recognises his limitations and harbours anxiety about ending up homeless. Despite his preference for reliable work, as a mailman or mechanic, consistent rejection in the job market has led Jeffery to write and illustrate concepts for Hollywood blockbusters.  For the past 15 years these have been photocopied and mailed to movie producers all around the world.

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Channel 4’s Animate Projects scheme funded this documentary in 2008. Christopher Steger offered his insight in a video interview which is hosted on their website.  “In lack of a better term…” Steger places Jeffery’s practice in the field of Outsider Art. Paraphrasing the sentiments of Jean Dubuffet and Rodger Cardinal, Steger describes the raw authenticity of emotion in Jeffery’s work, which is lacking in the self-aware, contextualised practices of trained artists.

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Steger continues: “I like life, and animation is almost the opposite, it’s all about fantasy. So I felt a relief to be able to have Jeffery take care of all that. He does all the imaginary work of the visuals and it’s down to me to bring them to life…. The real film for me and the artistic challenge is in the structure of the poetry, and trying to bring out those poetic moments of a story like Jeffery’s.”

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Steger’s film ‘Mother’ was featured on the blog in January 2013. He as recently made much of his work available on Vimeo.

‘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.

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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.’

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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.

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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!

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‘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’.

‘Camouflage’ by Jonathan Hodgson

This animated documentary, directed by Jonathan Hodgson, opens with the statement, ‘Most people’s mums are mad. Mine’s got schizophrenia’. This text crafts the perspective of a child by adopting adolescent rhetoric. The tone of such a statement is carried through an extraordinary series of parallel narratives in which adults recount their experiences in childhood dealing with parents suffering from paranoid delusions. A varied set of richly textured and naïve illustrative styles assist the visualisation of a number of accounts where children doubt the natural authority granted to a parent.

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A particularly fascinating aspect of the subject matter is revealed when the interviewees recall their beliefs that a parents delusions may have been real. When we are developing it is very easy to take anything a guardian tells us literally. It must be a slow process of realisation for a child to learn not to trust their first teacher in this world. A kid would start to decipher for themselves that their parent’s fantastical notions may be being generated by the distortions of mental illness; splitting reality into tangled delusions which are disengaged from rational analysis, but rather supported by a complex web of symbolic meaning and tenuous evidence.  One would hope that such a disruption to natural authority does not have a long lasting affect on an individual’s development.

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Siri Mechior and Tim Webb’s contribution to the animated portion of the film is invaluable. Something engaging is sparked when distinctively two-dimensional drawings skid into three-dimensions. Lines shift, scattering our understanding of space as the viewpoint rotates around the modernist imagery, causing the destruction of the flat plane. Occasionally these moving pictures are digitally encrusted to great effect in undulating binary distortions. At other points one can feel the materiality of physical mark making, the rippling paper jostles to create surface boil. In addition Hodgson’s sound design is gripping. The disembodied eyes that swing to the sound of creaking wood conjures surrealist notions of juxtaposition.

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The live action scenes do not maintain the standard of excellence I attribute to the animated sequences. Certainly the over dubbing of the actors voices was a formal choice, one designed to unnerve and disrupt the default expectation of an audience. However such disharmony is so corrupting that the gathering in the garden scene feels like something out of a continental soap opera.

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As a whole the film is fascinating both visually and in terms of subject. The Arts Council of England and Channel 4 funded this Sherbet film back in 2001. Currently the short has just under a thousand plays on Vimeo. Lets hope it’s audience continues to expand online.

‘Mother of Many’ by Emma Lazenby

Mother of Many from emma lazenby on Vimeo.

A BAFTA-winning short inspired the director’s mother, who worked for many years as a midwife supporting women through pregnancy and childbirth.

Made by Bristol production company Arthur Cox for Channel 4 Television.

https://vimeo.com/29311641