‘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’.

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.

‘Heirlooms’ by Susan Danta and Wendy Chandler

Heirlooms from Wendy Chandler on Vimeo

Recently screened as part of the animadoc programme at the Tricky Women festival, Vienna, here’s a compilation of short episodes from a series made for Australian broadcaster SBS.

In each episode a possession passed down the generations recalls memories and family histories, often of migration and war.

‘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

Crowd funding ‘The Last 40 Miles’, a film by Alex Hannaford

Although not claiming to be an animated documentary The Last 40 Miles, ‘a short animated film about life, death and compassion’, is based on a true story. The mixed media animation refers to the real life narrative of a death row inmate whom Alex Hannaford, writer and director, came across while working as a journalist covering the Texas prison system.

Not yet completed, the filmmakers have chosen to use crowd funding to raise the rest of the capital they need to pay the production costs. Crowd funding has become an integral resource for contemporary independent filmmaking. Although not a new phenomenon, the advent of social media and specially designed sights has lead to greater numbers of productions choosing this root.

Often such campaigns offer rewards in exchange for donations, the highest levels of philanthropy resulting in a credit as executive producer. Follow the link below to see how the team have used a short video to pitch to potential donators. Indiegogo, the fundraising platform also allows us to observe their progress.

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-last-40-miles?c=home

‘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/

‘February’ from 365 Days by the Brothers McLeod

365 – February from The Brothers McLeod on Vimeo.

Might be pushing it a bit here, but the makers describe their project to make 1 second of animation a day, every day of 2013, thus:

‘Some of the days are things that happened, others are things that have been fired off in our imaginations, and some are inspired by other people – particularly music or sounds given to us by our collaborators’.

So on the basis that some of what you see here is autobiography, of a sort, enjoy!

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

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We have featured the work of Em Cooper before, this time she has partnered with Artist Anna Cadey, in this documentary which features live action and animation.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/video/2012/sep/26/sierra-leone-women-refuse-whistling-quota-video