The Weight of Humanity – Encounters Festival Animation Programme 1

The first Encounters Festival animation programme focused on politics, conflict and cultural identity. Amongst the short animations were a number of works of fiction which directly satirise world affairs and political systems. Others made unambiguous references to hot topics like North Korea. In terms of documentary approaches, four films stood out for me:

how_long_to_long

Having completed the AniDox:Lab under Uri and Michelle Kranot’s tutorage, I feel compelled to support the notion that their experimental film, ‘How Long, Too Long’, is a documentary. The animation conveys a loosely structured message of tolerance through appropriated historical footage and symbolic imagery. Each live action scene is manipulated though their highly distinctive paint on paper rotoscoping technique. The scenes are contextualised by the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. whose voice has come to symbolise tolerance. This film developed out of a collaboration with live action director Erik Gandini. His film ‘Cosmopolitanism’ (2015) on Vimeo is a more conventional documentary short which addresses similar subject matter and shares some of the animated scenes.

Click here to watch the ‘How Long, Too Long‘ trailer

While thinking about how to categorise this film I was reminded that Uri had said animators often dismiss his and Michelle’s recent films as not real animation; while the structure and form of their films are lyrical enough for documentarians question their authority as a documentaries. However you might choose to define this short, Michelle and Uri’s contribution to animated documentary as educators is invaluable.

city_of_roses

‘City of Roses’, directed by Andrew Kavanagh, mixes live action and animation to distinguish between recent history in Ireland and 1930’s USA. A young boy discovers an abandoned suitcase filled with letters home, written by an Irish emigrant.

These written documents both form both the basis of the narrative, and litter the aesthetic of the film. While the animated sequences are clearly an earnest attempt to represent historical documents, it is hard to know how literally one should read the live action scenes.

a_terrible_hullabalo

‘A Terrible Hullabaloo’ was commissioned to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the Easter Uprising. In 1916, while the United Kingdom was distracted by war in Europe, Irish republicans rose up in an attempt to end British sovereignty.  This film depicts a first hand account given by a fourteen-year-old patriot who found himself garrisoned in a biscuit factory during one of the most deadly weeks in Irish history.

Director, Ben O’Connor, initially conceived a stop motion animation but the sensitive historical deadline forced his production team to adopt live action puppetry. One of the more distinctive aesthetic choices was to composite human eyes onto the puppets. The uncanny effect some how makes the film both more and less realistic. O’Connor remarked in a Q&A session after the screening, that he considers the film a documentary because he made every attempt to remain faithful to the historic subject matter. Vinny Byrne’s testimony was recorded in 1980 for the documentary ‘Ireland: a television history’. While this is most certainly a documentary, it is fair to argue that this should not be considered an animated film. The vast majority of the footage is not created frame-by-frame or interpolated; instead puppets are filmed moving in real time, as are the digitally imposed eyes.

tough

The final film on the Weight of Humanity programme was ‘Tough’, directed by Jennifer Zheng. This student film, from Kingston University’s Illustration and Animation undergraduate degree, explores the film-maker’s relationship with her mother and her own dual national identity. Zheng adopts a bold colour palette and traditional Chinese imagery while confronting difficult personal and political truths.

In the same Q&A session Jennifer declared her own problematic feelings about categorising this film as a documentary.  She considers her audio interview as authentic documentation, but the animated action was entirely invented and features unrealistic or devised scenes.  I would argue an artist’s interpretation of a conversation is just as valid and perhaps more meaningful than a ‘talking heads’ shot. Zheng, however, prefers the term “docu-fiction”.

Encounters is an international animation and short film festival basted in Bristol, UK. It is running from the 20th to 25th September 2016.

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LIAF 2015 – animated documentary programme review

London International Animation Festival’s Animated Documentary screening returned to the Barbican in London in December 2015, showcasing a diverse selection of animated docs from around the world.

Many films of the selected films did not include any live action elements, and featured voiceovers which were obviously scripted and acted – raising questions about what makes a film a documentary at all. All these films were both presented and received as documentaries, but in many their claim to real world truth rested on trust – there was no ‘evidence’ presented in the film that what we were witnessing was real.

This is an interesting quality of the animated documentary – one which sets it apart from most live action work and which can, when successful, elevate it. This programme of films offered a rich variety of perspectives; not only on the world but on the documentary form itself.

The screening kicked off with Everyone is Waiting for Something to Happen, a mixed-media piece by UK-based animator Emma Calder. Calder’s film used the social media posts of one of her acquaintances to create a portrait of him over the course of a critical time in his life – his cancer diagnosis and treatment. The film offers a light-hearted look at the images we project of ourselves on social media, and the audiences we do not always know we have, who observe these.

Everyone is waiting for something to happen (Official Trailer) from Emma Calder/Pearly Oyster on Vimeo.

The Beast Inside by US filmmaker Drew Christie is a portrait of a homeless young person, determined to live a compassionate, creative and optimistic life in spite of his circumstances. The film is upbeat, with a lively, musical pace, but has moments of deep pathos that make an impact, such as when the protagonist is refused a job at a fast food joint because – he is told – he looks as if he would steal money or scare the customers. The young man’s hurt at the apparent indifference that the general public has towards the fate of those on the street, also provides a moving and memorable perspective.

The Beast Inside from Drew Christie on Vimeo.

Drew Christie’s second film in the programme is Psychedelic Blues, an animated interview with ‘freak folk band’ Holy Modal Rounders which explores their formation and early days. This is a non-stop, acid- and amphetamine-fuelled celebratory rollercoaster of music and absurdity. The characters move fluidly between their old and young selves, caught up in moments that they’d never forget, if only they could remember. The gonzo glory of the memories is tempered by a twinge of sadness, evoked by the fragility in the voice of the ageing, drug-saturated narrator, allowing an openness in terms of how the film can be received.

Psychedelic Blues from Drew Christie on Vimeo.

Baba is a colourful and entertaining short by New Zealand filmmaker Joel Kefali, in which his grandfather describes his experience of arriving in the country as a Turkish immigrant many years before. The film successfully captures the experience and character of an exuberant man, baffled by certain cultural oddities but ultimately filled with humour and joy of life; able to take the world on and adapt to his strange new environment.

BABA from joel kefali on Vimeo.

A Portrait by Greek filmmaker Aristotelis Maragkos is another film about a grandfather, but this one has a very different tone. In this piece, the film-maker’s grandfather is seen from the outside through the memories of his grandson. It is a sensitive portrayal of a complex relationship. The film touches on ugly and violent elements the man’s mysterious past, of which the film-maker only knows fragments – which lead him to fear what potential for darkness may lie inside his own genetic material. This sense of violence is undercut however by the clear love that the narrator has for his grandfather, and the tension between these two perspectives is elegantly brought out in the very short film, making it a moving and memorable work which brought depth to the programme.

Food, by US/China based Siqi Song, is a bizairre and compelling take on the talking heads interview format – in which the talking heads are in fact foodstuffs, discussing their own food choices. A plucked chicken describes its decision to go vegetarian, while a loud-mouthed burger extols the virtues of meat-eating. “I think maybe healthy is overrated” he says, his bun flapping open to reveal a tongue-like slab of meat and cheese as he speaks. The film is comically grotesque and, while the interviews themselves do not tell us anything very new, the delivery certainly makes for compelling viewing which adds a new dimension to the issues discussed.

FOOD from SIQI SONG on Vimeo.

The theme of food was returned to later in the programme with the visceral Canadian production Table D’hote, which combines an attractive illustrative style with repulsive and disturbing imagery, reflecting on the industrial savagery of meat production.

Me and My Moulton is an NFB-supported film by Torill Kove. It tells the story of a young girl growing up in Norway and coming to terms with her unconventional parents and her place in the world. The film takes an unhurried approach to storytelling and paints an engaging picture of this girl’s life and the everyday issues she deals with. It balances humour with nostalgia, conjuring a picture of a childhood world that is, while not untroubled, ultimately safe and filled with love.

Me and My Moulton (Trailer) from National Film Board of Canada on Vimeo.

Ode to Joy by UK-based filmmaker Martin Pickles is a tribute to hugely influential but near-forgotten animator Joy Batchelor, affirming her rightful place in the canon of British Animation.

Ode To Joy (2014) from Martin Pickles on Vimeo.

Elsewhere in the programme another film by Pickles, What is Animation?, is an insightful meditation on the nature of animation wrapped up in a portrait of British Animation legend Bob Godfrey. You can read more about this piece here.

In Last Words by Yuwen Xue, the filmmaker interviews hospice residents at the end of their lives, creating imaginative visual representations to capture these characters, and broadening the scope of the film beyond the individual sounds captured to wider thoughts and feelings. The visuals play experimentally with live action and animation, conjuring a fantastical space between life and somewhere else. Fascinating insights into the artist’s process can be found on Yuwen Xue’s production blog.

Words are again the focus in Arlene, by UK filmmaker Farouq Suleiman. This film is a portrait of a woman who suffers from Aphasia, a brain condition affecting language. Her difficulty with words is expressed with strong visuals including the memorable image of letters of the alphabet falling from a tree like autumn leaves.

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Still from Arlene

Hora, by Israeli filmmaker Yoav Brill, is a longer piece exploring same-sex love in Tel Aviv through reflections on public hand-holding. Interviewees discuss the practice of hand-holding, what it means to them and how the meaning changes when it is observed. There are some truthful and tender insights here, delivered with slick and engaging visuals; making for a film that carries you through smiling.

Still Born, by Swedish filmmaker Asa Sandzen, was the most hard-hitting film in the programme, in which a pregnant woman describes the experience of discovering that her 18-week old foetus has serious heart defect, and making the devastating decision to end the pregnancy. The film does not shelter from the painful process of this, taking the audience through the whole physical and emotional journey of late abortion and delivery. The film is made to feel very real by the small but affecting details that are recalled about the medicalised termination process and the disturbed thought process that takes place in parallel. Ultimately this is a raw and truthful film about the pain of loss, that is as disarming as it is memorable.

DRAWING FROM MEMORY – ANIMATED OBSERVATIONS screening at Open City Documentary Festival, London, June 2015

OPen City Docs LSFF Drawing from Memory
Darn it, news of this event in June passed us by – but what a line up of fascinating nuggets it is, programmed by London Short Film Festival and Animate Projects

And all films are available to watch online, which makes this a screen-at-home programme you can enjoy yourself!

Films can be found in the Animate Collection here:
animateprojects.org/films
apart from Ellie Land‘s Centrefold which you can watch here:
vimeo.com/46035152

http://opencitylondon.com/workshops/london-short-film-festival-drawing-memory-animated-observations

Perfect for a rainy Sunday…

‘Anima meets Doc: Expanded’ event at DOK Leipzig

This looks like a fascinating event at DOK Leipzig this October!

If any of our readers are going, we would love to hear from you. Event details are below:

Dear documentary and animation film lovers and makers,

we ‘d like to invite you to another great DOK Industry event: Anima meets Doc: Expanded, Thursday, 31 October 2013, 14:00 – 17:30, Ringcafé Leipzig

Anima meets Doc: Expanded widens its scope, inviting documentary, animation, trans and cross media makers to join us for an afternoon round table session of new discoveries and connections. Bigger, bolder, broader and under the guidance of 13 exciting table hosts from across these industries, be inspired by peers and forge new links outside of traditional genres, at one of DOK Leipzig’s most dynamic networking events.

This isn’t a traditional pitching or networking event, we won’t present specific projects or plan meetings for you. Instead we want to help you create meaningful working relationships with a broad cross-section of professionals, share experiences with like-minded colleagues and be inspired by forward, sideways and innovative thinkers.

The goal is connectivity: let’s establish a new community of exciting non-fiction storytellers!

You are working in:

– animation

– documentary

– in the trans or cross media world

– somewhere in between

You are looking for:

– partners to realise your next project which might be an animated documentary, multiplatform or outside traditional genre definition

– to get involved as a partner or collaborate on multidisciplinary projects

– inspiration outside your own area of expertise

– to meet like-minded film professionals

Please register via this link http://animameetsdok.wufoo.com/forms/z7x4m1/ before October 15. This event will have limited capacity so registration is a must! Stay tuned for the list of exciting table hosts!

Any questions? Get in touch with Katrin Haucke!

Call for applications to DOK Leipzig’s Net Lab

“An inspirational conference lab on the current trends of new media providing access to new information, intense networking and individual support for transmedia projects linked to documentary or animation.

Friday & Saturday, 1 & 2 November 2013

The DOK Leipzig Net Lab 2013 is a two part conference lab open for transmedia creatives, thinkers and makers. It offers intense individual support for your cross-media project, with an in-depth look at interactive storytelling and media architecture.

Film-makers, media professionals and transmedia creatives are invited to apply with their multi-platform projects linked to documentary and/or animated film. Up to eight projects will be selected from all applications and the head producer and two team members are invited to participate.

Deadline for project entries: AUGUST 18, 2013

Filmmakers, media professionals and transmedia enthusiasts without a project are also welcome to attend. Please apply till: SEPTEMBER 18, 2013.

We offer participants with and without projects new insights and inspirations on transmedia storytelling and production and provide a platform to exchange, network and join forces with experienced colleagues and media professionals.

Costs:
Participation fee with project (day 1 and 2): 250 € per project incl. 7% VAT and one festival accreditation amounting to 80 €.

Participantion fee without project (day 1): 120 € per person incl. 7% VAT and one festival accreditation amounting to 80 €.”

More info at: http://www.dok-leipzig.de/industry-training/training/dok-leipzig-net-lab

‘The Animadoc Dove’ – new award to be given to Best animated documentary at DOK Leipzig.

Great news over at the documentary and animation festival DOK Leipzig, they have just announced that this year they will be giving a prize to the best animated documentary in the festival. There is still time to enter!

To find out more, read their press release here:

http://www.dok-leipzig.de/festival/festival-news?start:int=0

‘Disfarmer’ by Dan Hurlin

It seems that puppets are further crossing the threshold of reality by taking on non-fictional roles. Though this is not animation, the documentary genre is forever expanding and shifting mediums, even extending to live puppet shows.

Dan Hurlin’s ‘Disfarmer,’ is a biographical puppetry performance about the American realist portrait photographer Mike Disfarmer, whose haunting and intimate portraits of the inhabitants of rural Arkansas became iconic works of art after his death in the 1950s. Hurlin’s show sees a full stage of puppeteers share command of one lithe puppet. The show chronicles Disfarmer’s solitary existence as a reclusive artist. The show ends up almost autobiographical, with the puppet bearing far more resemblance to Hurlin than Disfarmer, their respective determined and obsessive natures becoming clear throughout the performance.

Here’s a taster of the show:

To add another ‘meta’ element to this piece, first-time filmmaker David Soll has been following Hurlin’s ‘Disfarmer’ project, creating a documentary film about the documentary performance. Soll’s film entitled ‘Puppet’ charts Hurlin’s successes and failures, as well as scrutinising the art of puppetry in general. Soll sheds light on the negative reception puppet theatre often receives among an adult demographic.

For those in London, ‘Puppet’ is being screened at The Little Angel Puppet Theatre for the ‘Puppets on Film Festival’ 12th-14th April 2013 – so watch this space for a review.