‘Conversing with Aotearoa’ by Corrie Francis Parks

Corrie Francis Parks, a Montana based animator and photographer, took part in the New Zealand based Fulbright academic exchange award.  Her fellowship culminated in the creation of the 14-minute animated documentary ‘Conversing with Aotearoa’. (Aotearoa is the most widely know and accepted Māori name for New Zealand.)

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Francis Parks writes about the film: ‘In an age of technological integration and urban life, people turn to the natural world for a wilderness experience. What draws us to the remote corners of land and sea when we realize something in our lives is missing? Conversing with Aotearoa/New Zealand uses unique visual imagery to take the viewer into the physical and mental wilderness encompassed in the diverse landscapes of New Zealand. In this animated documentary, New Zealanders attempt to fathom their deep, personal connection with their land. Among the interviewees are hunters, fishermen, farmers, trampers, mountaineers, adventurer-racers, conservationists, ecologists, artists, urban and rural dwellers, Pakeha, Māori and tourists, young, old and in between. The thread that ties them all together is a passion and love for the wild places in New Zealand.’

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‘Conversing with Aotearoa’ is mostly compiled from photographic animation techniques interjected with partially fluid hand drawn scenes.  These are characterised by a pastel colour palette and a feathered quality of line.

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The film is speckled with bracing moments and cinematic experimentation. The time-lapse footage of starfish in a rock pool demonstrated the filmmaker’s fascination with the varied and wondrous environment. The title scene where the mountain range appears to breath is similarly striking.

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There are however some less successful moments. A Māori spirit/mask spins around a struggling mountaineer, presumably to symbolise his relative powerlessness when confronted with the overwhelming power of nature.  The crude rotational movement of the Māori design, when combined with a quaint woodwind instrumental score, felt visually disappointing and distracted from the absorbing account of mountainous peril.

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Although only a trailer is available on Vimeo, the full 14-minute version is accessible through SnagFilms, an online documentary streaming service supported by advertising. It is free to sign-up but expect to receive a weekly email unless you unsubscribe.

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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.

‘I Dreamt of Flying’ by Alex Bland

Alex Bland conjures the atmosphere of wartime Britain in this nostalgic exploration of the R.A.F.’s Bomber Command, a battalion charged with the treacherous task of attacking German targets at the dead of night. Set out in a roughly chronological narrative, archive recordings and contemporary interviews with ex-crew members narrate the early stages of excitement during enlisting, followed by the eventual reality of the mission.

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A great strength of this film is its ability to adjust tone by changing medium.  Alex Bland begins by adopting the aesthetic of wartime enrolment poster design. Using this style as a starting point he continues to masterfully employ a multitude of techniques; combining rotoscoped hand painted animation, laid over textured backgrounds and combined with elements of archive footage. CGI, 2D digital, collage and hand painted components support the diverse imagery in this accomplished animated documentary. Bland presents a particularly beautiful archive description of a raid that took place through a wall of searchlights. This stimulated a distinctively pleasing scene that is almost abstract in its formal arrangement barring the silhouette of the plane.

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In another scene that is set to the visuals of a comic scrip, an American pilot gives an account of an effective raid over Berlin, which is almost flippant. His account is detached entirely from the deadly result of the mission, instead he includes phrases like; “I could see the bombs going down very nicely… I enjoyed it very much”. This film does not address the more contentious nature of the task these pilots were charged with. Essentially they were enforcing the British equivalent of the Blitz, dropping bombs that would inevitably cause civilian casualties. I was left speculating whether this issue was not dealt with because it was not a problem for the airmen interviewed. They may have felt it was their duty and possibly even a fair one in the context of war. However I also wondered if the filmmaker’s nostalgia for the subject matter pushed the narrative away from such controversy. Bland explains in concluding titles that the film is dedicated to his Grandfather along with the other men from the Bomber Command killed in the Second World War. An additional puzzling note states that none of the airmen set with this duty were ever commemorated with a medal for their bravery.

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This film manages to capture effectively the naïve feeling of excitement at the beginning of the war, a sense of camaraderie felt between the airmen along with the drama and the formal beauty found in such destruction. The film addresses the tragedy associated with loss of life in the Bomber Command whilst maintaining a traditional lack of emotion associated with the British spirit’s stiff upper lip. As the narrative was constructed from half a dozen different accounts a sort of cross chattering effect distracts from an otherwise clear narrative.  This is however an acceptable side effect when collating such a multitude of sources. ‘I Dreamt of Flying’ has collected an award from the Imperial War Museum  and received the staff pick from Vimeo. Animated Documentary found this film on the vimeo channel Doco-anim.