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:

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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.

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‘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 While the animated sequences are clearly an earnest attempt to represent historical documents, it is hard to know how literally one should read the live action scenes.

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‘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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‘Seeking Refuge’ series for television by Andy Glynne

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A series of animated shorts illustrating young people’s perspectives of living as refugees and asylum seekers. Part of the BBC Two Learning Zone, this series won a Children’s BAFTA in 2012.

Produced by Mosaic Films in London, UK.
Director: Andy Glynne
Animation Directors: Salvador Maldonado, Karl Hammond, Tom Senior and Jonathan Topf

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00vdxrk

‘The Vanni’ by Benjamin Dix

‘The Vanni’ is a graphic novel set in Sri Lanka, India and the UK and follows the story of a fictional Tamil family living in a fishing village in Sri Lanka. The story starts in 2004 following the Tsunami and takes us through to the following conflict and then life for the family surviving as refugees.

The concept comes from Bejamin Dix, a former UN staff member who spent 4 years living in Sri Lanka until 2008 when all NGO’s were asked to leave Sri Lanka. He has teamed up with illustrator Lindsay Pollack. The story and images are based on his real life experiences of living and working with communities after the Tsunami and as refugees.

The graphic novel is still in production, but you can see an interactive preview on their website.

http://www.thevanni.co.uk/

“All in this together” Are benefits ever a lifestyle choice?’ by Dole Animators

 

The Dole Animators are a group of first time animation film makers living in Leeds UK. Together, they have made a film about their experiences of the coalition government recent welfare reforms and the impact of the changes on their lives.

The film challenges a mainstream media rhetoric, which states that people choose a life on benefits and that this ‘choice’ is an easy lifestyle choice.

The film has been made with support from a researcher Ruth Patrick and film maker Ellie Land. You can read more about the project at the website below:

http://doleanimators.wordpress.com/

‘Truth has fallen’ by Sheila Sofian

“If they’re not doing time for this, then surely for something else.”

The new film from US director Sheila Sofian, follows inmates on life sentences in the US prison system. Sofian “conjures up an inferno of expressive animations painted on glass, abstract re-enactments, and surrealist details, which condenses into a passionate appeal to politicians to abolish prejudgements and racial discrimination.”

The films world premier will be at Dok Leipzig this November and has been nominated for the Animadoc Award.

We have featured Sheila’s work on the blog before, most notably her writing on animated documentary.

We wish Sheila the best of luck with her new film and also her nomination for the Animadoc award!

http://films2013.dok-leipzig.de/de/film.aspx?ID=6096&title=Truth+Has+Fallen

‘Dole Animators’ Trailer

Dole Animators is a group of benefit claimants based in the UK who are working together to make an animated documentary about the reality of the impact of the governments recent welfare reform.

The final film will use a mixture of stopmotion and collage animation.

Animateddocumentary.com’s Ellie Land is working with the group in partnership with Ruth Patrick, a researcher from Leeds University.

The final film will be released in Autumn 2013, you can watch the trailer here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=fTsXDVHYOBw

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!