Review of ‘Kiss the Water’ by Eric Steel with animation by Em Cooper

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Last weekend I was lucky enough to go to the splendid Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival, to watch the documentary film ‘Kiss the Water’ by Eric Steel.The screening started at 11 am and I didn’t expect many people to be there at such an early time on a Sunday morning. However the auditorium was at least three quarters full. Following the screening was a lively Q&A session with animator Em Cooper and passionate audience members.

The film features animated segments by Cooper who has previously featured on animateddocumentary.com with her films 30% and Emergence. ‘Kiss the Water’ is not strictly an animated documentary, but the treatment of the animation is closely aligned to principles of animated documentary and therefore should be part of the discussion of the genre.

This is a slow film, suitable for a Sunday morning screening. The film is about the life of Megan Boyd, a Scottish woman who devoted her life to making flies for salmon fishing. She designed every fly she made and sourced the finest materials from all over the world. Her flies were famous amongst salmon fishers, and Megan received orders from all over the world. Megan died in 2003 and it was on reading her obituary that American Eric Steel felt the need to make a film about her.

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Megan spent her life living alone. She is described as ‘manly’ looking and every day she wore a tie and shirt with her tweed skirt. She drove a motor car and rode a motor bike and was remembered for her fast driving. Her home and adjoining fly-making shed, which is featured in the live action segments of film, is still standing, although it is now a ruin.

The treatment of the live action enables the animation to weave throughout it by various means. The interviews with people who knew Megan are set against a black backdrop, likewise the winding of the flies. The colours have been desaturated and there are some interesting edit decisions where the live action intercuts with the animation.

The animation is created using Cooper’s signature style of oil paint on glass. Cooper describes her self as a ‘live action film maker and animator’, as she often uses the filmed image as her source for the first frame of animation – a technique called Rotoscoping. In Cooper’s animated world, the camera is forever moving, searching through layers of oil paint, for glimpses of the figure of Megan. Thematic elements from the live action scenes and interviews are often revisited in the animation and metamorphosis features heavily to convey meaning, combining abstract elements. For example one of my favourite bits is Megan dressing herself, tying her infamous red tie, which turns into the same action used for the tying of the flies. These statements are significant in subtly addressing some of  the interesting aspects of Megan’s life – in this case the question over her sexuality.

I leave you with a segment from Megan’s obituary, from the New York Times in 2003

“Whose fabled expertise at tying enchantingly delicate fishing flies put her works in museums and the hands of collectors around the world and prompted Queen Elizabeth II to award her the British Empire Medal … From tiny strands of hair she made magic: the classic Scottish flies like the Jock Scott, Silver Doctor and Durham Ranger … and the fly named after her, the Megan Boyd, a nifty blue and black number famous for attracting salmon at the height of summer, when the water is low, hot, and dead.”

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‘Kiss the Water’ is available to buy as a DVD at the film’s website: http://buy.kiss-the-water.com/ and here is the trailer for the film: http://kiss-the-water.com/trailer/

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‘Tussilago’ By Jonas Odell

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What a treat to see the latest animated documentary from Jonas Odell.

“West German terrorist Norbert Kröcher was arrested on March 31, 1977. He was leading a group planning to kidnap politician Anna-Greta Leijon. A number of suspects were arrested in the days following. One of them was Kröcher’s ex-girlfriend, “A”. This is her story.”

In this film Odell has moved away from his usual method of weaving a story from multiple interviews and instead features the story of one woman ‘A’.  The pace of storytelling is fast and this keeps up a level of dramatic intrigue, supported by cut out visuals involving some complex camera moves and transitions.

We recommend watching Odell’s past films ‘Lies’ and ‘Never Like the first time’ which have both featured on animateddocumentary.com.

This film was kindly brought to our attention by Ian Fenton – thanks Ian

https://vimeo.com/84763962

‘The Chaperone 3D’ by Fraser Munden

The Chaperone 3D Trailer from Thoroughbread Pictures on Vimeo.

Something new here – I’m fairly certain this is the first animated documentary made in stereoscopic 3D that we’ve featured! Is this a new movement in animadoc film-making? It’s definitely one that I didn’t see coming.

Just the trailer available to view on Vimeo at present. The film has recently been premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. We look forward to reading reviews. It sounds intriguing…

“When told that bikers once invaded a middle school dance in a Montreal church basement, Neil Rathbone couldn’t believe it.

I said ‘No way that’s true. That’s the most outrageous thing I’ve ever heard,’ he recalled.

The story is told by Ralph Whims and Stefan Czernatowicz, who were the teacher/chaperone and DJ at the dance.

Rathbone said the film includes live action Kung Fu segments, puppets and exploding piñatas.

“It has a strong comedic flavour,” he said.

More from the interview with Rathbone here:
http://www.thespec.com/news-story/4070910-burlington-grad-s-animated-short-premieres-at-tiff/

‘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.

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!

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

‘Reality 2.0’ trailer by Victor Orozco Ramirez

As featured in our Dok Leipzig review, here is the trailer for Victor’s film.

It was autumn when I arrived in Germany. I thought that in this exotic country I could distance myself a little bit from Mexico, but I was wrong. Drug traffickers managed to take me back in a ruthless way.
A short animated documentary about the drug-related violence in Mexico.

http://orozcovictor.com/film/reality-2-0/