The first AnimatedDocumentary.com Award at FAFF 2016!

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We were thrilled to be part of this years Factual Animation Film Fuss festival: hosting an event, giving our first ever award, and mingling with the great and the good of the UK animated documentary crowd.

The festival is in its second year, run by Daniel Murtha, and hosted at the Genesis Cinema in London, UK. In addition to several programmes of the best new work in animated documentary, a Q&A with film-maker Samantha Moore, chaired by Alys Scott-Hawkins, opened out discussions with a number of film-makers in the audience, including Mary Martins, Emma Calder and Alex Widdowson.

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Still from Truth Has Fallen by Sheila Sofian

The AnimatedDocumentary.com award was presented on the final night of the festival. We were very pleased to have our award sponsored by animated documentary director Sheila Sofian. The winner received signed original artwork from Sheila’s film ‘Truth has Fallen’, a feature length documentary we have featured on the blog. The film is about about people wrongfully convicted of murder and the weaknesses in the US justice system that allowed these injustices to occur. You can find out more about Sheila’s work on her website here.

The winning film was Spirit Away by Bettina Kuntzsch. We thought that the film was a fantastic example of using existing documentary evidence to engage the audience.

We also awarded two Special Mentions: Loop by Samantha Moore and Life Inside Islamic State by Scott Coello. We made a third award for Best New Voice and this went to The Divide by Mary Martins.

Loop by Samantha Moore

Life Inside Islamic State by Scott Coello

The Divide by Mary Martens

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‘Silent Signal’ by Animate Projects

“Silent Signal is an ambitious project that brings together six artists working with animation together with six leading biomedical scientists to create experimental animated artworks exploring new ways of thinking about the human body”

Image copyright Samantha Moore ‘Loop’ 2015

Image copyright Ellie Land ‘Sleepless’ 2015

The six animations are currently on a year long tour, with the latest exhibition at Wellcome Genome Campus, Cambridge until September 2016.

You can watch all of the films online on the silent signal website, alongside artist interviews and a useful science guide. Check out the every expanding events section to find out about screenings, public talks and workshops that support the tour.

http://www.silentsignal.org/

‘Health Issues and Animation’ blog posts by Animationstudies 2.0

Over on the Society for Animation studies blog, ‘Animationstudies 2.0’, there are a number of articles written on the theme of animation and health, two of which feature writing about animated documentary.

Samantha Moore’s piece called “Secret Architecture – the construction of  Loop” is about her recent work on the Silent Signal project with Animate! and Wellcome Trust, for which she paired up with scientist Dr Serge Mostowy. The r&d work they produced explored Mostowy’s work with zebrafish models in microbiology. In this article Moore discusses her exploration of the gap between theory and methods in the scientific process and her response to this through animated documentary. We featured the Silent Signal project here on the blog a few months back.

Dr Nichola Dobson in her article ‘From one extreme to another’ writes about two animations which explore genital cutting in women and questions the practice of female genital mutilation. Both of these animations have featured on this blog, ‘Everything was Life’ and ‘Centrefold’ and were directed by me –  Ellie Land.

A quick search for animated documentary on the animatiomnstudies blog, brings up many relevant posts about the topic and the blog covers many more areas of animation. Well worth exploring:

http://blog.animationstudies.org/?p=716

‘Silent Signal’ work in progress website by Animate! Projects

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Image by Samantha Moore for Silent Signal.

Animate! projects with the Wellcome Trust has commissioned six artist/scientist teams to put forward ideas for possible animated works under a project called Silent Signal.

“Silent Signal explores how research into genetics, cell biology, immunology and epidemiology is advancing our understanding of how the human body communicates with itself, how it adapts to fight disease and how environment affects the chain reaction. Six biomedical scientists who are furthering these fields with cutting-edge research are collaborating with six artists who use a variety of animation techniques and new digital technologies in their artistic practice. Through these collaborations audiences will be engaged with the biological processes that their bodies perform with an artistic approach to communicating the science.”

They have published the process on their blog http://www.silentsignal.org/, which is a fascinating insight into the collaborative relationship between the scientists and artists. The site also shows work in progress of various applications of animation  from animated documentary, participatory animated documentary, game art through to interactive experiences using animation.

http://www.silentsignal.org/

http://www.animateprojects.org/

 

‘OwnerBuilt’ by Lawrence Andrews

Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 the people of New Orleans slowly began to rebuild homes and lives while trying to process what their community had endured. Lawrence Andrews presents the theatrical retellings of related events by a local man referred to as ‘Noel’. The retelling of his memories are further influenced by the tragic police shooting of unarmed civilians who were crossing the Danziger Bridge six days after the hurricane. This incident left two people dead and four seriously injured. Noel draws upon his personal archive of sound recordings and photographs to prompt a performance of his own narrative, interwoven with those of his community and the bridge victims.

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Initially produced in 2008 as an audio essay, ‘OwnerBuilt’ was redeveloped and released this year as an ‘Animated Performance Documentary’. Andrews appears as a character throughout the 49-minute sequence; narrating, contributing editorial notes and analysing the authenticity of Noel’s accounts. Andrews’ dialogue with Noel becomes integral, his presence noticeably influencing the process of documentation. A misunderstanding concerning Noel’s neighbours sparks an account of their plight along with a strange instance where Andrews witnesses Noel talking about him to the neighbour.

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Andrews is overtly self-aware as a filmmaker. He anchors the film in the context of a post-documentary age. The audience is handed frequent reminders that we are watching a set of illusions. For instance Andrews declares that Noel’s son is responsible for the sound of a cello being practiced. “Well actually it’s my son, his played sax,” the director declares immediately afterwards.

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Sound seems much more integral to this film than visuals. Not only is the sequence entirely dependent on spoken word, the sound design is speckled with effects and textures which construct images in the absence of visual stimuli.  While most animated documentaries attempt to augment a narration by visualising the subject matter, Andrews renders himself and Noel on a darkened stage with harsh spotlights.

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In step with the film’s non-linear structure, surreal aesthetic and confronting subject matter, the characters move with an uncanny jitter. While the lip-synching is often so slight it is barely noticeable, the speakers ceaselessly gesticulate. Their shifting bodies and stiff waving hands swing more vigorously than implied by tone of voice while maintaining rough correlation with emphasis. Lawrence Andrews seems to revel in the artificiality of the medium he has chosen. On occasion characters walk through each other, merging their digital flesh.  While describing the approach of the storm a flock of audience seats spin and float in the auditorium like particles in a snow globe.

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Noel’s speeches are almost lyrical; to me this implies an extraordinary aptitude for improvised speech or the possibility of rehearsal or scripting. Andrews addresses the theatrical nature of Noel’s performance in the blurb provided with the Vimeo link: “Presenting the work in what may be deemed a theatrical form has the potential to de-legitimize and thwart its claims for documentary status, but this is a tension I hope the project explores.”

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Lawrence Andrews’ Vimeo notes offer good insight; despite using the barely digestible rhetoric of academic arts, the associate professor of film and digital media at The University of California, Santa Cruz, explains thoroughly his intentions, raises questions for further exploration and indicates the contextual framework for his practice.

Samantha Moore brought this film to our attention. Moore is a director of animated documentaries whose work has been discussed a number of times on this blog.

‘The Beloved Ones’ by Samantha Moore

Samantha Moore’s 2007 UK Film Council commissioned animated documentary explores problems of stigma and denial in a Ugandan community through the eyes of two women dealing with the effects of HIV/AIDS in their respective families.

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The materiality of this animation technique is charmingly tangible. Two examples are the hut roof fashioned from torn corrugated cardboard and the illusion of perspective constructed through horizontally wrinkled brown paper. Many of the images in this film are complimented by the appearance of textile patterns. They are ever present in the sky, images of water and on the bodies of the chickens we see crossing the screen. I wondered whether this was simply a stylistic choice or did it hold symbolic significance. From an overview the patterns seem to be noticeable in positive contexts, but I feel I might be jumping to conclusions if I was to assert that they represent hope or optimism.

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The most striking moment in this short documentary takes place when we hear Anna recount her husband’s attitude of denial towards HIV/AIDS. ‘He has never taken a blood test, he has lost three girlfriends but still he doesn’t believe.’ As these words are uttered her husband’s body shrivels, metamorphosing into a deathly skeleton. Such imagery is powerful in its simplicity.

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One shot niggled at my animator’s eye; when the memory book is being discussed the camera moves backwards from in the hut and out the door. The cinematic illusion is broken by the visibly pixelated edge of the doorframe. Such a significant loss in resolution is unfortunate.

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In a recent article written for Animation Studies, Samantha Moore discusses audio problems she experienced while filming in Uganda. Moore was forced to use voice actors due to the low quality of the original recordings. Although she had an initial ‘…fear that the documentary status of the film could be compromised by this jettisoning of original sound…’ Moore argues that both the unusable original voice recordings and the audible re-enactment ‘carry the indexical trace of the words’. The choice between the two options was ‘…not aided by an argument about which is more genuine.’

Samantha Moore’s work has been featured on Animated Documentary several times. We look forward to many more films from her.

‘Blogging the animated documentary’ – article on Society for Animation Studies blog

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An article about this very blog, which I was invited to write for the the Society for Animation Studies blog. Blogging about blogging!

Well in this case it’s reviewing films we’ve looked at on the blog so far, in order to assess the animadoc landscape; as something of a follow-up to other articles on the site’s current theme of animated documentary.

If you haven’t checked them out already have a look at:

Bella Honess Roe on Animated Memories

Sheila Sofian on The Camera and “Structuring Reality”

Who said that? The dispensability of original sound in animated documentary, by Samantha Moore

Paul Ward’s “To document differently”: random thoughts on a taxonomy of animated documentary.

And do leave comments – there are some fascinating points and debates to be had…