With Holocaust Memorial Day coming up on January 27th, we want to share a couple of films with you over the next couple of weeks which share the stories of Holocaust survivors.
In 2014, collage artist Martin O’Neill and animator Andrew Griffin (GRIFF) were paired with Bettine Le Beau, a holocaust survivor, to interpret and retell her story. Seven artists in total were paired with survivors living in the UK as a part of the Holocaust Memorial‘s Memory Makers’ Project. Bettine Le Beau, former Bond girl, actress and author, was 82 years old when she collaborated with O’Neill and Griffin to share her story and have it retold through O’Neill’s beautifully intricate collages.
The illustration is bright and detailed, visualising Bettine’s narration as she recounts the events of her escape from a concentration camp in France and the course of her life after. The film’s style has the feel of a scrapbook, which goes well with the personal storytelling from Bettine. It’s a moving, tragic, yet strangely uplifting animated documentary about personal and cultural identity.
Bettine passed away in 2015, a few months after the film’s release.
Stacy Bias is a Glasgow-based animator, activist and artist. A part of her animation studio, Your Story Studio, ‘Yoga For Larger Bodies’ is a 2016 animated documentary which tells the story of one woman’s experience as a plus-sized yoga instructor.
The story is told through a continuous line-drawn animation which visualises the experiences and emotions shared through the narration. The piece aims to put emphasis on all bodies and all kinds of health being of equal value. The continuous line of the animation represents meditation, union and connection, all of which are key elements of yoga practice. ‘Yoga For All Bodies’ is a beautiful and heartfelt short animated documentary which is definitely worth a watch.
Anna Ginsburg’s ”Living with Depression’ visually interprets the experiences of two people giving their personal accounts of experiencing depression. The 2D hand-drawn animation style is expressive, each frame is detailed and full of life, yet beautifully encompasses the struggle of living with depression.
Ginsberg has a certain quality with all of her films which is very open and honest. ‘Living with Depression’ is no different as she aims to portray the aspects of depression which can’t be easily explained to those who do not experience it. The use of animation gives a visual to the interview narration and brings it to life in an engaging way.
‘I am interested in the concept of skin and race, and what they imply; the ideas and theories sown into our flesh that change with the arc of time’ – Ng’endo Mukii (via)
Ng’endo Mukii holds a Master of Arts from the Royal College of Art (2012) in London, and a Bachelor of Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design (2006), USA. She is an award-winning filmmaker and is currently Professor of Practice at Tufts University, School of the Museum of Fine Arts. She is a writer on Netflix’s Mama K’s Team 4 series, and is one of 10 directors selected for the upcoming Disney+ and Triggerfish animated anthology, Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire.
Mukii describes ‘Yellow Fever’ as an exploration of the international fashion and beauty industry and it’s racist hierarchy. Her focus is the impact this has on the psyche of African women:
‘I believe skin and the body are often distorted into a topographical division between reality and illusion. The idea of beauty has become globalised, creating homogenous aspirations and distorting people’s self-image across the planet. In my film, I focus on African women’s self-image, through memories and interviews, using mixed media to describe this almost schizophrenic [sic] self-visualisation that I and many others have grown up with.’ (via)
“‘Hold Tight’ explores the importance of Carnival across the UK and how it’s celebrations provide an important lifeline to heritage and identity for younger generations of the Black Caribbean diaspora in Britain. It is a journey into the feeling of belonging, through the rituals of Carnival attendance and the power of bass.” – (via)
Ashman’s short animated documentary is a 2018 film which attempts to connect Caribbean people to their heritage, and celebrate London’s diversity. Using spoken word narration and hand-drawn 2D animation, layered with pixilation, Ashman illustrates the vibrancy of Carnival.
‘Hold Tight’ was part of a six-part series of micro-animated films titled ‘Untold Tales’. The project was commissioned by Anim18 and Animate Projects with the aim of creating films which would explore Britain’s culturally diverse communities.
Approximately a minute in length, the film has a vibrant aesthetic. The shaking lines echo the sound of the carnival bass, the mix of hand-drawn animation and pixilation footage gives a collage feel, further emphasizing the filmmaker’s personal relationship to the subject.
‘Our earliest childhood memories, often episodic, are one of our most intimate experiences’ – Mary Martins (via)
Mary Martins is a London-based animator and filmmaker. She is experimental in her practice, attempting to push boundaries of animated documentary and explore innovative new ways to portray reality. Martins was the 2017 winner of the Procreate Project Mother Art Prize and her films have been screened at multiple festivals around the world.
Commissioned by BFI and BBC4, ‘Childhood Memories’ by Mary Martins is a multi-layered film which utilises stop-motion and 2D digital animation, as well as 16mm colour film footage from 1970s Lagos, Nigeria. This autobiographical short explores childhood memories and cultural backgrounds.
Martin’s reflected upon the starting point for the film, linking it to her earliest child hood memory: “… when I accompanied my mother to Lagos, Nigeria in 1987. I was 4 years old. I was too young to remain in London with my Father and my two older sisters.” (via)
Watch ‘Childhood Memories’ here. (Available only in the UK)
Osbert Parker‘s short animated film ‘Life On The Move’ is a collaborative production which explores the complexities of immigration by using real life experiences and research. The stop-motion animation plays alongside a script created by two researchers who conducted interviews with migrants, refugees and returnees in Somaliland.
‘Life On The Move’ is innovative in the way that it explores how artists and researchers can collaborate to generate knowledge that can reach wider audiences about complex issues such as immigration. The film makes this information and these testimonials more accessible to public audiences, and the team worked with the aim of inspiring more researchers to collaborate with artists.
“It illustrates how complex research findings can be disseminated in a clear and accessible style suitable for many public audiences. Visualising internal and external migration routes, it disrupts mainstream media coverage of migration as a problem, presenting a more holistic narrative.” – (via)
The figures used in the stop-motion sequence are all based on 3D scans of real actors from a variety of backgrounds to reflect differing cultures, focusing especially on unique facial features. Over 1800 individual images were used in the film to create the smooth animation. The film was a collaborative project which also involved PositiveNegatives, the Migration Leadership Team, artist Karrie Fransman and, of course, animator Osbert Parker. Research and field work was funded by the International Organisation For Migration.
The film was the winner of the ‘best social media short’ at AHRC Film Awards in 2019.
Here at animateddocumentary.com, we want to celebrate Black History Month by highlighting some excellent animated documentaries by Black filmmakers and animators. Some of these films have been posted on the blog before, and some are brand new!
Each Monday this October we will share an animated documentary by a different Black filmmaker, four from here in the UK and one from the USA. We’d also love to hear about any of your favourite films by Black creators so feel free to share in the comments below.
The United Kingdom’s Black History Month was founded more than 30 years ago, in 1987, to recognise the contributions made by people of African and Caribbean backgrounds in the UK. Today, however, the remit of the project has expanded to include the history of Black people from all backgrounds. You can read more about Black History Month on bbc.co.uk.
Be sure to check out the official website for Black History Month in the UK, here.
Nicola Destefanis‘ 33 second short ‘Quit Smoking’ is a personal project. Having had his final cigarette, Destefanis turned to animation to help distract from the cravings and symptoms that came along with quitting smoking. A loop of animation was made every week for nine weeks to help express how he was feeling. The result is a beautiful short which is expressive and vibrant.
The limited colour palette is bright and contrasting, and each reel is striking. Along with upbeat music, the film gives a sense of hope and triumph, despite the negative symptoms and emotions it conveys.
Watch the full film below, and see more of the behind-the-scenes process here.
Every year, London International Animation Festival shows a programme of global documentaries in a specially dedicated screening. In last year’s festival, the selection included a wide range of films, from personal, autobiographical independent short films, to branded content and museum commissions. Many of these films are now available online, so here is a short overview of the programme.
Save Ralph (Spencer Susser, 2021) is a darkly comic mockumentary following a rabbit who “works” in the cosmetics testing industry. With a star-studded cast of voice actors and very high production values, the film has much to admire technically and creatively, and a message that cuts through the humour to leave the viewer feeling very uncomfortable indeed. The film ends with a message from The Humane Society encouraging action to help ban animal testing.
Timeline (Osbert Parker, 2020) is a poetic film commissioned by The Migration Museum. The film weaves together single frames with diverse imagery. From this visual cacophony, the fluctuating image of a single line emerges. This takes us through an abstracted history of migration, from 1620-2020, and beyond, hinting at a possible future of human migration to space. Patterns develop and evolve, punctuated by interjections of stop-motion and mixed media animation. It’s a dynamic piece that stands repeated viewings, as it is easy to miss details on a first watch.
Heart of the Nation (Tribambuka, 2020) is another film commissioned by the migration museum. This is a more explicit narrative focusing on the contribution that migration has made, and continues to make, on the staffing of the British NHS. It focuses on communicating a clear message informatively, attractively, and persuasively, and achieves its aims in this.
The Train Driver (Zuniel Kim, Christian Wittmoser, 2021) examines the psychological impact on a train driver of the six suicides of strangers that he has been caught up in through his job. Simple blue and yellow tinted sequences develop against a black background, offering an elegant counterpoint to the narrator’s words and allowing the audience to focus on the sensitive story he is telling.
In Nature (Marcel Barelli, 2021) takes us to the other end of the spectrum. Using vivid and varied colours alongside a cartoony aesthetic, this film playfully demonstrates diverse manifestations of homosexuality in nature. The film is funny and well-paced, full of excellent visual gags, and does a great job of educating without ever feeling preachy or lecturing.
In the Shadow of the Pines (Anne Koizumi, 2020) is a meditative piece in which a woman reflects on her memories of her Japanese father, and the shame he felt as a child at his culture, character and his job as a school janitor. In the second part of the film, we hear her father’s voice explaining his actions, and how his behaviour was a response to his own traumatic childhood. Finally, we are told that this conversation never really happened; her father died before they could make sense of the past, and of their relationship, together. The film is affecting. Some of the details in the memories are so raw and real that they cut to the bone, and there is a pervasive sense of melancholy throughout.
Only a Child (Simone Giampaolo, 2020) is a well-executed mixed media animation illustrating a speech made by twelve-year old Severn Cullis-Suzuki at a UN summit. She speaks powerfully on the dangers of climate change, pollution, and mass extinction. At the end of the film, we discover that the words were spoken in 1992, a chilling reminder that the urgent call to action they contained was not heeded, and our environmental crisis has deteriorated in the years that have passed since the speech was made. The film is beautifully animated, with a production process that engaged more than 20 animation directors working on separate sections, and it moves gracefully between styles and techniques.
The Chimney Swift (Frédéric Schuld, 2020) is a brooding film, with a script drawn from accounts of ‘Master’ chimney sweepers, who sent small children up chimneys in the Victorian era and who had themselves been sent up chimneys as children. A sketchy and stylised, artistic design approach combined with a flowing animation style creates an immersive viewing experience, while the savagery of the experiences described are still disturbing to hear almost two centuries after they were written down – partly due to the final frame, which reminds us that child labour practices still continue around the world.
Darwin’s Notebook (Georges Schwizgebel, 2020) delves into Charles Darwin’s notebook from 1833. He was aboard the Beagle as the ship travelled to return three kidnapped indigenous Alakaluf people of Tierra del Fuego to their home country. The film flows beautifully from one image to the next, with a painterly style combined with impressive, cinematic camera moves. The film follows the kidnapped people, from their previous life in their homeland through their violent abduction and attempts to replace their own culture with contemporaneous European ideals. When they are returned to their home they are adorned with the clothes and materials of the ‘civilised’ world, but these are soon abandoned. The film ends with a title card stating that the Alakaluf people were ultimately destroyed by western disease, persecution, and the deprivation of their natural resources.
The Torture Letters (Jocie Juritz/Laurence Ralph, 2020) is a New York Times Op-Doc about racism and police violence in Chicago. The voiceover describes the narrator witnessing two young people being stopped-and-searched, an incident which triggers painful memories of his own. The narrator then discusses his research into wider police violence in the city, and tells the stories of Dominique “Damo” Franklin, who was killed at 23 by police taser, and of Andrew Wilson, who in 1989 filed a civil suit which brought down a police commander who had encouraged a culture of torture in custody. The film ends with a broader reflection on discrimination and violence in the US. The film is dense with information, which means it offers more with each viewing, suggesting avenues for further research. The monochrome visuals, moving between literal illustration, symbolic interpretation, and abstract shapes, lead the viewer through the multiple stories.
All Those Sensations in my Belly (Marko Djeska, 2020) tells the story of a young trans woman, her developing identity through childhood and adolescence, and her struggle to find a loving and lasting relationship. The film progresses through a range of visual and animation styles as the lead character moves through stages of life, from the darkest places, to transcendent moments of self-discovery. The sound design adds a strong layer of emotion to the story, ratcheting up the tension at points and at others creating a deep empathy, without resorting to sentimentality. The result is a moving film portraying a complex, vulnerable, resilient, sympathetic and highly relatable character.
One of the striking things about this programme of shorts is how many of the films have strong social and political messages, often accompanied by explicit calls to action. The social issues presented here span discrimination, identity, racism, abuse, migration, climate, mental health, and animal welfare. The creative approaches taken are as broad as the subjects covered, but every film in the selection points clearly to a desire to tell stories that can help us to move toward a better, fairer, and kinder world.
London International Animation Festival (LIAF) is an annual event taking place in November and December across multiple London venues. Full listings for the 2021 festival can be found on the website.