‘Chris the Swiss’ by Anja Kofmel

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Directed by Anja Kofmel and screened during Cannes International Critics Week in 2018, this feature length documentary ,which fuses a mix of live action, archive and animation, is a remarkable investigation into the death of war journalist Chris, Kofmel’s late cousin.

This personal story, rich with emotion explains how the death of Kofmel’s cousin has impacted her entire life. Chris travelled to the Croatian War of Independence in the 90’s, and much of the film is set in and around Zagreb. Kofmel appears herself in the film both as a child in animated form and as an adult in live action. We see her visit the places Chris had been, such as hotels and battle grounds and talk to the people he met, such as fellow journalists and ‘soldiers’, in an attempt to discover why and how he died. I thought the inclusion of the animation production process as part of the film was a nice touch, the storyboarding and concept sketches forming part of her search.

The animation is spellbinding, black and white 2D and created in TV Paint, there is the feeling of movement and texture in the drawings as the ink  bleeds into the ‘paper’ whilst images are formed and animated. The depiction of Chris and other characters is very clear, the characterisation of them and Kofmel’s direction holding up well against any photos or live action of those people. In particular the key characters, not alive today to give testimony, the animation is adding and ‘filling in’ for the missing live action that we require in order to tell Chris’s story. But the animation is not merely a device for the live action. It brings a new level of understanding to the documentary in the way in which it morphs, transcends time and geographical boundaries. There are symbolic themes in the animation, such as that of the animated lines that denote the lines in Chris scarf, or the black painterly marks that follow Chris, which instantly make me think of death. These devices guide us through the narrative, and act as signifiers of important events. The animation explores memory, loss and emotion and through it’s movement is evocative of all these states.

A wonderful film, truly deserving of its critical acclaim. In my opinion, this is a fine addition to the animated documentary genre.

http://www.christheswiss.net/

 

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‘Little Birds Diary’ by Edmunds Janson

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A wonderful longer form short animated documentary featuring the drawn diaries of Irina Pilke. Starting in 1942, many of her drawings are brought to life through animation Irina talks us through her diary, with wit and laughter.

 

‘A Conversation with Haris’ by Sheila Sofian

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A young Bosnian immigrant recounts his experience with war, illustrated in painting-on-glass animation.

The Paint on glass technique used in this film is a great example of what this technique can do. We are visually drawn, pulled, pushed, washed and wiped through the memories of a young boy as he recounts his experience of war. His memories dissolve and reconstruct as we travel seamlessly through time and space in a seemingly endless wave of images, which commands our interest.

The Directors voice can be heard asking direct, probing questions, which results in some unsettling honest answers, accounts of brutality and murder of Haris’s family members, it’s hard listening coming from such a young boy and reminds us of the strength animated documentary can poses in giving voices to those that we dont always get to hear. This is an important film.

We were very lucky to collaborate with Sheila for the first Animateddocumentary.com award given at FAFF 2016

http://www.sheilasofian.com/

Motivations for Animated Documentary Films by Lawrence Thomas Martinelli, Lecture as part of Anima Festival 2015

A few years ago now, but none the less, a fantastic lecture by academic Lawrence Thomas Martinelli, Uri Kranot and Soetkin Verstegen.

Martinelli introduces us to the various motivations for making animated documentary, through a series of case studies, whilst Kranot and Verstegen round up the lecture with some insights into the practicalities of making such animated films.

Martinelli investigates the “re – creating and re -constructing” of animated documentary, he talks about filmic hybrids and the need to complete in complete material, which is one of the motivations for using animated documentary.

Martinelli is also the founder of DOCartoon, Animation and Non Fiction Comics festival, Italy. http://www.docartoon.it/

A brilliant watch, rich with content – I know I will be sharing this with my students in their studies of animated documentary.

Moving Pictures & Top of the Class – Encounters Festival Animation Programme 2 & 3

Encounters, the Bristol based UK animation and short film festival, continues with an excellent array of animated shorts in their second and third animation programmes.

Animation 2 – Moving Pictures was a collection of shorts that explored complex emotive narratives. Of the fiction work in the programme, ‘My Home (Chez Moi)‘ directed by Phuong Mai Nguyen, shone through as a truly touching and sophisticated exploration of a young boy coming to grips with his mother’s new romantic partner.

Two films from programme 2 that hit the animated documentary remit, both of which take place during the Second World War.

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Zoltan Aprily, director of ‘Ungvár’, explores his grandfather’s memories of working on a Hungarian commercial ship which was leased to the German navy and appropriated for war.

The central moral dilemma of working alongside the historical villains of the 20th century is illuminated through crystal clear symbolism: the Nazi soldiers are quite literally depicted as faceless or monstrous henchmen, while the civilian crew are shown as a hapless bunch of normal-looking lads struggling through a precarious situation.

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Michael Brookes was commissioned by the Bletchley Park Trust to reconstruct a key moment in British military history. Notes rescued from a captured German U-boat led to the British code-breaking teams cracking the German Enigma encryption. This 3D animation is rendered in a soft colour palette, with intricate textures reminiscent of the early 20th century printing of posters used during the Allied war effort.

‘The Petard Pinch’ is essentially a tale of duty and sacrifice. The stiff-upper-lip stoicism of the film serves only to sharpen the emotional response in the audience.  This informative and moving short film clearly deserves the success it has already received from D&AD, Shorts of the Week and as a Vimeo Staff Pick.

Animation 3 – Top of the Class draws attention to animated films selected for their craftsmanship. Three of the films were identifiable as animated documentaries, but the of fiction and non-narrative work my attention was grabbed by the French-Hungarian co-production ‘Love‘, directed by Réka Bucsi.  This fantasy nature documentary tracks the impact solar movement have on a weird and complex ecosystem.

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Volker Schlecht & Alexander Lahl co-directed ‘Broken – The Women’s Prison at Hoheneck (Kaputt)’. This beautifully crafted film is narrated by Gabriele Stötzer and Brigit Willschütz, political prisoners from Hoheneck Castle in East Germany. These unfortunate women were forced to make garments which were sold for great profit across the border in West Germany.

The animation is classically drawn frame by frame. After scanning one step, the drawing was erased, changed or completely re-drawn on the same sheet of paper and re-scanned (a technique used by William Kentridge). The attention to detail in this film is truly astonishing. It seemed somehow telling that the directors chose to integrate the subtitles, perfectly matching the aesthetic of this powerful animated documentary.

‘Stems’, directed by Ainslie Henderson, is a straightforward documentary about creating stop-motion puppets. The director narrates as his characters are assembled is if through the magic of stop-motion. It’s all very meta.  Henderson laments, “they are like actors who are destined to play just one role”.

‘Mamie’ is a touching portrait of director’s grandmother. Janice Nadeau tries to decipher her personal memories of this aloof and unforgiving matriarch. Although not explicitly stated, it seems clear that this is based on first hand recollection. If ‘Mamie’ is entirely invented character I must apologise for suggesting this is an animated documentary and commend Janice Nadeau for the realism in her writing!

Encounters short film and animation festival runs from the 20th -25th September across a number of venues in Bristol, UK.

 

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.

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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.

‘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