Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Naked Campaining on Campus

Rutgers University invited us down to talk about "The Naked Campaign".

Here's a clip of Steve Brodner and Gail Levin talking about documentary and ways of seeing.

At one point Gail mentioned "animated documentary" which is hot catch phrase in film and academia.

It's also a spectacular oxymoron. By nature, animation is a process. That process is fundamentally and essentially contrived. Documentary is a recorded revelation of actuality. When the process of animation is applied to the genre of documentary, the result is still animation but the form is no longer documentary.

Yes, animation can "reveal" just as documentary does -but the method of revelation is different. Animation reveals through artifice- like Picasso showing the truth of war in "Guernica".

Ultimately, documentary captures and displays a moment that actually happened. This is true of Ken Burns, Agnes Varda, Errol Morris, or Michael Moore. The process of animation takes the experience outside of the moment, rebranding the instance as whole new experience from the event under discussion.

Animation has always been an important part of documentary -especially educational films. Taking animation as the primary narrative element of "documentary" removes the "documenting" entirely and replaces it with "opinion" and "fiction". The stories become personal narratives, which is fine. Personal narratives are by their very nature untrustworthy, documentary needs the willing approval of its viewers to be successful.

Waltz with Bashir, for example, is a "talking head" documentary where the talking heads are animated and the re-enactments are also animated. The very act of animation removes it from "documenting" the story of the massacre and the lead character's quest for memory and places the film in a world of historic fiction. Despite its first person accounts its less a documentary experience than Battle of Algiers- a purely fictional story which has the resonance of a breaking news report.

Animation, for the most part, does not offer tools for "documenting". Animation expresses choice and opinion. This is what makes the technique interesting in non-fiction film.


Jill Conner said...

i'm surprised about the suggested connection between documentary and animation

Oscar Grillo said...

In 1974 Nedeljko Dragic animated "Diary", an animated film that could be considered a documentary.

Tim Rauch said...

All true, but don't the editors, directors and cameramen of most live-action documentaries make choices about what to include from their footage and what to shoot in the first place? It's all creation and it's all on a continuum of "truthiness" in my book. When my brother and I make our films, we try to do our best to accent what interests us about the relationships and emotional states of our subjects. Ofcourse, it is ultimately our take and does not represent real "truth", whatever that is. Thanks for the thought provoking post!

Asterisk Animation said...

There's a scene in John Sayles' "Lianna" in which he takes an anti-communist statement written on a blackboard and transforms it the "Communist Manifesto" by cutting and rearranges words.

He uses this to illustrate what a documentarian does to the "truth".

Yes, things get reordered and sometimes changed around completely to prove a point.

But in animation, new things are created long after the events transpired. This is a fundamental difference in ontology.

Animation can still be "non-fiction" like Paul Fierlinger's films or "Waking Life" (I'll have to track down the one Oscar mentions, too), but to call it "documentary" does disservice to both the documentary form as well as the process of animation.