Last year, it was one hundred years since The Sinking of the Lusitania by Winsor McCay, considered by historians to be the first animated documentary. Since then, this hybrid and sometimes controversial genre has changed and evolved. Popular films include the recent Another Day of Life or Waltz with Bashir released some years ago. Czech animation is represented by Diana Cam Van Nguyen, whose short film Apart will compete at the prestigious Rotterdam festival. This year’s Anifilm, the International Festival of Animated Film will also focus on this unusual film format.

In the last few years, animated documentaries (or anidoc as this format is sometimes called) have been growing in popularity among creators. They offer the director a wide range of options of self-expression. Movies are often based on actual events. The combination of animation and documentary allows for a metaphorical representation of things, situations, memories or traumatic experiences, while the unlimited possibilities of animation grant the authors artistic freedom.

Cinema attendance points to another phenomenon. Animated documentaries bring adult viewers to the screen and break down the prejudices of animated film being only for children. Successful feature-length animated documentaries include a film about a Polish reporter in the Angolan War Another Day of Life (2018) or Chriss the Swiss (2018), which goes back to the time of the war in former Yugoslavia. Waltz with Bashir was nominated for an Oscar in 2008 and describes the experiences of the first 1982 Lebanon War, which Ari Folman, the director of the film, took part in as a nineteen-year-old soldier. The choice of movie subjects clearly speaks in favour of animation. Artistic freedom aside, it would be very complicated to make a politically critical film under some regimes or send film crews to war-torn countries.

One up-and-coming animated documentary creator is Diana Cam Van Nguyen, a student at the Film and TV School of The Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. In her film debut The Little One (2017), she embodies her feelings as a Vietnamese girl growing up in a small Czech town. This short film has been screened at almost fifty international festivals around the world and has won a number of awards. It will be competing for the ECFA Doc Award – the best European documentary for children – at this year’s Berlinale festival.

The author also chose the same format for her current film Apart. „The hybrid genre of animated documentary holds many advantages. I have realised that it is a suitable form for searching for one’s own past and for expressing a subjective view. It keeps a strong emotional dimension at the same time„, Diana Cam Van Nguyen’s explains concerning her decision. In her new film the director focuses on the theme of losing a loved one and reconstructing the painful situation through the eyes of three young people who are exposed to the phenomenon of death prematurely. Apart has already won the award for Best Czech Experimental Documentary at the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival and this year it has been selected for the prestigious International Film Festival in Rotterdam.

At international film festivals, animated documentaries are a rather marginal affair. There are two leading events for documentary filmmakers in Europe – IDFA Amsterdam and DOK Leipzig – where the combination of animation and documentary can be found in the programme. A great opportunity for filmmakers is the ANIDOX: LAB Documentary Animation Workshop organised in cooperation with the Danish Film Institute. The programme also brings together authors of documentary and animated films, giving them a chance to connect these two worlds.

The Anifilm International Festival of Animated Films has decided to dedicate its main focus to animated documentaries in 2019. The intention is to map the key moments of this genre on a global scale. A diverse selection of films, especially shorts, will be prepared in collaboration with German curator and long-time programmer of the Animadoc festival in Leipzig, Annegret Richter. As animated documentary is becoming increasingly popular in the Czech Republic, a part of the programme will also be devoted to the history of Czech animated documentary. Swedish director Jonas Odell is among the first confirmed guests. „We would like to acquaint the audience with the charm and power of animated documentaries through programmes by prominent world-class artists. In addition to their films, they will present their working methods during the masterclass segment in Třeboň. In addition to Jonas Odella, Anci Damian’s participation is becoming more certain,” says Pavel Horáček, the Programme Director of Anifilm.

Author: Marta Jallageas