I’ve been doing some research for my animated documentary essay which I want to do about stories of gender and transition. I scoured queer animation festivals and got lots of great recommendations from Lilly Husbands, but found almost no documentaries about this topic, however I did find some pretty great films, which I thought I’d start collating here for reference.
I really liked the technique used here to show the experience of dysphoria without using human bodies. The art itself is not all that exciting to me but I did like the way the cars turned corners and the sideways faces of the animals.
Toutes Nuancees by Chloe Alliez (needs to be viewed on vimeo) is a puppet film about a woman who loves women. I really liked the puppets – who are all made out of light switches, and I thought the way bodies are represented is really interesting. The interplay between the voiceover describing stereotyped women’s roles and the visuals that show women disrupting those stereotypes was playful and clever.
Teagan – a story about transitioning from male to female is a documentary – I don’t think the way it is animated is hugely exciting, but it does do what I am looking for so I may use it in my essay.
We’ve been around is a collection of short films about Trans* heroes, the animation isn’t very good, but the idea of using animation to highlight voices and faces that wouldn’t have been thought worth recording at the time is an interesting one.
I loved this puppet animation about a mother shopping her finger off while her son tries to come out to her in the background.
(This is an edited version of my submitted work placement assessment)
I have been looking forward to the simulated work experience for some time was very pleased to be working with Doreen as I knew I’d learn a lot from her and from working on a puppet production. Watching her animatic I was excited: the story was funny and moving and seemed on the surface to be relatively straightforward. However, the more I thought about it, the more apprehensive I became: we would have to make four puppets, three different sets, and animate some extremely tricky moments, such as a puppet drowning in a raging river! I couldn’t wait to get started.
(Animatic for Stories My Mother Told Me by Doreen Edemafaka)
Sadly the snow disrupted a lot of our first week, as Doreen was not able to come into school. Instead, she sent me some logistic work to do including compiling a shot list from her animatic and working on her character turn arounds. The shot list took a long time and brought back to me again how complex a production this would be, but I quickly realised how important it was: firstly it got me very familiar with the story, characters and settings; and secondly, it was incredibly useful for highlighting how we would need to organise the shots once we started animating. I had assumed we would shoot chronologically, but realised it would make much more sense to shoot all the scenes from each camera angle and location consecutively and edit the order later. This exercise brought home to me the value of the doing a good deal of the drudge work before you start on the exciting bits.
The second week of work experience the snow had cleared and we were finally both in the studio together. The main task was to build the forest and river set where the climax of the story would take place. Doreen had done extensive research into Nigerian plant life, which we used to design, cut out and paint the trees and bushes for her set. All week we cut and painted foam board, and it seemed like a somewhat never ending job, but the result was very beautiful — having a variety of textures and plant types made the set a lot richer and more interesting.
This experience also got me thinking about the process and cost of assembling the materials for a puppet production. For example, Doreen explained to me that the correct sculpy colour for the complexion of her characters is not available anywhere in the UK (she found it in one place in the USA, but the shipping time was too long for her to order it), so she is having to dye the lighter coloured sculpy before she can make her puppets. This speaks volumes about the fact that the production industry is geared towards making light skinned characters, and is part of a larger institutionalised racism that sees protagonists as white not black. In terms of representation, I think it is really important that more films like Doreen’s are made and that the materials to do so become more readily available.
The film itself is a Nigerian folk tale, from a book of stories that Doreen tells me she has been reading and being read since she was a child. In it a seemingly kind old lady, initially helps the three brother protagonists, but turns, witch like, when she is stolen from and lied to and exacts a terrible revenge. As often in these folk tales the punishment, in this case the death of the youngest brother, seems to hugely outweigh the crime, i.e. stealing porridge and lying about it. The audience of such stories are supposedly children, who, all over the world, are scared into good behaviour by morality tales like this one. However, in Doreen’s retelling traces of humour are captured in the boys’ body language and facial expressions and so rather than being simply cyphers of “good” and “bad”, they become real characters, that we can both relate to and empathise with. Their humanity makes the ending all the more shocking and horrible. In this way Doreen, has reshaped the material from a simple morality tale into a complex study of human behaviour more suitable for an adult audience. Changing the characters from symbols into humans highlights that folktale morality is deeply questionable: does this story tell us that it is bad to lie? Or does it merely showcase the fact that human beings exact horrific and cruel retributions upon each other? Maybe it’s both.