You only have to click on one of the many social media channels to find out that everyone has their story to tell. Thanks to the recent ‘Reels’ addition on Facebook and Instagram, (apologies for the blatant product placement. Other, more fashionable platforms are available, I’m just not up to speed with any of them. Blame age… and lack of interest…), hours can be wasted when accidently falling down a vortex of one-minute videos. Clips might include highlights from ancient Live At The Apollo episodes, reaction shots to someone’s gran opening a bag of manky lettuce, or watching a toddler you don’t know, in a place you’ve never been, eating a madras for the first time, with ‘hilarious’ results – (#social services, #birth control recommendations).
Still, at least it provides a simple distraction from the eternal clickbait lure of not believing what Susan Boyle looks like now.
In My Life…
Our fascination with true-life stories on the silver screen is illustrated by the number of biopics which are offered up. In the very recent past we have had Elvis (2022), Till (2022), Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody (2022), King Richard (a surprise hit…) (2021), Spencer (2021) and Blonde (2022).
These dramatisations have been written from a particular point of view, which decides which aspects of the subject’s life to focus on, and which to gloss over, depending on the angle of the narrative. Some are more loyal to the subject matter than others, depending on who has commissioned the piece and how much the film has been endorsed by the individual or their estate – the last two titles on this particular list take huge artistic licence with the lives of the great women in question, so much so that they were described as a fable and a horror story respectfully.
The latest CFS offering, Flee (2021), which is screening on Wednesday 22nd February, chooses to tell its particular narrative using the sub-genre of animated documentary.
Flee documents the tale of Amin Nawabi (not his real name), who escaped from Kabul as a child, due to the consequence of the Soviet-Afghan war. Amin recounts his ordeals with human traffickers, being separated from his mother and siblings, struggling to hide his sexuality, and seeking safe passage by paying smugglers to get from Russia, to Europe, to the eventual sanctuary of Denmark, where he tells his story to director Jonas Poher Rasmussen.
Sadly, with the world continuing to witness many appalling humanitarian crises, the turmoil experienced by people fleeing to safety is never far from our screens.
CFS has shown Fire At Sea (2016), Le Havre (2011), Hit The Road (2021) and Limbo (2022), an eclectic array of titles which feature some, if not all characters, trying to escape to a safer, better life.
Flee is told mainly through animation, using archive film footage to illustrate 1980s conflict in Afghanistan. It won the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema documentary at Sundance 2021, was nominated for three Academy Awards and has received nominations and accolades on an international scale. The languages spoken in Flee are primarily Danish, Dari (spoken in Afghanistan) and Russian, with occasional Swedish, French and English. Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal – 2019) and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones – 2011 to 2019) worked on the film as executive producers, and provide the voice narration in the English dub.
A picture paints 1000 words…
Animating a documentary provides another dimension to the story-telling, illustrating the narrative with colours, images, perspectives that traditional talking-head techniques may find difficult to capture. Although it is not a widely populated sub-genre, possibly owing to how time consuming it can be to create the animation, there are a number of notable titles. Some of which are listed below:
Waltz With Bashir (2008) – (not the follow up to the infamous Diana interview). The multi-award winning Israeli feature, focusing on the search for lost memories due to the trauma inflicted while fighting in the 1982 war in Lebanon. Using 3D and classic animation techniques, Waltz with Bashir is the stand out example of this sub-genre and the film by which others of its kind are judged.
My Old School (2022). In 1995, a very mature looking 16 year old ‘Brandon Lee’ enrolled at Bearsden Academy, in Bearsden, East Dunbartonshire. According to the documentary, it was soon apparent to all the students that something was amiss, and Lee wasn’t all he seemed. (Although maybe he was. Most of the recollections were that he seemed to be a middle-aged man…) Which begs the question, what were the teachers and other adults in the school doing about it, if it were that obvious? Alan Cumming lip-syncs for the central protagonist and the documentary is a combination of filmed interviews, Grange Hill style animation and archive footage. An entertaining and unnerving watch.
Life, Animated (2016). When he was three, Owen Suskind developed a severe form of Autism. His parents feared they had lost their little boy due to the condition. One day, while watching a Disney film, the family realised that they could communicate to Owen via the character dialogue in the cartoons, helping him explore his emotions through what he saw on screen. The documentary includes film, Disney clips and original animation created especially for the feature.
Nuts! (2016). The ‘mostly’ true-story of the life and times of John R Brinkley (1885 – 1942), a maverick inventor who claimed to have found a cure for impotence by implanting goat testicles into human scrotums. (We really do have something for everyone in this newsletter). Director Penny Lane (in my ears, in my eyes, now in all other parts too, apparently…) tells the story in two parts, one from Brinkley’s perspective and the other examining the nature of truth and ethics within documentaries.
So there you have it, some more recommendations for the dark nights, until Spring starts to appear. My Old School might even still be on BBC iPlayer.
We hope your escape to the movies on February 22nd is a lot more peaceful and enjoyable than the journey of Amin Nawabi, and that our screening will leave you with food for thought and promote a discussion.