The Fantoche Animation Festival (August 31 to September 5) asked these questions, and more.

The links between animation and documentary, and animation’s potential for documentary production, were two themes explored during this year’s Fantoche International Animation Festival, which is held every two years in Baden, Switzerland. In a programme entitled “Revision of Reality” the Fantoche directorial collective presented a group of recent animated films, each of which, in its own way, displayed affinities with documentary. In addition, the festival organized a panel discussion on the topic, bringing documentary and animation filmmakers together to debate the issues. As a documentary enthusiast, I was asked to moderate the discussion – and although I didn’t lose my passion for documentary, I did come out of the debate a born-again animation fan.

Documentary Cartoons

fantoche-post-620x348Can an animated film be a documentary? A provocative question, likely to cause confusion at first. Traditionally, animation has been considered the most fantasy-driven form of filmmaking, in which filmmakers’ imaginations could be completely unleashed, in total defiance of the laws of space, time and causality. How could this kind of filmmaking have anything to do with the commitment to represent reality, which supposedly unites documentary-makers?

Upon closer reflection, however, the question begins to seem less absurd and actually quite logical. We remember the pedagogical cartoons we saw at school, learning about staunchly non-fictional subjects like history, science, or (ulp!) sex education through drawings and diagrams. In many cases, we took these films more seriously than photo-realistic films on the same subjects, which often would have had to use barely believable staging and effects to make the same points. Although photo-realistic film is generally considered more “authentic” than drawings or paintings, this method of depicting reality clearly has its limitations. It would seem that the more abstract means available to animators can sometimes offer better, more believable results – precisely because there is no attempt to create the illusion of photographic realism. In fact, when depicting subjective states of mind, the complete freedom offered by animation can be a most valuable asset.

Every Film a Trickfilm?

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