Lucid dreaming: animated documentary at Thessaloniki

THESSALONIKI: Three films from the 2020 Thessaloniki Documentary Festival prove the multi-dimensional power of animation in non-fiction storytelling.
Carmen Gray
Freelance film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: March 12, 2020
Thessaloniki-Documentary Festival-2020-featured
Tower, a film by Keith Maitland

If fumbling for a definition of documentary, the «observation of reality» might initially spring to one’s mind. But the idea of simply pointing a camera at the world around us and recording it, as if seen by our own eyes, barely scratches the surface of attempts to represent what is true — and how little of it is rawly visible before us. In the ‘20s, animation was turned to as a way to illustrate abstract concepts in educational films such as the Fleischer brothers’ The Einstein Theory of Relativity. These days, non-fiction exists in an ever-more complicated dance with the acknowledgment of subjectivity and unreliable perception. Animation has proved an effective tool in breathing life into, not only, testimonies of the past, but also the inextricability of imagination, emotion, and the hallucinatory plane of dreams. This year, a tribute programme at 2020 Thessaloniki Documentary Festival explores ways in which animation has enriched the documentary form, creating a hybrid sub-genre. Below, we revisit several selection highlights.


On August 1, 1966, a sniper opened fire indiscriminately from the observation deck of the University of Texas Tower, shooting 16 people in a 96-minute campus siege, before he was shot himself. It was the first mass school shooting in U.S. history and left the nation shaken. Director Keith Maitland does a fine job of tapping the meaning and collective catharsis to be found within a recreation of the day’s events with Tower (2016), filtered through the first-person accounts of seven survivors. Realising they would most likely not be permitted to film a reconstruction on campus, the team used rotoscopic animation, deftly blending it with archival footage of Austin in the ‘60s and the massacre, to create both a textured sense of the lived era and an immediacy that immerses viewers into the dramatic moment alongside its witnesses.

The danger of glorifying the perpetrator that comes with this kind of reconstruction is admirably avoided.

The danger of glorifying the perpetrator that comes with this kind of reconstruction is admirably avoided. We are never taken inside …

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