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Animated Documentaries, where fact meets fun!

An overview of the world of animated factual movies!

Steve Roberts

on 18 November 2014

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Transcript of Animated Documentaries, where fact meets fun!

Animated Documentaries
and propaganda.
What is propaganda?
What is a documentary?

Documentary films describe lots of nonfictional movies intended to document some aspect of reality, either for instruction or historical record.
Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one's group.
The word documentary was first coined by Scottish documentarian John Grierson in his review of Robert Flaherty's film Moana (1926).
Grierson's principles of documentary were that cinema's potential for observing life could be exploited in a new art form; that the "original" actor and "original" scene are better guides than their fiction counterparts to interpreting the modern world; and that materials "thus taken from the raw" can be more real than the acted article.
In this regard, Grierson's definition of documentary as "creative treatment of actuality" has gained some acceptance.
But what about films with staging and re-enactments?
Night Mail (1936)
In his essays, Soviet film-maker Dziga Vertov argued for presenting "life as it is" (that is, life filmed surreptitiously) and "life caught unawares" (life provoked or surprised by the camera).
But there are lots of other sorts of documentaries.
Man With a Movie Camera (1929)
The American film critic and film maker Pare Lorentz defines a documentary film as "a factual film which is dramatic.
Others further state that a documentary stands out from the other types of non-fiction films for providing an opinion, and a specific message, along with the facts it presents.
Wildlife documentaries
Here is an example of one of Greirsons documetaries, made for the Post Office in 1936.
investigative journalism
The first ever movies could be
described as documentaries.
These early films would show things
like a ship leaving harbor or
workers leaving a factory.
This is supposedly the first ever
"Roundhay Garden Scene" is an
1888 British short film directed by

Louis Le Prince.

So how does animation fit into this?
The first recognized example of this genre is Winsor McKay's 1918 12-minute-long film "The Sinking of the Lusitania", which uses animation to portray the 1915 sinking of RMS Lusitania after it was struck by two torpedoes fired from a German U-boat; an event of which no recorded film footage is known to exist.
McKay was so incensed by this action that he made a
movie calling for the USA to enter the WW 1.
The fact that the film wasn't finished until the almost the end of the war points out a basic problem.
Animation takes a long time to make!
Consequently it is not that suitable for news editorial type documentary.
Something that animation is very good at, is explaining and educating.
Max Fleischer used this in some early examples of educational documentary.
He was very interested in Science.
He invented the rotoscope and set up an animated film company to use it.
KoKo the Clown, Betty Boop, Popeye and Superman were produced by the Fleischer Brothers and used the rotoscope to varying degrees.
In 1923 Max Wrote and directed "The Einstein Theory of Relativity".
This was mainly intended to be shown in museums but proved so popular that it gained a cinema release.
In 1925, the hottest topic of the time was the Scopes “monkey trial” taking place in Tennessee.
A young schoolteacher named John Scopes was being tried there for teaching his pupils Darwin’s theory of evolution. The trial was front-page news all over the country.
The trial was a fight between science and religion, and since science was involved, Max was once again completely captivated.
He decided to make another long film that would present the scientific argument for Darwin’s theory.
He contracted the American Museum of Natural History in New York and, with its cooperation and assistance, produced Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, a five-reel feature combining animation and live action.
The film was another surprise hit. Its first public screening was held in the Kaufman Theater of the American Museum of Natural History.
Here is an account of one of the screenings of this movie;
"My father and mother took me, at the tender age of nine, to see the movie, and I will never forget the experience. I remember nothing at all about the picture itself, but the huge, surging crowd of people trying to jam into the auditorium stays in my memory. There were hundreds of people outside trying to get in. The lobby of the theater was jam-packed with a rather unruly mob. Several museum display cases were knocked over and smashed. It came close to being a riot, and no one had yet seen the picture!"
The reception was pretty much the same wherever Darwin’s Theory of Evolution played -large crowds filling the theaters, arguments and fistfights afterward.
Max was a bit taken aback by the fuss his picture caused and became somewhat defensive. “In spite of the fact that the picture made an attempt to merely illustrate Darwin’s theory and not to teach the theory,” he wrote in his autobiography, “the picture was objected to by anti-Darwinites.”

In the early days, stop frame animation often gave the impression that it was "real".
The audience were left guessing how the movie was done and the animators were very secretive about the process
The Lost World is a 1925 silent film adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 novel.
This was directed by Harry O. Hoyt and featured pioneering stop motion special effects by Willis O'Brien.
In the advertising and the trailers it was sold as being a factual film and O'Briens dinosaurs were found very convincing.
In the early days, drawn animation often played on the fact that it was drawings that moved.
It was magic that made the drawing move.
It didn't try to be real life.
An example of this is "Out of the Inkwell" cartoons.
Although you could say that this is a depiction of someone drawing and we go from documentary to fiction.
Animation has always been used for advertising.
The earliest ever animated movie was an advert for matches.
Here are some interesting adverts using animation.
Commercial break.
Now back to the Lecture...
During the Second World War
Animation was used in many
Propaganda films....
Warner Brothers were keen to produce anti Nazi movies after their German representative was kicked to death in Berlin in 1940.
They produced a live action film called "Mrs Miniver" which was about a house wife coping with the Blitz in London.
The following film is called "Russian Rhapsody" by Bob Clampet and is a pro Russian, anti Nazi film.
USSR anti nazi animation.
This next movie is an example of
Vichy French anti american propaganda.
(The Vichy French was the name for the
French Nazi collaborators in WW 2).
The next film is Disney's "Education for Death".
One of the hardest hitting anti Nazi movies Disney produced.
Victory Through Air Power is a 1942 non-fiction book by Alexander P. de Seversky.
It was made into a 1943 Walt Disney animated feature film of the same name: Victory Through Air Power.
The book was published just as the USA entered WW 2.
Seversky advocated the formation of an independent air force and the development of long-range bombers
Disney,after reading the book was inspired to make this movie, paying for it himself.
This encouraged the USA government to follow this line during WW2 and subsequent wars
Propaganda films continued during the cold war but were now anti capitalist and anti communist
The USSR produced Hundreds of propaganda movies. Since these animated movies were intended to win the hearts and minds of the Russian people, all of them have a strong anti-American, anti-German, anti-British, anti-Japanese, anti-Capitalist, anti-Imperialist, and pro-Communist slant.
Here is an example of an anti American Imperialist cartoon "Someone Else's Voice"
Of course this wasn't all one way.
Here is an example of an Animated
Anti Communist movie.
"Make Mine Freedom". 1948
This is a much more recent
Anti American North Korean
cartoon about how mathematics
can defeat the imperialists!
In the late 1940's the USA implemented the Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Program, ERP).
This was the large-scale American program to aid Europe where the United States gave monetary support to help rebuild European economies after the end of World War II in order to combat the spread of Soviet communism.
Most countries around Europe spent this money on infrastructure, government and building new factories.
In the UK we spent it on establishing the National Health Service. (The idea of universal healthcare for all).
Here is a movie explaining this concept to the British people.
In 1953, Norman McLaren's "Neighbours" won the Academy Awards for Best Documentary (Short Subject).
The award is somewhat considered a mistake, but the fact that it was not only indicated into that category, but also won, shows that, somehow, the animated images spoke to the judges almost like a documentary.
Disney produced many educational films during the 50's and 60's. His company was also the first movie company to embrace TV with it's own TV shows and ultimately buying it's own TV network.
Here is a fairly infamous one called "Our Friend the Atom". 1957
Here is another slightly more unlikely Disney offering; "The story of menstuation"
In this country, during the 60's and 70's, I grew up with public information films....
And this tradition is continued today but with different pressing issues!
It's very difficult if not impossible to make a Fly On The Wall type documentary in Animation (although it has been replicated in Movies such as Creature Comforts or Surfs Up).
The 2008 film Waltz with Bashir was advertised as being the first feature-length animated documentary.
Waltz with Bashir is a 2008 Israeli animated documentary film written and directed by Ari Folman. It depicts Folman in search of his lost memories from the 1982 Lebanon War.
This is a very complex film concerning the Sabra and Shatila massacre. Palestinian and Lebanese civilians were massacred in the camps by Christian Lebanese Phalangists while the camp was surrounded by the Israel Defense Force.
In that period of time, Israel was at war with the PLO in Lebanon.
In 1982, an independent commission chaired by Sean MacBride concluded that the Israeli authorities or forces were, directly or indirectly, responsible.
The film concerns the director Ari Folman in 1982 a 19-year-old infantry soldier in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and his involvement with the massacre.
In conclusion....
Although animation cannot document real life as it is, it can educate, inform, explain, simplify and sell.
As opposed to impartially providing information, propaganda, in its most basic sense, presents information primarily to influence an audience.
Propaganda is often biased, with facts selectively presented (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented.
The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political, or other type of agenda.
Propaganda can be used as a form of political warfare.
Propaganda films
Hans Held
Fly on the wall
Colour Box. Len Lye 1935
Full transcript