The animated documentary

Manipulation of footage and rhetoric happens enough in documentary filmmaking, but what about animated documentaries? Should viewers begin watching an animated documentary knowing the truth has been manipulated even more than a non-animated documentary would have been?

More than a few documentaries include animation to help tell a story. “New Year Baby” and “American Teen” are both documentaries that use animation, however, the whole documentary is not animated.

Waltz With Bashir” and “Chicago 10” are two films I can think of that are told through animation.

Waltz With Bashir” director Ari Folman said in an interview with John Esther on

“I was not interested in a fiction film. I wanted to do it animated because it dealt with memory. The term documentary, honestly, I don’t really care. I’ve been hassled so much about the animated documentary idea. It was so much trouble raising the budget because I declared it “an animated documentary.” If I had to do it again, I would never call it a documentary. [Laughs]”

Folman also said, he encountered debate because people believed a documentary can’t be animated.

Folman recorded studio interviews and animated scenes, and sometimes overdubbed audio recordings.

According to the director of “Chicago 10,” Brett Morgen, the trouble came when trying to figure out how animation would be done for courtroom scenes when video footage didn’t exist. “We had to animate 35 minutes of dialogue!” he said in an Independent Lens interview.

I feel the editing and animating process becomes unethical when audio recordings are manipulated in such a way that the actual truth of the speaker does not represent what they actually said.

Unethical manipulation can occur in non-animated documentaries where b-roll is used, but the same ethics apply to non-animated documentaries and news packages.

How are viewers supposed to know if what they are hearing is the complete truth, and if what they are seeing is the complete truth?

Viewers don’t know and can’t tell unless filmmakers and videographers are honest with their audiences.

It is easier to be unethical when animating documentaries, so it is even more important to be cautious when editing audio and footage.

Please feel free to weigh in on any comments, experiences, or any documentary films that use animation.


Filed under documentary

2 responses to “The animated documentary

  1. spsullivan

    It’s the same rules that apply with literary journalism; you’re still dealing with “the feel of the facts.”

    Even when you’re working with actual video, I think it’s easy to manipulate footage so the same ‘facts’ can draw different conclusions.

    I’m OK with using animation to deal with memory, the same way I’m OK with the poet William Carlos Williams telling the ‘true story’ of Paterson with his book-length poem. There are just as many ways to tell true stories as there are to tell fictional ones.

    • rosiewalunas

      Yes you can do the same things with the written word. But it’s possibly more convincing when one hears audio that is supposed to be the real words of a real person. Whole fictional sentences can be cut together out of cuts of words. That blurs the lines between what is partly the truth, not at all the truth, and the actually truth of what someone said.

      Animation is okay to use, it’s just a matter of how it’s used – if it is being used to cover up cuts that are creating someone’s false speech.

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