Animateka 2023: Animated Documentaries Programme (GoCritic! Review)

Madeleine by Raquel Sancinetti animation still

The 20th edition of the Animateka International Animated Film Festival was a vibrant and boisterous event in the snow-coated Ljubljana. With the versatile programme featuring (almost) everything one could imagine animation to be: from an arthouse collage animation or world-renowned feature films to the new releases by the young authors, there was an incredibly curious section. Namely, the Animated Documentaries Programme.

The Anidoc section this year presented 15 short films in total. On the festivals page, this programme is presented with the words: “A win-win genre.” Indeed, it is. The animation medium gives filmmakers unprecedented flexibility in the visual or storytelling department, giving them the freedom to convey the most ambitious documentary stories. Before diving into the intricacies of the chosen styles and techniques, one common theme throughout all the works drew my attention. 

Each film documents a unique story, but one theme stretches with a red thread through many works: connection and the sense of belonging. American author and social critic bell hooks in her book ‘All About Love: New Visions’ writes: “When I travel around the nation giving lectures about ending racism and sexism, audiences, especially young listeners, become agitated when I speak about the place of love in any movement for social justice…Yet young listeners remain reluctant to embrace the idea of love as a transformative force.”  

Her book, published in 2000, is imbued with sadness about the world and people disconnected and at the same time beames with hope for the future, where love would be a proactive verb. Two decades later, despite everything, I feel we could be still moving to that state. I felt that watching the animated documentaries, where each film tells the stories of friendships, fighting for and finding the sense of home or community, and recollections and memories and relationships with parents. Through so many heartwarming plotlines and personal narratives, it all circled back to the power of connection in so many forms.

The programme opened up with the Franco-Italian production ‘Tufo’ (2023) by Victoria Musci. A multilayered story, that follows Ignazio Cutrò and his family living in Sicily, who are forced into a confrontation with the local mafia. Moreover, their fight for social justice is silenced not only by antagonists but also by the local community, as living “as always” seems more comforting. In this documentary, animation helps to effortlessly jump through the decades, without being challenged to follow the protagonist all these years. However, what struck me was the seamless blending of the animated characters and live-action locations and backgrounds, giving simultaneously a detailed sense of place and surroundings and deepening the textures of the frames.

A few of the works in the selection tackle different social issues, including the topic of immigration: ‘There Are People in the Forest’ (2023, Szymon Ruczyński), ‘Giving Up Was Not an Option’ (2023, Zeynep Sıla Demircioğlu) and Italian production ‘The Meatseller’ (2023, Margherita Giusti).

However ‘Swimming with Wings’ (2023) by Daphna Awadish Golan through a touching personification metaphor, where she portrays the children characters as penguins, learning to swim, fully captured my heart. Showing the experience of a young Israeli girl Lyri, who immigrated with her family to the Netherlands, the film explores the sense of home and what it takes sometimes to redefine it.

Swimming with Wings

Other documentaries are personal stories, surveys of the internalized heritages we are given from our parents and ancestors, that we take with us wherever we go, such as a bittersweet film about the father-son relationship ‘A Taste for Musik’ (2022, Jordan Antonowicz-Behnan) or the story of finding ones roots ‘Armat’ (2022) by Élodie Dermange.

Related: In Interview with Élodie Dermange

‘Vicious Circle’ (2023) by Tianyun Lyu is a gut-wrenching and deeply personal exploration of family traumas. The author records her conversation with her grandmother, trying to understand the break of the circle of isolation and hyper-control in her family. With intricate visuals, using different techniques, such as collages, drawings, or scratching on film, and conveying universal metaphors (for instance, a bird locked in a cage) the film takes the viewer on a rollercoaster of emotions.

Vicious Circle

Last but not least, there are stories of friendships: ‘Blush – An Extraordinary Voyage’ (2022, Iiti Yli- Harja) and ‘Madeleine’ (2023, Raquel Sancinetti). ‘Madeleine’, named after one of the protagonists in the film, follows two unlikely friends, a young filmmaker and a 107-year-old grumpy lady, on their road trip to the sea. A stop-motion animation, where the journey (and what a journey, a hurricane, and a flying camel definitely make it unforgettable!) matters more than the destination, teaches us to live fully every day and enjoy every little second.

Meticulously curated Animateka’s Animated Documentaries programme gives viewers a safe space to reflect on so many serious issues through a playful, inspiring, and bright animation medium.

(cover image: 'Madeleine' by Raquel Sancinetti)

Contributed by: Oleksandra Kalinichenko

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