Great Animation Short Documentaries of 2023 (Guest Article)

Animation documentaries collage stills

We are at the threshold of 2024 and we can say with full confidence that for several years we have been living in the golden age of animated documentaries, but also in the period of 'fashion' for animated documentaries. And it's not only about the number of films that are created every year in art schools and professional studios, and fit into this constantly redefined and living paradigm, but also about the quality and originality of the films themselves. It is true that animated documentaries - although they have existed for over 100 years - have now become extremely popular both among animators and documentary directors.

The documentary approach helps animation reach adult viewers and gradually removes the burden of 'children's fairy tales' from animation. Animation, in turn, gives a documentary movie visual tools to go even deeper into the topic, create a universal message, and also ensure the anonymity of the characters. As a result, we are witnessing the final separatism of the 'new' film genre, the animated documentary sensu stricto (animadoc, anidoc).

The creators of animated documentaries, just like the documentary filmmakers of 'The Living Plane', carefully look at the reality around them but also explore their own personal experiences, which become universal thanks to animation.

On the one hand, we have the topic of migration in search of a better place to live and in fear for their own lives; migration caused by wars and climate change. On the other hand, there are intimate testimonies of relationships between people closest to each other, often marked by illness or trauma, but also by a specific mixture of love and hate.

To sum up: the difficult situation in the Middle East in terms of internal politics and violations of human rights (especially women's rights), international armed conflicts (especially the war in Ukraine), migration and migrants' rights, minority rights, including LGBTiQ+, women's rights to decide about their own bodies, destigmatization of mental illnesses, global ecological catastrophe, but also positive actions for other beings - these are just some of the topics that appeared most often in the animated documentaries of 2023.

In my summary, I focus only on short films that were particularly memorable to me in 2023 [released between 2022 and 2023].

Great Animation Short Documentaries of 2023 

(in alphabetical order)

ARMAT (Switzerland 2022, 11:37) / Director: Elodie Dermange

armat dermange
A beautiful animation reminiscent of the decorative motifs of an Armenian wardrobe in its visual layer; a special, emotionally heavy wardrobe, because it is filled with violence and the inability to express love, which is symbolically carried on the shoulders of subsequent generations of the director's family.

CONSIDER THE END (Norway 2023, 28:22) / Director: Pouria Kazemi

consider the end pouria kazemi
An original story of the director's life shown through the prism of experiencing various deaths. Formally simple, drawing animation, combined with a reflective, funny, and often surprising narrative, also becomes a chronicle of the times and the country (Iran) where the director was born.

GOLDEN HEADACHER (Finland 2022, 17:00) / Director: Niina Suominen

golden headacher niina suominen
A bold and honest disenchantment of motherhood, by exploring and expressing the negative and true female emotions associated with it. The women's testimonies correspond perfectly with the figurative-abstract visual layer, in which fragments of textile materials and "idyllic" glossy photos of children, which were popular in Scandinavia in the last century, constitute a bitter counterpoint to painful confessions.

LITTLE BIRDS (Mexico 2023, 08:40) / Director: Gabriela Badillo

little birds
Migration in Search of a Better Life is told from the perspective of children and their dreams and presented in animations successfully stylized as children's drawings. Although the topic of migration is shown in the example of attempts to cross the Mexican-American border, it can be treated as a starting point for a discussion about migrants and their rights, which must be respected and guaranteed wherever they cross the border. 

OUR UNIFORM (Iran 2023, 06:30) / Director: Yegane Moghaddam

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 75
The important topic of limiting women's rights in Iran has probably never been presented in such an original, but also light and funny form, which is a very courageous decision. Starting with the hijab (and old school uniform, which becomes the main motif of the film's set design), Yegane Moghaddam expresses the universal and obvious truth that the "uniform" defines us all and there is nothing wrong with it; provided that we decide about it ourselves.

ST. VITUS DANCE (France 2023, 12:00) / Director: Bhopal (Hadrien Bertuit)

st vitus dance bhopal
A moving study of life with a serious and incurable disease. The dense, painterly animation typical of Bhopal emphasizes the overwhelming situation and the inevitability of the fate of the main characters who, despite everything, try to somehow live. 

THE PINK JACKET (Portugal 2022, 08:20) / Director: Mónica Santos

the pink jacket monica santos
A daring animated historical documentary that is a masterful combination of musical and visual storytelling, interacting in extraordinary harmony and with the outstanding taste of haute couture. Who among us hasn't hummed the sweet main musical theme after the screening, while at the same time having bitter memories of the stories of people in power in 'pink jackets'? 

THE WAITING (Germany 2023, 15:35) / Director: Volker Schlecht

the waiting
The tension and intrigue of THE WAITING brings to mind the legendary THE DRIVER IS RED by Randall Christopher. However, this case concerns all of us and the investigation covers the entire world. An ecological crime story that moves smoothly from the massacre of frogs in the jungle of Costa Rica to the COVID pandemic of 2020 to reveal the uncomfortable truth that we, humans, are responsible for the global transmission of diseases and the violation of harmony in nature.

Contributed by: Piotr Kardas

Piotr Kardas is the director of the RISING OF LUSITANIA AnimaDoc FF and O!PLA Festival of Polish Animation.

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