Our task for ester holiday was to write essay for the topic “Animating Issues: Documentary Animation as Social Medium.” I have chosen this short animated movie above to analysis. It touches me so much… I am not really strong in expressing my thought in words (especially in English), so this essay was big challenge for me. Please read what I managed to write 🙂
I have a problem with the term “documentary animation.” It sounds a bit like an oxymoron to me. It is intrinsically contradictory because it combines the most distant meanings of expressions. Documentary is a registration of reality “as it is” with as little interference as possible. It pretends to be an eyewitness’ report. The unique features of the documentary are the authenticity and the ability to grasp what is ordinary, everyday, spontaneous life. Documentary film – while still being an author’s statement – is about telling a reality and not creating it, whereas the main future of an animation is a total free creation. It is about inventing a completely new, autonomous world. The world that can be limited only by an imagination of an author. In animation, everything is possible and it is precisely what stands for its charm. It is exactly because it does not reflect the outside world but rather the world of an inner author. Therefore, it lays in its very nature that an animation is a negation of a document.
Nevertheless, the film which I would like to write about – “The Governance of Love” (“O rządach miłości”) by Adela Kaczmarczyk – combines these contradictions. It uses an animation to show reality, specific reality of the inner life of schizophrenic person, which in my opinion is impossible to show by using a camera only in a classical documentary technic.
Adela Kaczmarczyk is a graduate of the Graphic Arts Department at the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow (Poland). Her diploma film, the “Bay” (2008), which was made under the Professor Jerzy Kucia’s Animated Film Studio, won a special award at the Polish Festival of Original Animated Films (OFAFA) in Cracow. She debuted with a short film “The Full Sun” (2012). She participated in the POLSKA.DOC workshop where she made “The Governance of Love”1. This film was awarded an honorable mention in the short film category of the documentary film festival DOXA 2014, in Vancouver.
This is how the distributor of the film describes it:
“At first glance, this film does not have much to do with the document: narratives are accompanied by slideshows animated in a uniform style. We listen to the history of bombing Hungary with Polish hits, the bizarre birth of the galaxy, the Polish rule of love and the mysterious expedition to the cinema. Only in the finale, it turns out that the narrator’s voice belongs to the authentic hero, and the presented drawings are his authorship. The magic of cinema allows us to take a moment to look at his extraordinary world.” (SPF, 2015)
Kaczmarczyk describes her own work is such words:
“The protagonist of “The Governance of Love” lives simultaneously in several realities. Characters and events from the real world mingle with the ones created by his imagination. In his own way, he himself looks for his place in these worlds. He spins his tales, dreaming about the governance of love in Poland. His world, in spite of its naivety, makes us reflect on existential issues of good and evil. Using animation, the director wants to depict inner life of the mentally ill protagonist. In the graphic layer of the film, she used the works spontaneously made by the protagonist.” (Kaczmarczyk, 2013)
In my opinion, this short 13-minutes animation contains a key feature of a documentary. It presents real human and his story of life in the center. The famous Polish documentary filmmaker Wojciech Wiszniewski, argued in the 1970s that documentary filmmakers should focus on the people and their problems, and build the story around them. “Unlike the feature film, the characteristic feature of a documentary film is that the starting point is the concrete, real people, specific situations, specific objects. In short, the interest of filmmakers is human reality, social reality.” (Wiszniewski, 1976)4 Wiszniewski said.
Furthermore, I think that Kaczmarek solved in a perfect way the problem of which Paul Welles wrote in his essey “The Beautiful Village and The True Village. A Consideration of Animation and the Documentary Aesthetic.” He wrote, according to Hans Ritcher, that in non-fiction movies exists the tension beetween “instrinscally fictional vocabulary of animation” and the need to hide an author by himself or herself, “to obtain a better pretence or fiction of objective reality”.5 However, Adela Kaczmarczyk uses in her film only the drawings made by the protagonist on his own, which makes this tension disappear. The man who suffers from schizophrenia tells us about his life, fear, dreams and halucynations in his own specific way of expression. The use of drawings of the hero eliminates also the real danger that is inscribed in a classic documentary film form, and which Tomasz Sobolewski, a famous Polish film critic, describes in such words: “The realisation of the document was, in principle, an impure, painful interference in reality. A man with a camera and a microphone is going to fight his model, hunt for the truth about him, and at the decisive moment he is tearing the truth out of him. And even if it fails or retreats, it is not a moral gesture of the predator who retreats before the final jump.” (Sobolewski 2000)6
This ambiguity of the documentary filmmaking, especially during the public presentation included in the work of the heroes’ secrets, is often absent in an animated documentary where the character can be hidden behind the plastic art form. In Kaczmarczyk’s animation it is individual plastic art form of protagonist.
Here I would like to present some suggestions of the typology of an animated documentary. According to Paul Wells, animated documentaries can be divided into four categories: those that work on imitative, subjective, fantastic, and postmodern plans. The first plane – imitative – indicates the use of typical documentary conventions, such as a film chronicle or natural film. The subjective one focuses on presenting alternative and individual historical or social events. Under fantastic category, social or historical themes are presented in a new context so the viewers can suggest another way of interpreting these events. The last one – postmodern – assumes that all social and cultural narrative can be influenced by undue authority or reality, offering a relative truth, according to Wells. “The Governance of Love” basically represents the subjective mode. However, due to a special issue of mental illness, it also represents a fantastic mode.
Animation creators and lecturers often repeat to their students that if they want to show someone who, for example, gets up in the morning and goes to the store for a milk, it will be faster and cheaper to make that scene with the actor using the camera. “If I have an idea for a movie or when I read a script, I always wonder if it could be done with the help of actors. If so, I reject the idea.” (Vucotic, 1964)
I suppose that the very specific subject of that movie, the mental illness, makes an animated documentary its only possible form to show us this world in the most authentic way. Animated documentary works balance on the boundaries of real and imagined spheres, almost in the same way as an inner life of people who suffer from schizophrenia. We cannot see their own thoughts and visions. The only person who can introduce us to this special world is that person itself. I think that every other way would be cursed and could be seen as a form of intrusion, an abuse even. Paradoxically, the animation in this case is more real than the reality itself.
For me, this short animation has also fulfilled a really important task of a social medium. The filmmaking process itself had certainly a therapeutic value for the patient, but what is more, it became an important tool in the process of sharing this issue and spreading the awareness about it within the society. Schizophrenia is a quite frequent mental disorder and even if we will not be affected by it personally, it is very likely that at some point of our lives we will meet a person suffering from this illness. Meanwhile, it is a general observation that any mental disorder meets with fear and incomprehension from the society. Mentally ill people must struggle not only with their own sickness but also with the rejection by the society they are living in.
Considering the above, I believe that this movie plays an important role in spreading the public awareness of schizophrenia.
The protagonist and the narrator of the movie is adorable and he is a good person. The way he talks about his life is touching and moving. He cannot stir up a fear to the audience, only the compassion. In this way, the animation contributes to a greater purpose, which is spreading a social sensitivity and sympathy for mentally ill people in the society.
As a way of summing up my thoughts regarding the film “The Governance of Love,” I would like to quote the protagonist who says: “Oh, the power of art! You cannot counterfeit it.” Well, you certainly cannot.