Journalists Often Become Key Heroes In Animated Films

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

Acute political and social topics have long been found in animated art, turning it into a kind of art which is not so much about being fun and light, rather about the study of serious issues.

The ReAnimania International Animation and Cinema Festival, which has been held for the tenth time in Armenia, has a vividly expressed documentary and journalistic footprint this year.

It incorporates the best animated films of the last year, which are mostly based on journalistic investigations, or whose activities are carried out by journalists.

And as a novelty, this year’s festival will host a series of discussions and master classes for Armenian journalists to show that the pictures presented sometimes are the best solution to address urgent and painful issues.

Founder of ReAnimania, caricaturist Vrej Kassouny, considers this tendency to be quite natural. Animation as an instrument is already present in journalism as an infographic or explanatory animation structure, and it is natural that it should have been featured in artistic films.

Why did the topic of journalism become highlighted at the festival, was that part of the list of films?

Yes, four out of the five contestants of this year’s contest are documentaries or are about journalists. For example, “Chris the Swiss” is about a journalist who went to work in Kosovo and was killed in Croatia in 1992. Years later, Chris’ cousin, Anja Kofmel, followed his footsteps and shot this animated film.

It’s interesting that the journalist who appeared in the battlefield, collected materials, interviewed people and felt that he transformed from a journalist into a fighter. That is, he becomes a part of the war.  I think that many journalists are familiar with that situation.

The filmmaker herself carried out a journalistic investigation to understand what had happened to Chris.

The other film, Funan, is a real story about a young woman who was trying to find her kidnapped son in Cambodia in 1975 during a red-hot regime, and becomes a witness of horrifying stories.

And the opening film of the festival, which is called Un homme est mort, is a french political drama, which starts with the army protests and strikes in the 1950s and which gained momentum when the famous documentary filmmaker is able to shoot and distribute shots of murder.

The hero of the Polish-Spanish film Another day after life is also a journalist in a war. This film was created over a span of ten years, showing the life of a Polish journalist covering Angola’s civil war. Th film is a mix of animation and documentary.

Seeing that the documentary and journalist’s work seemed to be a major driving force in visual arts, we decided to make journalism our key subject.

Instead of writing, you can paint an article. That would be attractive, especially since visual elements are more influential than text.

Journalists also understand that. ReAnimania also has a section for comics, graphic novels, where this year, Newsweek reporter Eric Pape’s investigative work, which I have painted, will be presented.

Pape has worked for years in Cambodia and has followed the tragedy of young women and girls. The Cambodian authorities have used violent force to turn women into mistresses, who in a sign of protest have destroyed their faces with corrosive acid.

Working in the newspaper, Eric Pape had written about that and then decided to turn his materials into a graphic novel.

Interestingly, many of the characters in the comics are now a part of the Cambodian government, and nobody can open lawsuits against them.

This book was ordered by Human Rights Watch, taking into account the safety of women in political conflict. It will be ready soon.

Documentary materials often become a picture for art. For example, the French cartoon Varto which is about the Armenian Genocide.

During his visit to Yerevan, Eric Pape will hold a public discussion on journalism and animation art and will also host a master class with Armenian artists and journalists.

That will be hence a journalistic master class.

And what is the top priority, to be a journalist and order a series of art from an artist, or is it better when the author is the artist?

The artist can become a journalist, but a journalist can cooperate with an artist.

It is interesting to know why a journalist decides what to say, not in the form of a story, with a book or article, but rather through images. They even refuse to make a documentary and choose an animation or comic.

ReAnimania guests should talk about that.

For a long time, I have been myself have been collecting materials about the best and possibly the most famous Armenian cartoonist in media, Alexander Sarukhanyan, who has left behind the most amount of pictures.

I have made videos in Egypt with Sarukhanyan’s pupils and colleagues, thinking that I can make a documentary film, but I came to realize that I need to make an animated film, because his story is best told not via testimonies but through his characters.

The animation provides that distance, which is necessary to re-establish facts.

I think the documentaries and journalists who choose animation are avoiding two things. The first is the cruelty of the fact.

Tragedy is sometimes easier to present without documentary evidence, aesthetic solutions and clarifying the point more.  

The authors of the animated film Waltz with Bashir did such a thing. They put real reports and interviews about the murder at the end of the film as a reminder, and the entire film was animated.

The same was done in Funan. If for example, this dramatic story was presented as a piece of journalistic material, I think it would be less impressive. Annd as an animation, this film by Dennis Do is more reserved and tragic at the same time. The artistic scene comes to replace real scenes of murder and torture.  

And secondly, the animation helps to fill the void of facts. If you do not have enough video, but you have a good story, animation and comics are the best solution.

Interview by Nune Hakhverdyan

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