What is it about?

Animated film has long been associated primarily with fiction film -- and moreover as aimed mostly at children. Over the past 15 years, animations have been used as (part of) documentaries, called "animentaries." Documentaries are considered (for instance by Nichols 2017, who follows classical rhetoric, specifically Aristotle) as a kind of "audiovisual speeches," that is, as audiovisual discourses that try to convince an audience of the rightness of certain claims. In this paper we analyse four animentaries about (historical) wars: Waltz with Bashir (dir. Ari Folman, 2008), 25 April (dir. Leanne Pooley, 2015), Chris the Swiss (dir. Anja Kofmel, 2018) and Another Day of Life (dir. Raúl de la Fuente and Damian Nenow, 2019).

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Why is it important?

Since animation by definition features no, or only a minimal (as e.g., in motion capture, rotoshopping, and stop motion varieties) record of a profilmic reality, "animated documentary" might at first appear to be an ontological impossibility. Demonstrable links between a documentary (in whatever form) and "reality" are after all crucial for its credibility. Honess Roe (2013) has persuasively argued that there are some things that an animentary can do that a live-action documentary cannot do (so well): (1) show things of which no visual record exists mimetically; (2) show things of which no visual record exists non-mimetically; (3) evoke empathy with people's mental states (e.g., traumas and hallucinations). But what if animations purport to present a perspective on events that are tooted in history, for instance wars? Here, animentary makers need to tread carefully in order to be credited with having provided an honourable, honest perspective on reality in a way that is not fundamentally different from perspectives in live-action documentaries. In our paper, we claim that animentaries have at their disposal several strategies to help ensure authenticity and believability. These are: shifting the "recording" to the soundtrack (via the language spoken by central social actors) and to written language (in the form of superimposed names and brief references to archival records). Moreover, we argue that the animentaries invest a lot of energy in boosting the "ethos" of both the makers and other people involved. This last observation ties in with our demonstration how the four animentaries use Aristotle's three dimensions of non-artistic proof to be convincing: ethos (pertaining to the stakeholders' reputation, expertise, and good faith), logos (pertaining to the internal logic or "logic" of the audiovisual argument made), and pathos (pertaining to the appeal to the audience's emotions).


The role of animation becomes very quickly much more important in a society in which people's interaction with reality is increasingly mediated (e.g., via Zoom, GPS, YouTube films, Twitter), meaning that our realities are nowadays often virtual ones. Erlich (2021) eloquently and convincingly discusses the role of animation in (serious) games and data visualizations (although I am much less happy with her discussion of "animentary"). Democratically healthy societies presuppose that its citizens agree on what are "facts" and "truth(s)" -- or at least agree that the continued search for facts and truths is fundamental -- and this is as important as it ever was. The rise of animation in representing (virtual) realities demands serious discussion and analysis. If & when discourses have no, or a diminished, indexical relationship to reality, due to the absence or reduction of any direct "recording" of that reality, this could feed into dangerous ideas about "alternative facts" and "fake news."

Dr Charles Forceville
Universiteit van Amsterdam

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This page is a summary of: Evaluating animentary’s potential as a rhetorical genre, Visual Communication, July 2021, SAGE Publications,
DOI: 10.1177/14703572211010198.
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