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How Swede It Is
Gunnar Strøm · From fps #1 · March 1, 2005 | The term "animated documentary" can still upset a truth-seeking purist. But over the last few years our understanding of what a documentary is has expanded from the narrow direct cinema/cinema vérité definition of the 1970s and the 1980s. A more inclusive definition with room for both classic documentaries like the European city symphonies of the 1920s and the personal film essays of the 1990s and the 2000s is now gaining support.

There was a close connection between animation and documentary filmmaking in Europe in the 1920s (Walter Ruttman, Hans Richter, Dziga Vertov) and in the UK in the 1930s (John Grierson, Len Lye, Norman McLaren). This close connection continued at the National Film Board of Canada after World War II and through to this day. Even Hollywood's Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences accepted the animated documentary as documentary proper by giving the Oscar to McLaren (Neighbours, 1952) and Saul Bass (Why Man Creates, 1968). The direct cinema/cinema vérité movements and the total dominance of TV documentaries closely based on journalism have dominated the documentary tradition since the 1960s. But postmodernist thinking combined with more individual/personal artistic filmmaking have brought the artistic elements of the European documentaries of the 1920s and 1930s back. And this scene has also opened up for the modern animated documentary.

At the NFB the filmmakers never stopped making animated documentaries, and a similar tradition has been kept alive in the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden and Norway. I believe a major reason for this is the social democratic political thinking that lies behind both the ideology of the NFB and the film politics in Scandinavia. The film industry deserves state funding because the films play a vital role in our democracy. In Scandinavia, our minor national languages (8 million people speak Swedish, 5 million speak Danish, and only 4 million speak Norwegian) make it almost impossible for a national film industry to balance economically without extensive state funding. Such a close connection between politics and art can of course be questioned. For the animated documentaries I discuss here, I believe this connection has been essential.

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You'll find it and many other articles in the March 2005 issue of fps, available as a free download.
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