A practice based inquiry into materiality, minimalism, fantasy and actuality in animated documentary

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University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
This thesis is part of a creative practice PhD that explores the creative possibilities of using animation as a documentary medium through the making of a half-hour animated documentary, titled Polonia, that takes as its subject a historical narrative focusing on the emigration of two Polish families from Poland in the early 1980s, set within the context of broader geopolitical events of that time. This written thesis contextualizes the making of the film by outlining a brief history of animated documentary and through a discussion of the key theoretical concepts that inform the discourse around this subgenre of documentary filmmaking. The thesis provides the historical context for the film’s narrative, outlines its production processes and unpacks its creative choices and iconography. The final part of the thesis discusses key theoretical insights that have emerged from the creative process and how they point towards a ways in which animation can be conceptualised as a legitimate documentary medium. The concept of constructedness as a means of self-reflexivity is identified as the key factor that grants animation this legitimacy. This leads to a discussion of the film as a spatial construct, resulting from the dual process of reconstruction and construction, and comprising both archival and cinematic spaces, as well as the liminal space that exists between fantasy and actuality. There is also a discussion of the film’s performance in and of animation, identifying the avatar as a distinct category of animated character that is granted documentary legitimacy, substance and interiority through its relationship to a real-world referent. Finally, the role of sound is addressed, as relating to the film’s self-reflexive constructedness.
A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Digital Art at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2022
Animated documentary, Constructedness, Animated performance, Poland, Cold War