Animated films that offer food for thought and not just entertainment
"Cinema is not only about making people dream. It's about changing things and making people think," so said Lebanese actor, director, and activist Nadine Labaki whose debut film 'Caramel' (2007) told the stories of five oppressed women in war-torn Beirut. Like Nadine, storytellers across diverse formats have communicated ideas and showcased themes that do not get the space they deserve in mainstream films. Interestingly, in recent years, animation has been used extensively to tell thought-provoking stories and to convey important messages.
Here is our pick of multi-genre animation offerings that discuss issues ranging from gender discrimination to displacement.
1. The Breadwinner: This 2017 adult animated story based on the best-selling novel by Deborah Ellis, was directed by Irish animator, screenwriter, producer and voice actress Nora Twomey. Executive produced by Mimi Polk Gitlin and Angelina Jolie, the film premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and received a nomination for Best Animated Feature at the 90th Academy Awards. The film is about the hardships faced by eleven-year-old Parvana (voiced by Saara Chaudry), who lives in the Taliban-ruled Kabul with her family and has no freedom of movement without a male escort. After her father is arrested, she cuts off her hair and dresses like a boy to support her family. What she discovers about life and herself during this perilous journey opens our eyes to challenges faced by women and girls in Afghanistan.
2. Flee: This 90-minute, Oscar-nominated animated documentary by Danish filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen is now playing on Zee5 and sensitises us to the tragic human cost of war, ethnic violence and the staggering scale of the global refugee crisis. We experience the pain, panic, fear and helplessness connected to displacement through Amin, a young, gay Afghan boy who is forced to flee his country with his family. We also see how the shock of leaving his home, his childhood and a sense of safety affect him even as an adult. Executive produced by Riz Ahmed and NikolajCoster-Waldau, the film had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, and won universal acclaim and numerous awards, mainly in animated and documentary categories including Best Animated Feature — Independent at the 49th Annie Awards.
3. Sitaara: *Let Girls Dream:*This 2020 Pakistani animated short is directed and written by Pakistani-Canadian journalist, filmmaker and activist SharmeenObaid-Chinoy. Sharmeen is the winner of two Academy Awards, seven Emmy Awards and a Knight International Journalism Award and in this film, she focuses on the issue of child marriage via the story of a fourteen-year-old girl, Pari. Pari dreams of becoming a pilot just like Amelia Earhart, but she lives in the Lahore of the 1970s where her dreams cannot take wings. Though it ends on a note of hope, the silent film clearly and powerfully conveys that around the world every year, over 12 million child brides like Pari are never able to realise their dreams.
4. Porcupine Jacket: Animation can also be used effectively for public service messages. In 1974, for instance, a veteran animator Bhimsencreated 'EkAnekAurEkta', a film for Doordarshan which is still remembered for its message of unity in diversity. Recently the Mumbai police also used animation to highlight the issue of rising crimes against women. The campaign reimagines how women would counter a potential attacker if they had a weaponised 'porcupine jacket' but since that invention may not yet be available, they could always dial the helpline number 103, created especially for cases of violence against women. This animated video was created by Suresh Eriyat, the Director of Eeksaurus – a Mumbai-based company.