Friday, March 28, 2008

Interview with Sheila Sofian

Q1: What is your impetus/inspiration to produce Non-Fiction animation? Or Why have you chosen the path of Non-fiction Animation?

For me, it was a natural evolution from working in both documentary and animation forms. I feel much more inspired by other people's stories and am fascinated by their lives. I am also very passionate about the subjects of each of my films, and that helps inspire me to create the film.

Q2: As any form of animation/media is hard to fully define in absolute terms, are there qualities that you feel must be present in an animated work to qualify as "documentary animation"? Or perhaps is there one quality that separates documentary animation from other genres?

I think that in order to qualify as "documentary animation" an animated film must have some relationship to non-fiction. There are some non-fiction soundtracks that have been paired with fiction images (e.g.. "Creature Comforts".) I have a hard time describing that as "documentary animation" since the intent of the soundtrack is changed. Some people may disagree with me. Aardman has excellent examples of what I would consider "documentary animation" I am more comfortable with the idea of the audio being "truthful". In other words, not intentionally changing the meaning of the words. (That's not to say I don't love "Creature Comforts"!)

Q3: Considering the scrutiny that is often placed on documentary work as opposed to purely narrative film, do you feel that once you add the label "documentary" or "non-fiction" to animation that you tap into the potentially controversial response that is not uncommon to documentary film?

On occasion it has been controversial, but rarely. A lot of live action films are criticized for having an "agenda", and probably all documentary films do have an agenda of sorts. Animation can be criticized for being manipulative, but only by people unaware of media studies and of how manipulative live action documentary is. (As one USC documentary professor told me, a live action filmmaker selects a few minutes from many hours of footage- it is a HIGHLY selective process what goes into the film.) So, I guess the answer is "yes" the same arguments can apply. However, the most controversy I have encountered is when the topic itself is deemed controversial (political.) "Survivors" is surprisingly not controversial at all.

Q4: Do you feel that documentary animation has a unique role in the field of animation?

Yes. I think that if we are talking about a documentary soundtrack paired with images, animation can interpret the words in a unique way. The sound:image relationship is fascinating. It can also inform and educate people in a profound manner.

Q5: If you've produced both narrative & non-fiction animated work, have you found that there is a marked difference in audience response between the two? If so, what has your experience been in terms of audience response to your non-fiction work?

I think there is often a stronger emotional response to non-fiction animation. Perhaps there is an added power in the voices of actual experience. When you know someone is relating an actual event that happened, you tend to pay special attention (I think, anyway.) If they dislike the point of view of the film they have a very hostile reaction. If they are engaged and empathetic with the interviewee they have an incredibly emotional reaction.

Q6: How has your work been distributed...has it reached the your ideal target audience?

"Survivors" has been the most successful so far. It is being distributed educationally- a great market for documentary animation.

Q7: Any advice for aspiring animators that wish to focus their energy on non-fiction animation?

I think it is important to feel passionate about your target and to be very responsible with the "truth" or "intent" of your subject. There is so much potential for documentary animation that has not been explored. Please further the art form!

SHEILA’S WEB PAGE for more information.

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