How dare you, 25 April. How dare you debut the day after I submit my paper on animated documentary! It confirms much of what my current thesis is in regards to the documentary genre: that animated documentaries threaten the dissolution of the genre, so in response, many use standard documentary tropes to reassure audiences of their veracity. 25 April does this from the beginning, with screen text affirming that the stories in this film are true. About the Anzac (Australia and New Zealand Army Corp) deployment to Gallipoli, the film intercuts recreated footage of settlements and skirmishes alongside reenacted interviews. The latter are quite peculiar, as they reenact talking head interviews of dead men and women describing their experiences to the camera, with a neutral backdrop behind them. In terms documentary conventions this is documentary’s “generic grammar” as it were.
These interviews are more effective than the other documentary trope: panning over the letters or photographs as a folksy narrator reads the primary documents. With these creative interviews, the film has a stronger sense of drama and narrative. But this choice may also hold a cynical side, that animation would not have been trusted without using the documentary cliches. But the fact that these segments are complete fabrications, that is, creative creations based on actuality, is something to marvel in itself.
But 25 April does something more. Scenes of battle intercut with interview footage. In one particular scene, we see soldiers getting injured, some of them our interviewees themselves. One remarks how he got shot in the throat, an incongruity that would be remarkable of itself. But another soldier is injured, and the interviewee remarks that he died. As we see the man being shot, the film cuts to him in the interviewee format. He begins to bleed from the chest, and the man, reacting to his own death, slowly fades away. This act turns the documentary trope on its head, and reveals the ephemerality of such a project. A typical documentary format with standard interviewees within a neutral backdrop can create a preservation effect, sealing the interviewees within a frame removed from time and space. 25 April instead illustrates the effects of war on the interviewees themselves, further augmenting the film’s impact in recreating history.
My first instinct when I first saw the interview-like scenes of the film was a depressive dismissal, that the film would fail to challenge and broaden the scope of (animated) documentary. But I was pleasantly surprised by the end in terms of its ambition.
Unfortunately, the film’s aesthetic choices for a mixture of “digital 2D with 3D modelling, CGI, motion capture, and hand-drawn backgrounds” has some alienating problems. The jarring nature of 2D soldiers combined with 3D men takes the viewer out of the film, hindering a dramatic moment where the soldier’s sing a rousing battle hymn before their immanent death. The film’s animation can feel cheap at times, particularly in the case of character models, though this is often hidden with clever use of lighting and colour. The viewer eventually acclimates to the style of animation, but when 2D and 3D elements particularly clash, this process repeats.
The animation aside, the patriotic blather can also be grating. While the film captures how Gallipoli was hell for the colonized soldiers, this is not an anti-war film. The portrayal of the Turks is suspect as well, as they never talk and are relatively marginalized in the film. As the film’s focus is specifically the Anzac soldiers and the awakening of national identity, this is somewhat understandable, but this problem is later compound by a particular scene. One sequence of the film explores the spread of insects throughout the camps, and to the film’s credit, the animation and sound design truly capture the downright terror of such infestations. But most troubling is the portrayal of lice, which the film takes liberty to illustrate as having a party with the men’s bodies. What kind of party? One with hookah of course! While hookah spread to many countries around the world, it was established in Turkish culture from the 17th century. Is the implication that the Turks are to blame? The possible correlation between insects and the Turkish soldiers is noticeable and troublesome.
This film intrigues me with its aesthetics of animated documentary, but somewhat disappoints me in its politics. It is an enlightening documentary on the events of Gallipoli, but one centred on giving proper attribution to Anzac soldiers when it could have been a more incisive piece on the nature of colonialism. Regardless, this film does encourage me about the future of animated documentary.