The newest film by Anca Damian - "Magic Mountain", Polish-Romanian-French coproduction - will be screened in the International Competition Long Documentary and Animated Film at DOK Leipzig. It's the second animated documentary feature film made by this director.


Anca Damian is a Romanian director who in the last years has become a true master of animated documentary. Both of her award‑winning feature docs, ‘Crulic – The Path to Beyond’ and ‘The Magic Mountain’, were co‑produced with Poland. Anita Piotrowska talks with the director.

Anita Piotrowska: A Romanian Claudiu Crulic, the protagonist of your previous film, died while on a hunger strike. A Polish alpinist and ex‑mujahid Adam Jacek Winkler from The Magic Mountain died climbing the peak. Did the fact that your protagonists had already been dead have an impact on your decision to use animation in recreating their stories?

Anca Damian: When I first started making the film about Crulic, I had in mind a docudrama featuring a journalist/actor – my alter ego of sorts – who would start his own research. As I proceeded, I realized that it was Crulic’s story that was essential and to recreate it would only be possible through animation. But of course, the starting point was the fact that my characters were not alive anymore andthere was no footage to tell their stories. I had wanted to use animation before, when I was making a documentary about psychodrama therapy in prison (To Be or Not to Be, 2007) and I realized the limitations of filming reality.

Both of your latest films are powerful portrayals of extraordinary individuals. Could you describe your creative process from scriptwriting to animation?

Before I start working on a script, I dive into reality. I want to know everything, so I do thorough research. For The Magic Mountain I even spent two weeks in Afghanistan. Everyone was telling me that I was taking an unnecessary risk, but I would say that without having gone there I would have missed the most important part of the story. Afterwards, I draw a timeline for the film. I imagine the film like a sausage on which I construct the length of each sequence. When I start working on a script, I already have a vision of the whole. I start writing with animation techniques and visual references already in my mind.

Animation itself is creation with no limits. Is it difficult to keep a balance between your imagination and the facts?

First of all, I want to get inside the mind of my character. Then I fill in the gaps and select those elements of the character’s life that give the story clarity and are consistent with my own view of it. But I don’t use my own imagination just for the sake of fantasizing. I must be faithful to my character’s life. In your latest film, we can see over dozen different animation techniques. The Magic Mountain contains direct and literary references to The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha. I tried to combine the same ingredients that are found in Cervantes’ novel: the epic and the lyric, the tragic and the comic. This complex romantic classic brings together poetry and derision, humour and loneliness. The visual style follows the eclectic character of the story. The visual aspect of the film combines real and animated elements in order to create a surreal effect. Real elements include photographs from Adam Jacek Winkler’s private archives, both those in which he appears himself and those taken by him in Afghanistan, as well as references to the history of film, mostly to the silent and black‑and‑white era. I created a virtual space of the big Cinema Theatre where a father and a daughter (the narrators of the film) meet. This is where they create the story while becoming themselves a part of it. The references to the history of film used in The Magic Mountain were actually parodied. The idea behind such a combination was to create credible surrealism and also to rediscover universal archetypes existing in art. Burlesque sequences were visually inspired by Winkler’s naïve drawings rooted in folk art,as well as the works of a Polish artist Jan Lenica and Marc Chagall mixed with collage elements, working towards a kind of postmodernism. The film was also influenced by the works of Guy Maddin, who has a similar way of representing reality – as a blend of documentary and surrealism handled with a sense of tragicomedy. Fritz Lang and Georges Méliès are also stalwarts of this cinematic ‘garden of plenty’.

… same as The Adventures of Koziołek Matołek, a Polish children’s series popular in the late 60s and early 70s, which was literally quoted a few times in your film. And how did you find your animation collaborators for The Magic Mountain?

I was looking for people who would be open‑minded and not inclined to follow the beaten paths that often kill creativity. In fact, three animation studios were created specifically for my film (one of them at The Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow). The teams consisted of lead animators (Sergiu Negulici, Tomek Ducki, Dan Panaitescu) and young students. Now I am happy to see that all three studios have continued to work together after the film was completed.

Did you give a lot of freedom to your animation team, or did you rather try to control their work?

As I said, I had a lot of references and techniques already in place at the script stage. While working with Theodore Ushev as the art director and while doing the storyboard,we developed a more detailed stylistic concept. If animators had ideas consistent with the concept of the film, we just used them. Of course, the process of bringing animators on board wasn’t always easy, because they needed to really understand my film before coming up with their own contributions.

Are you going to continue your adventure with animateddocumentary? Do you feel that this subgenre still has some new paths to discover?

I’m going to conclude my trilogy with another animated documentary, but this time it will be visually different. It will be a story about the third level of heroism – sacrifice. And this time, my protagonist will be a woman. I think that there are always new paths to explore – we just need to let ourselves be inspired by reality.

Don’t you feel that flirting with animation may blur the identity of the documentary genre?

If I were to write a book about documentary filmmaking, I would open it with a sentence: ‘Documentary as a genre doesn’t really exist’. What is claimed to be a documentary (a person with a camera filming real life or real characters) is a false reality in fact. The presence of a person with a camera changes reality. All the choices this person makes, such as camera angle or filming location, or the moment he or she decides to film, will influence and even manipulate the viewer’s perception. Not to mention the editing process and the addition of voice‑over, which is manipulation at its fullest. Why should animation be any less real? I put a layer of animation over reality, because it helps the viewer to get the story with visual tools that make it more visible.

Source: "FOCUS ON POLAND" Magazine 2/2015