Painting Over Reality

in 40th Annecy International Animation Film Festival

by Bruno Hachero Hernández

“How long will it take? How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?” That was one of the questions that Martin Luther King Jr. pronounced on the steps of the State Capitol in the famous speech from which How Long, Not Long­ (Michelle and Uri Kranot, 2016) takes its title. This short film was awarded with The International Critics Prize in the Annecy International Animation Film Festival.

After half a century, the world hasn’t stopped collapsing. Michelle and Uri Kranot explore it from animation, making a global portrait: migration, climate change, protests, xenophobia, wars, and iconic images that cross history, establishing bridges that define precisely our own essence as humanity. How long, Not Long projects King’s speech in the present, where, as Uri Kranot himself pointed when he received the award, nationalism and xenophobia are booming. And it does so by using animation as a privileged language for visual essay. The rotoscope technique (drawn on photographs) allows the filmmakers to add a new layer of expression to the images, reinterpreting them not only with montage, which in itself is a remarkable film work, but also with the use of colour and study of motion from the animation over the filmed images.

In contrast with the words of Martin Luther King Jr that we hear at the start of the film, the first images show the Ku Klux Klan parading and, after that, a woman being burned at a stake as a witch. The next shot takes us to the present: a prisoner of ISIS kneeling with his eyes closed and his executor, located behind him, slowly moving his raised hand to the prisoner’s shoulder, like a contemporary image of death in an intimate but terrible gesture. Although its forms change throughout history, the stark violence is the same that killed then and kills now – a gaunt power over another’s life cruelly exercised. A radical denial of emphathy. There are a lot of powerful images in How long, Not Long exploring precisely that: the dimension of violence as a gesture, compared to gestures and scenes of closeness.

There is no more text in the film that some excerpts of the quoted speech. Instead of limiting the meaning of the images with a statement, the Kranots rely on the eloquence of visual speech, a speech that suggests and thrills, also because of the music, which was composed by Uri, and finds its catalyst in the face as a figure of hope. Towards the end of the film we see many faces looking at us, in a fast edit. Even though they’re painted, like the rest of the images, the characteristic tension of rotoscope between an animated layer and the profilmic reality that manifests itself from within acquires special power. When looking at those painted faces, something throbs inside the drawing, into the pupils ­­­– there is a kind of natural expressiveness preserved in their eyes. Fading out the most obvious differences between faces of all types, places and eras, that the photographic medium would make evident, the rotoscope makes visible precisely what unites them, submitting the images into the realm of possibility and hope. Maybe it’s an old message, but still indispensable.

Edited by Amber Wilkinson