Top five: Animated documentaries

Though some think of animation as a kids' medium, in fact it's incredibly versatile. And, in recent years, animation as a uniquely powerful medium for factual filmmakers has really come to the fore.

For this month's top five, our animation producer, Karen, selects the animated documentaries that kindled her passion for visual storytelling.

Waltz with Bashir 

Waltz with Bashir is an autobiographical animated documentary, written and directed by Ari Folman, tracing his foggy memories from the traumatic 1982 Lebanon War through interviews with fellow veterans. I'd never seen an animation tackle such a serious subject before, and it had a profound impact on my understanding of animation and its possibilities. The film is banned in Lebanon to this day, which is testament to its power.

Searching for Sugarman

In the 1960s, two music producers recorded an album with a musician from Detroit. The album bombed in America, but a bootleg recording found its way to South Africa, where it went viral for the next two decades. Searching for Sugarman follows two South African fans who go in search of the man behind the music, known as Rodriguez. As there is no footage of Rodriguez before the 1990s, the filmmakers use animation to show him walking the streets of 1970s Detroit. The animated scenes create a dreamlike experience that really emphasise the mystery of the story. It was released in 2012 to huge critical acclaim, winning the Academy Award for Best Documentary along with a string of other accolades, as well as an unexpected level of commercial success. But, only a year later, its young Swedish director, Malik Bendjelloul, committed suicide. So, the film - so much a reflection of his extraordinary vision - carries an added poignancy.

Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?

Director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Michel Gondry, combines real footage with animation to illustrate Noam Chomsky's mind-bending philosophy of science. The 2013 animation is a great example of how charming visuals can be used to unpack lofty topics and the illustrations do a brilliant job of setting out Chomsky's vision with real approachability and understanding. Watch it here.


A couple of months ago, when my colleague Stef chose her Top Five Graphic Novels, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi was among them. It tells of her experience as a small girl, living through the tumult of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and was made into a film in 2007. I was really pleased to see that the animation stayed true to the illustration style I enjoyed so much in the graphic novel. Her black and white graphics are daringly simple and pared back, which really adds to the impact of her message, emphasising her childlike perspective on a series of truly life-changing events. But the film contrasts these unsettling scenes with moments of light relief; she contrasts the black and white drawings with bursts of colour to symbolise the present day, and there are moments of laugh-out-loud comedy that balance out the story perfectly.

It's Like That

It's Like That is a heart-wrenching animated documentary about Australia's detention centres for children. Made by the Southern Ladies Animation Group in 2003, it uses puppet-figures of birds and illustration to tell the stories of the refugee children. The image of caged birds is particularly powerful, highlighting the fragility and innocence of the children held in detention.