Filmmaker Anca Damian is Searching for the Truth with Animation

”Animation makes visible the things that are invisible when you are only looking at their appearance”, says Anca Damian. Her animated documentary Magic Mountain will be shown on Thursday 27th of August in Manilla, Turku. She’ll also work as a tutor in TAFF Pro in the workshop for Finnish projects in development that combine documentary style and animation. We phoned her and spoke about the union of animation and documentary – among other things, such as being the first female director of photography in one’s home country.

–I tend to say this a lot: documentary doesn’t really exist. I mean in the pure sense of the word, says Anca Damian, a documentarian herself.
–Documentary states ”this is reality”, but reality is infinite in space and time, so every choice you make is constructing only your vision of it. What I think is even more twisted, is that the filmmaker with their camera becomes a part of the reality of the documentary, the filmmaker ponders via Skype from her home, Paris.

The screen of her ipad is broken, so one can not see her. We’ll form a picture on everything purely based on her words.

Damian, originally from Romania, is known especially for her three awarded animated films. The first two of them are animated documentaries, which she has written, directed and produced.

Magic Mountain (2015) is the second part of Damian’s trilogy of animated documentaries. It will be shown this August in TAFF Pro in Manilla, Turku. The film is about a Polish mountain climber, photographer and anti-communist Adam Jacek Winkler, who fought in the Soviet-Afgan war against The Soviet Union.

One may call it a modern Don Quijote -story. The main character is reaching for the sky in a way which could be considered extreme and extraordinary. The magic mountain is a place between heaven and earth, and also a reference to Thomas Mann’s novel from the year 1924.

Magic Mountain -trailer. The interview continues after video.

The document trilogy is still missing its final part.
–The first part named Crulic was about an ”unconscious hero”. Magic Mountain tells a story about a person who wanted to give his life to change the world. The theme of the third part will be sacrifice. I would like it to be about a female character, but I’m waiting for the right story to come along my way in order to be truly engaged in the project, Damian says.

But why such challenging topics?
–I’m interested in life, and the most essential thing in life is facing death. The value of life is given by the fact that it will some day end. That leads us to try and find a meaning for our life.

In Magic Mountain the director combines and mixes different techniques and styles such as animated photographs and watercolors. The film also includes photos and video material from Winkler’s archive as well as sketches he made, being also a visual artist.

–The character of Winkler was polymorphic, and the techinques follow his character and his taste of art. The film also makes many references to the history of the cinema. The rhytmn of the film was given to me by the story itself – it’s not like I just want to show that I can do different techinques, she clarifies.

A vision of reality

Damian says she’s interested in the truth, as must be the case with most documentarians.
–Through animation I can show you my view on reality and what’s behind the appearance of things. For me, using animation is making visible the things that are invisible while we are only looking at the appearance of them.

–When I was doing the backround work for the first chapter of my heroism-trilogy, Crulic, I realized that the story could only be told with animation. At first it was supposed to be a live action documentary. But with animation I could go on a deeper level and show what is the meaning of this kafkaesque story. It’s about visual language: for example the painting added over real photos, the way you draw spaces, and what the movements in the film look like.

Making a documentary is basically making an interpretation of reality, which means leaving out something and re-organising things – just like the interview you are reading now. Damian says that in the hands of a filmmaker, the document also gains elements of fiction. Anyhow, you do not invent things:

–It’s absolutely important to never hurt the people the film is about. You have to be faithful to the original story. But besides that, the film should be organized meaningfully.

The interview continues after image.
Tämän kuvan alt-attribuutti on tyhjä; Tiedoston nimi on AncaDamian-2.jpg
Anca Damian.

The First Female Director of Photography in Romania

Damian’s films are about brave people, and she herself has gone to great lengths to make her films engaging, starting from the backround work she does. After doing the research profoundly, she ”cuts contact with the reality” and starts making the film from the base of her own vision. For Magic Mountain she travelled all the way to Afganistan.

–Everybody told me I didn’t need to go. But there I saw that everything was different than I had imagined. I think I would have really missed the film without going to the country.

–There is a very intense feeling of here and now as the danger is always present. One could hear on the radio all the time that someone was killed for being a musician, for example. At the same time people were very kind.

The film industry is very male constructed. Damian is the first female to make long feature films in Romania as a director of photography. When she started making films, she didn’t want to hire a camera person or an assistant in order to prove she could do the same as male DOPs.

–At the beginning of my career, the women in the business in Romania were invisible. At most, you could only do children’s movies. It was not accepted for women to do something meaningful in the field of art. The issue was not only a woman making films but also a woman telling stories! But it was always more important to me to focus on what I was doing than to care about what the others think. The situations is luckily better now. There are lot’s of young women doing cinema.

That, however, is not enough.

–It’s not only important to have women as film makers and artists, but also to change topics in films and our values in society. We need more empathy and values that are considered feminine.

In TAFF Pro Damian keeps a master class on combining animation and documentary, as well as works as a tutor in the workshop for projectis in development. What does she pay attention to when tutoring?

Her answer is not surprising:
–The truth. There are works that might be meaningful for their author, but haven’t found their right shape yet. In the other hand you shouldn’t just show something interesting, but go through the ”gate of truth.”

Magic Mountain at Manilla’s Old Factory on Thursday 27th of August, 5.30 pm.

Ticket price 7 euros. Buy tickets here. The amount of the tickets sold is limited.

Anca Damian

-Director, producer, has a doctor’s degree in film.
-Born in 1962.
-From Cluj-Napoka, Romania.
-Studied in Academy of Theatre and Film Arts in Bucharest.
-Lives in Paris.
-Films: Marona’s Fantastic Tale (2019), Moon Hotel Kabul (2018), Carré (2016), The Magic Mountain (2015), Crulic – The Path to Beyond (2011).
-Awards: The first part of her animated documentary trilogy, Crulic, got 53 international awards, including the Cristal Annecy. The Magic Mountain also got various prizes, for example a honour mention in Karlovy Vary and Audientia Eurimages Prize.