A new animated short from the National Film Board represents a different digital strategy for Canada’s public producer and distributor.
Written and directed by Vancouver filmmaker Jodie Martinson, and produced by the NFB’s Executive Producer Tracey Friesen, the short film Stronghearted is now available online.
A unique blend of high definition video footage and woodcut-style animation, Stronghearted tells the story of Evelyn Amony’s first encounter with Joseph Kony, the notorious leader of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, who kidnapped 12-year-old Evelyn and made her one of his wives.
And despite the NFB’s heritage and pedigree, this animated short is seen as a bit of stretch for the Film Board, says Friesen.
The animated short is inspired by a feature length film now in development, and it was pushed through a shortened production cycle in order to be released in sync with a radio news documentary on the topic.
“We will always stay rooted in deep, long-form documentary making but this is a bit new for us, taking on a topic that is ‘happening now’,” Friesen described to Mediacaster Magazine. “We’re flexing some new muscle for this project, and looking at how we deal with complex storytelling in a faster, more nimble way that get’s the story online quickly. We’re prioritizing how our Web team, our marketing team and our social media folks can all work together in that way.”
The production is intended for digital distribution, and its online presence at the NFB site is complemented by cross-posting with Martinsson’s CBC radio documentary about Amony, at cbc.ca/thecurrent.
Friesen says the doc came together very quickly; it was turned around in a month! Likewise, a short, nimble budget was approved for the project, which came in at under $50,000.
Yet it has all the creative production, artistic vision and engaging content that’s associated with longer, more traditional NFB fare.
Vancouver- and now India-based artist and editor Kunal Sen developed the striking woodcut-looking animated sequences, building on initial boards and stills that he created. Friesen describes much back and forth among the Vancouver team members as the production took shape, with narration and sound elements being created, and video interview footage featuring Evelyn Amony herself blended into the production.
Additional footage for the production, as well as creative consultation and post-production services, were provided by David Paperny and Paperny Entertainment Inc.
The story of the Lord’s Resistance Army and the pursuit of Uganda’s Joseph Kony have made international headlines, as the production team was well aware. A viral social network video brought much of the story to people’s attention last year.
But Evelyn Amony knows the story first hand. Kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army when she was just 12 years old, Evelyn was then forced to remain with the LRA, and with Kony himself, for 11 years.
Kony raped Evelyn and took her as one of his brides when she was still a teenager. In Stronghearted, Martinson focuses on a pivotal moment at the very beginning of Evelyn’s story, when, under overwhelming circumstances, she comes face to face with Kony himself. Who is this man? What drives him? Could her kidnapper, her abuser, be the very tool of her survival? In Stronghearted, Evelyn tries to understand these questions for herself, and for the audience.
As much as it is a proof of concept, the short will become a calling card, Friesen notes, as production plans for the full length feature based on the story continue to develop.
Physical copies of the digital production will be distributed, as required, to film festivals and competitions, Friesen added, and the idea of fast, digital responses to topical subjects will be utilized again at the NFB.
Just not with Friesen; she has announced her intention to leave the NFB after “a fantastic run” of some ten years with the organization. Friesen says she will embark on independent career, working with various social foundations and entrepreneurial agencies on new media projects.