Flee: Making of Seminal Animated Documentary

 

Animated Documentary Recreates One Man’s Harrowing Refugee Story

A contender in three categories — documentary, animation and international feature — Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s moving account of a gay man’s journey from war-torn Afghanistan to Denmark could make Oscar history.

Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s animated documentary won the World Cinema grand jury prize at Sundance and bowed Dec. 3 in the U.S. via Neon and Participant.

It could become the first film to secure Oscar nominations in the categories of best international feature (for Denmark), documentary and animated feature. Flee also is a contender for a best picture nomination, which, for a documentary, would be an Oscar first.

It all started with the voice of Amin Nawabi.

Flee opens with a scene of Amin as he lies on his bed, closes his eyes and begins his story. It’s Amin’s voice — warm and intimate but also hesitant and fearful — that pulls us in as he tells his old friend Jonas the secrets of his past.

“What does ‘home’ mean to you?” Rasmussen asks.

“Home?” says Amin. “Home is somewhere safe.”

This is the first time, Amin says, he has spoken about this to anyone. Amin is a pseudonym. His animated image has been altered. Names and locations have been changed to protect his identity. But Amin’s voice remains the same. That voice takes us through his childhood in Afghanistan in the 1980s, vivid memories of listening to A-Ha’s “Take on Me” full blast on his Walkman as he danced in the streets in a sister’s nightgown. Then there are more chaotic recollections after the mujahideen seize power in Kabul. Amin’s story becomes more fragmented and uncertain, his memories obscured by trauma — a sister kidnapped, his father, mother and brother killed — and repression. Then there is his story of flight, first to Russia, then via unscrupulous human traffickers to Estonia — a particularly grim period in a squalid asylum center — and finally to Denmark, where he is granted refugee status and where, at 15, in a Danish village, he meets Rasmussen on the bus to school.

“I was always curious about his past, his story, but as a 15-year-old boy you don’t really go into these things,” says Rasmussen. “I had to wait until he was ready to tell me.”

Running parallel to the story of Amin the refugee is the story of Amin coming to terms with his harrowing history and with his own identity — from the first stirrings of sexual awakening, prompted by a revealing Bloodsport poster featuring a short-shorted Jean-Claude Van Damme, to asking a Danish Red Cross social worker for medication to “cure” him of his “unnatural” desires, to living a settled, open life as a gay man and preparing to marry his partner, Kaspar. The impending nuptials, in fact, appear to be one reason why Amin has chosen to open up to Rasmussen, to share the painful details of his past that he has kept secret even from his fiance.

“We always kept in touch, we spent almost every New Year’s together for many, many years, went on holidays together,” says Rasmussen. “We both had long-term relationships that ended the same summer, so we had this kind of heartbreak [time] together. Maybe 15 years ago, I asked him if I could do a documentary about his story. He said then he wasn’t ready but when he was, he would share his story with me. I knew this was something we would do at some point, so I was looking for the right form to do it.”

He started with the voice.

“My background is in radio, so I initially thought of doing Amin’s story as a radio documentary. The interview technique, which you see in the film, it looks like therapy but it actually comes from radio,” says Rasmussen. “In radio, you don’t have an image, but by getting someone to lie down, close their eyes and talk in the present tense about things that happened in the past, they start to generate images inside their own head — images they pass on to the audience.”

Lazy loaded image
Most of the film’s modern-day scenes were closely modeled on footage Rasmussen shot with Amin. COURTESY OF FINAL CUT FOR REAL

Even as Rasmussen, whose previous documentaries include Searching for Bill (2012) and What He Did (2015), expanded the project, developing it as a feature documentary, he stayed fairly conventional, shooting his interviews with Amin and doing standard doc coverage: Amin driving a car, Amin in the kitchen with Kaspar, Amin arriving home at the Copenhagen airport from a trip to New York.

But as their interviews progressed and Amin got deeper and deeper into his own past, he became more concerned about losing control of his story. He didn’t want to be identified by the audience, to have people approaching him on the streets in Copenhagen asking him to retell his trauma.

“The animation was a way to keep Amin anonymous,” says Flee producer Monica Hellström. “It also helped solve the problem of how to depict sequences from his past, things we couldn’t film in a normal documentary.”

Animation director Kenneth Ladekjaer worked from the footage Rasmussen had shot, closely copying aspects of Amin’s style and behavior — “the way he gestures and speaks, how he wipes his tears away when he cries” — while making slight alterations to protect the identity of the real Amin.

“We didn’t trace the image or use rotoscoping, but we keep very close to how he was as a person,” says Ladekjaer. “It was important he didn’t end up as a caricature. [Amin] is very charming in real life. You can hear that in his voice, hear his vulnerability and his sense of humor. He’s also quite stylish and a successful person. So we needed to make sure he was well dressed. I remember we did a pass with different style shirts and Amin pulled out a few: ‘I absolutely would not wear this.’ “

The set design for the film’s flashback sequences was just as fastidious. Art director Jess Nicholls deliberately avoided watching animated documentaries like the 2008 Oscar-nominated Waltz With Bashir so as to not “accidentally end up copying them.” Instead, she says, she read books about street life in 1980s Kabul, scrolled through archive footage of Moscow in the early 1990s and pored over maps and building schematics.

“You end up getting really obsessive, looking for weird things like how high was the curb on the streets, what sort of trees were there, what was the light like at that time of year,” she says. “I think those details, which you might not notice at all, can really communicate the mood of a place.”

When possible, Nichols drew directly from news footage or archive material, some of which Rasmussen splices into the film at opportune times “to remind people this is a real story. It’s not a fiction” and to demonstrate the bigger historical events, like the war between the Russians and the mujahideen that drove Amin to flee.

“Sometimes we could be very specific, like when his sisters arrive in Sweden on a container ship,” says Rasmussen. “We knew the date they arrived and we knew the ship, so it was about going through the archive material to find the ship they were on. We worked a lot on moving between archival footage and the animation so it would feel seamless, as if they belong to the same world.”

But when the first drafts of Amin came in, Rasmussen says, they were “a little too cartoony, with big eyes, like in Disney films” and everything looking “a little too smooth, too nice. It felt detached from reality. So we had to go back to the cover footage and bring those flaws into the animation, redo all the character designs. It was a long, long process.”

The animation style, “more 2D, classic graphic novel” as animation producer Charlotte de La Gournerie describes it, was crucial — not only to give Amin’s story a sense of realism, but also to secure financing. “Most money for animation in Europe is for kids animation,” says de La Gournerie. “We needed to have a look that made it clear this is a film for an adult audience, not the 8-to-12 crowd.”

Every frame of Flee‘s animated sequences was hand-drawn — “drawn electronically on a computer but still drawn by hand,” says Ladekjaer — by Flee‘s graphic artist team. “Around 10 animators, 10 cleanup artists and 10 coloring artists, so a big team,” he notes.

The animation for the Amin interview sequences is slightly choppy, with jump cuts and Amin’s voice not always perfectly lip-synced. While this gives the film a more handmade, documentary feel, the style was also a consequence of budget restraints. Flee cost 3.5 million euros ($4 million), making it, says Hellström, “a high-budget documentary film but a super-low-budget animation film.”

Notes Ladekjaer, “There is a technique where you take the hand-drawn frames and get a computer to do the transitions, so you have a smooth movement, but it leaves an uncanny feel, a digital handprint, and just removes a bit of that empathy for the character.”

 

Lazy loaded image
Early versions of Amin were “cartoony, with big eyes [that] felt detached from reality,” says Rasmussen. “We had to [bring] flaws into the animation.” COURTESY OF FINAL CUT FOR REAL

The animation style of Flee is not uniform, however. When the action shifts to the past, the realist, near-documentary style of the Amin interviews gives way to more dramatic, stylized depictions: from the colorful streets of a Kabul market to the gray-on-gray drabness of a Moscow apartment block to the noir-lit horrors of Amin’s experience with human traffickers. At moments of extreme trauma, moments Amin can’t or won’t remember, the animation becomes almost abstract, smudgy black-and-white charcoal drawings of figures running, children screaming.“There are elements of Amin’s story that he struggles to remember or that he only remembers in fragments, and where there’s ambiguity, it was important that the images are honest about that. The fragmentation of Amin’s memories is conveyed by this fragmentation of the animation,” says producer Signe Byrge. “It was very important that content and form were working together.”

When deciding when to shift between styles, when to judge which of Amin’s memories were clear and which were fuzzy or repressed, Rasmussen went back to the source: Amin’s voice.

“When he started talking about something that felt very traumatic, or when it was something that he didn’t see himself but only imagined, you could hear it,” Rasmussen says. “His voice would slow down, he would stop. There would be longer pauses between words. [Like] when his father is taken away or when the sisters are in the container of the ship. He wasn’t there, so he couldn’t tell us exactly what things looked like, but his feeling of fear was present. So I thought, OK, we need to see that, that emotion, because that feels more honest than showing a clear image of what actually happened.”

Adds Flee editor Janus Billeskov Jansen, “All the time we were guided by the truth, which was Amin’s recording. It’s a subjective truth because he is holding back things or trying not to remember, but the recording is the truth as Amin saw it.”

Combining the documentary truth of Amin’s story with the production demands of an animated feature presented some major challenges, however. In animation, where each frame will cost you, production is all about planning ahead. Every shot is laid out and storyboarded in explicit detail before production begins. A typical documentary is the reverse: the director collects hundreds of hours of footage, then “finds the story” in the edit.

For Flee, Jansen and Rasmussen combined the two approaches. Working off Rasmussen’s “radio documentary” edit of the interviews with Amin, Jansen would get the animators to supply him with quick-drawn mock-ups of animated material that he could cut together.

“We were sitting right next door to the edit suite and Janus would run in and say, ‘Can I get a close-up of Amin, looking a bit angry from left to right? And then a wide shot from above?’ and we’d sketch that, really quickly,” says Ladekjaer. “We’d provide him with a lot of ‘footage,’ so to speak, that he could play with, like you would with a documentary.”

Says Jansen, “It was fantastic, because at the start, anything we could dream up we could get: a drone shot of Kabul city in the 1980s, Amin [at] 5 years old, dancing in his sister’s nightshirt. Or the moment when Amin enters the gay bar in Stockholm, enters that whole colorful, wonderful world — [a moment] that makes me cry no matter how many times I see it.”

This back-and-forth experimentation continued for months, with Rasmussen sending Amin rough cuts as they progressed.

“He’d watch them and come back to me if something was factually wrong or if we left out something that he felt was key to him, to his story. We initially took out the section when he was in prison in Estonia, because it was so dramatic, so extreme, we thought it was too much, but he insisted we put it back in,” says Rasmussen. “There were moments of vanity — he initially wanted to take out the part where he asked for medicine against being gay because he was embarrassed by that — but it was always a conversation.”

For the music to Flee, Rasmussen turned to Uno Helmersson, a composer who worked on the acclaimed documentaries Armadillo and The Painter and the Thief and the Scandinavian noir drama The Bridge. Helmersson too started with Amin’s voice.

“I thought of his voice as like a singer, with the phrases and the pauses between phrases,” says Helmersson. “The sound when the truth comes out for the first time, it’s a pretty intense moment, and you can hear it in his voice. So I tried to get out of the way of that and use my music to emphasize the feelings that Amin can’t or won’t express.”

The result is a stripped-down score relying mostly on stringed instruments — violin, cello, guitar — with the occasional muted vocal or source music. Sometimes, as in the film’s “What is home?” opening sequence, the sources are sewn together from a combination of folk and classical styles. Elsewhere, the effect is minimalist, as with the closing phrase involving a lone piano and string quartet.

“It was really a matter of taking my ego out of the music,” Helmersson says, “because this is Amin’s story. His voice alone should be the strongest component.”

It was only after the Danish version of Flee was completed and Participant was preparing the documentary for a screening at Sundance that producers approached Riz Ahmed and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau with the idea of doing an English-language version of the film. Ahmed would voice Amin. Coster-Waldau would be Rasmussen. Both actors jumped at the chance, also joining as executive producers.

“When I saw it, it blew my mind,” Ahmed recalls. “Not only was it an important and profoundly moving story, it was told in an exceptionally creative way. Coming on board was a no-brainer.”

Ahmed spent hours video chatting with Amin to match his style and tone. “He did an amazing job,” notes Hellstrom.

At its core, says Ahmed, Flee “reminds us of the humanity behind words that they only see in headlines such as ‘Afghan’ or ‘refugee.’ These words and the debates around them can be divisive, but I think this film reminds us of the core of humanity that we all share underneath our so-called differences. This fulfills the highest calling of storytelling, which is to remind us through the force of its imagination that there is no ‘us and them,’ only ‘us.’ “

Says Rasmussen, “This is a refugee story, and I know we are exposed to so many of these kinds of stories — I see them all the time — on TV, in the newspapers, in my feeds, and I’m like the rest: I tend to block them out, because when you see a human face of someone who’s struggling and you can’t do anything to help, it can be too much to cope with. But here, because you are not exposed to a human face, because it’s animation, I think it makes it possible to take it in. You can watch and really listen. Listen to Amin’s voice. And be reminded that this is a real person. This is a real story.”

 

xosotin chelseathông tin chuyển nhượngcâu lạc bộ bóng đá arsenalbóng đá atalantabundesligacầu thủ haalandUEFAevertonxosokeonhacaiketquabongdalichthidau7m.newskqbdtysokeobongdabongdalufutebol ao vivofutemaxmulticanaisonbethttps://bsport.fithttps://onbet88.ooohttps://i9bet.bizhttps://hi88.ooohttps://okvip.athttps://f8bet.athttps://fb88.cashhttps://vn88.cashhttps://shbet.atbóng đá world cupbóng đá inter milantin juventusbenzemala ligaclb leicester cityMUman citymessi lionelsalahnapolineymarpsgronaldoserie atottenhamvalenciaAS ROMALeverkusenac milanmbappenapolinewcastleaston villaliverpoolfa cupreal madridpremier leagueAjaxbao bong da247EPLbarcelonabournemouthaff cupasean footballbên lề sân cỏbáo bóng đá mớibóng đá cúp thế giớitin bóng đá ViệtUEFAbáo bóng đá việt namHuyền thoại bóng đágiải ngoại hạng anhSeagametap chi bong da the gioitin bong da lutrận đấu hôm nayviệt nam bóng đátin nong bong daBóng đá nữthể thao 7m24h bóng đábóng đá hôm naythe thao ngoai hang anhtin nhanh bóng đáphòng thay đồ bóng đábóng đá phủikèo nhà cái onbetbóng đá lu 2thông tin phòng thay đồthe thao vuaapp đánh lô đềdudoanxosoxổ số giải đặc biệthôm nay xổ sốkèo đẹp hôm nayketquaxosokq xskqxsmnsoi cầu ba miềnsoi cau thong kesxkt hôm naythế giới xổ sốxổ số 24hxo.soxoso3mienxo so ba mienxoso dac bietxosodientoanxổ số dự đoánvé số chiều xổxoso ket quaxosokienthietxoso kq hôm nayxoso ktxổ số megaxổ số mới nhất hôm nayxoso truc tiepxoso ViệtSX3MIENxs dự đoánxs mien bac hom nayxs miên namxsmientrungxsmn thu 7con số may mắn hôm nayKQXS 3 miền Bắc Trung Nam Nhanhdự đoán xổ số 3 miềndò vé sốdu doan xo so hom nayket qua xo xoket qua xo so.vntrúng thưởng xo sokq xoso trực tiếpket qua xskqxs 247số miền nams0x0 mienbacxosobamien hôm naysố đẹp hôm naysố đẹp trực tuyếnnuôi số đẹpxo so hom quaxoso ketquaxstruc tiep hom nayxổ số kiến thiết trực tiếpxổ số kq hôm nayso xo kq trực tuyenkết quả xổ số miền bắc trực tiếpxo so miền namxổ số miền nam trực tiếptrực tiếp xổ số hôm nayket wa xsKQ XOSOxoso onlinexo so truc tiep hom nayxsttso mien bac trong ngàyKQXS3Msố so mien bacdu doan xo so onlinedu doan cau loxổ số kenokqxs vnKQXOSOKQXS hôm naytrực tiếp kết quả xổ số ba miềncap lo dep nhat hom naysoi cầu chuẩn hôm nayso ket qua xo soXem kết quả xổ số nhanh nhấtSX3MIENXSMB chủ nhậtKQXSMNkết quả mở giải trực tuyếnGiờ vàng chốt số OnlineĐánh Đề Con Gìdò số miền namdò vé số hôm nayso mo so debach thủ lô đẹp nhất hôm naycầu đề hôm naykết quả xổ số kiến thiết toàn quốccau dep 88xsmb rong bach kimket qua xs 2023dự đoán xổ số hàng ngàyBạch thủ đề miền BắcSoi Cầu MB thần tàisoi cau vip 247soi cầu tốtsoi cầu miễn phísoi cau mb vipxsmb hom nayxs vietlottxsmn hôm naycầu lô đẹpthống kê lô kép xổ số miền Bắcquay thử xsmnxổ số thần tàiQuay thử XSMTxổ số chiều nayxo so mien nam hom nayweb đánh lô đề trực tuyến uy tínKQXS hôm nayxsmb ngày hôm nayXSMT chủ nhậtxổ số Power 6/55KQXS A trúng roycao thủ chốt sốbảng xổ số đặc biệtsoi cầu 247 vipsoi cầu wap 666Soi cầu miễn phí 888 VIPSoi Cau Chuan MBđộc thủ desố miền bắcthần tài cho sốKết quả xổ số thần tàiXem trực tiếp xổ sốXIN SỐ THẦN TÀI THỔ ĐỊACầu lô số đẹplô đẹp vip 24hsoi cầu miễn phí 888xổ số kiến thiết chiều nayXSMN thứ 7 hàng tuầnKết quả Xổ số Hồ Chí Minhnhà cái xổ số Việt NamXổ Số Đại PhátXổ số mới nhất Hôm Nayso xo mb hom nayxxmb88quay thu mbXo so Minh ChinhXS Minh Ngọc trực tiếp hôm nayXSMN 88XSTDxs than taixổ số UY TIN NHẤTxs vietlott 88SOI CẦU SIÊU CHUẨNSoiCauVietlô đẹp hôm nay vipket qua so xo hom naykqxsmb 30 ngàydự đoán xổ số 3 miềnSoi cầu 3 càng chuẩn xácbạch thủ lônuoi lo chuanbắt lô chuẩn theo ngàykq xo-solô 3 càngnuôi lô đề siêu vipcầu Lô Xiên XSMBđề về bao nhiêuSoi cầu x3xổ số kiến thiết ngày hôm nayquay thử xsmttruc tiep kết quả sxmntrực tiếp miền bắckết quả xổ số chấm vnbảng xs đặc biệt năm 2023soi cau xsmbxổ số hà nội hôm naysxmtxsmt hôm nayxs truc tiep mbketqua xo so onlinekqxs onlinexo số hôm nayXS3MTin xs hôm nayxsmn thu2XSMN hom nayxổ số miền bắc trực tiếp hôm naySO XOxsmbsxmn hôm nay188betlink188 xo sosoi cầu vip 88lô tô việtsoi lô việtXS247xs ba miềnchốt lô đẹp nhất hôm naychốt số xsmbCHƠI LÔ TÔsoi cau mn hom naychốt lô chuẩndu doan sxmtdự đoán xổ số onlinerồng bạch kim chốt 3 càng miễn phí hôm naythống kê lô gan miền bắcdàn đề lôCầu Kèo Đặc Biệtchốt cầu may mắnkết quả xổ số miền bắc hômSoi cầu vàng 777thẻ bài onlinedu doan mn 888soi cầu miền nam vipsoi cầu mt vipdàn de hôm nay7 cao thủ chốt sốsoi cau mien phi 7777 cao thủ chốt số nức tiếng3 càng miền bắcrồng bạch kim 777dàn de bất bạion newsddxsmn188betw88w88789bettf88sin88suvipsunwintf88five8812betsv88vn88Top 10 nhà cái uy tínsky88iwinlucky88nhacaisin88oxbetm88vn88w88789betiwinf8betrio66rio66lucky88oxbetvn88188bet789betMay-88five88one88sin88bk88xbetoxbetMU88188BETSV88RIO66ONBET88188betM88M88SV88Jun-68Jun-88one88iwinv9betw388OXBETw388w388onbetonbetonbetonbet88onbet88onbet88onbet88onbetonbetonbetonbetqh88mu88Nhà cái uy tínpog79vp777vp777vipbetvipbetuk88uk88typhu88typhu88tk88tk88sm66sm66me88me888live8live8livesm66me88win798livesm66me88win79pog79pog79vp777vp777uk88uk88tk88tk88luck8luck8kingbet86kingbet86k188k188hr99hr99123b8xbetvnvipbetsv66zbettaisunwin-vntyphu88vn138vwinvwinvi68ee881xbetrio66zbetvn138i9betvipfi88clubcf68onbet88ee88typhu88onbetonbetkhuyenmai12bet-moblie12betmoblietaimienphi247vi68clupcf68clupvipbeti9betqh88onb123onbefsoi cầunổ hũbắn cáđá gàđá gàgame bàicasinosoi cầuxóc đĩagame bàigiải mã giấc mơbầu cuaslot gamecasinonổ hủdàn đềBắn cácasinodàn đềnổ hũtài xỉuslot gamecasinobắn cáđá gàgame bàithể thaogame bàisoi cầukqsssoi cầucờ tướngbắn cágame bàixóc đĩa开云体育开云体育开云体育乐鱼体育乐鱼体育乐鱼体育亚新体育亚新体育亚新体育爱游戏爱游戏爱游戏华体会华体会华体会IM体育IM体育沙巴体育沙巴体育PM体育PM体育AG尊龙AG尊龙AG尊龙AG百家乐AG百家乐AG百家乐AG真人AG真人<AG真人<皇冠体育皇冠体育PG电子PG电子万博体育万博体育KOK体育KOK体育欧宝体育江南体育江南体育江南体育半岛体育半岛体育半岛体育凯发娱乐凯发娱乐杏彩体育杏彩体育杏彩体育FB体育PM真人PM真人<米乐娱乐米乐娱乐天博体育天博体育开元棋牌开元棋牌j9九游会j9九游会开云体育AG百家乐AG百家乐AG真人AG真人爱游戏华体会华体会im体育kok体育开云体育开云体育开云体育乐鱼体育乐鱼体育欧宝体育ob体育亚博体育亚博体育亚博体育亚博体育亚博体育亚博体育开云体育开云体育棋牌棋牌沙巴体育买球平台新葡京娱乐开云体育mu88qh88
Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter