Today, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks sees a string of personal stories brought to life with the help of StoryCorps, funded by The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, The Carnegie Corporation of New York, and National Endowment for the Arts.

The Rauch animation keeps its style simple and dramatizes each person’s memories in a collection of short videos, some sentimental (Always A Family), some light-hearted (Miss Devine). Looking at the former’s YouTube page, it is clear that the biggest debate in its user comments hinges around the sad loss of the family, 9/11 politics and the American government, with no discussion of the video’s animation or style. This unsurprising response of the general public can then put its 2,356 likes and 34 dislikes into a context unrelated to film aesthetics, making the videos serve a didactic purpose above all others.

In 2003, a series of short videos called Animated Minds were screened on Channel 4 in the UK detailing what it is like to experience mental distress, using real testimonies from a variety of sufferers. Partially produced by The Documentary Filmmakers Group (DFG), these videos use the same narration-to-animation formula as StoryCorps to arrive at their educational aim – ” to help dispel myths and misconceptions about ‘mental illness’ by giving a voice to those who experience these various difficulties first hand”. The visuals used, however, are created in a very different way.

This dark, stylised film detailing one person’s schizophrenia differs in form and content to another’s description of their agoraphobia, despite both being part of the same strand of objectives:

Comparing the ways in which Animated Minds and StoryCorps use animation to express their recorded subjects highlights two different ways of supporting audio with animation – subjectively or objectively, with the former evoking feelings through visuals and the latter telling stories (StoryCorps predominantly being an oral history project).

“If truth be told, can ‘toons tell it?”, a question posed by Sybil DelGaudio in her essay of the same title, points to the various attempts in academia to theorize the relationship between animation and documentary. Taking the stance of Bill Nichols, that “every film is a documentary”, suggests that if truth about mental health or 9/11 be told, ‘toons could indeed tell it, as even the most whimsical decisions made by their creators can give evidence of the culture that produced it.

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Reeling The Real is a new community dedicated to the discussion, promotion, and celebration of documentary film-making.

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