A story that's both lighthearted (sports fandom!) and serious (government repression!), exposing one more way that extreme religious conservatism restricts freedom.
When the Calgary Underground Film Festival asked us to help put together a pack of short animated documentaries for their upcoming CUFF.Docs festival, Case Jernigan's Sara quickly made it to our short list. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, we couldn't end up booking it (another of Jernigan's films made the cut), but now that it has made it online, at least we can share it here.
Animation isn't often the first choice for documentary animators — especially the style of cut-out animation that Jernigan uses in Sara. Don't get us wrong — we at Quickdraw are big fans of cut-outs. But animation in general is often seen by documentary filmmakers as a way to fill in gaps, to depict scenes that they just don't have the footage for or that might be too dry if they were just exposition. Maybe it's because animation is obviously artificial, while film has a sense of reality to it.
Jernigan's film (and the ones in the short docs pack at CUFF.Docs) show why that shouldn't be the case. Sara tells the story of a pseudonymous Iranian feminist and football fan, who isn't allowed to watch the game she loves. It's a story that's both lighthearted (sports fandom!) and serious (government repression!), exposing one more way that extreme religious conservatism restricts freedom. That balance can be tough to strike, but that's where the playful visuals truly shine.
Jernigan is consistently visually inventive, letting the film wear its handmade quality on its sleeve while adding in a variety of analog and digital techniques, depending what the emotional tone of a moment calls for. But despite being so obviously drawn (and cut out, and puppeted, etc), there isn't a moment that feels inauthentic. Animation isn't a substitute here for a lack of reality, it's a way to embrace the fact that this is a subjective story, and to let the narrator's feelings fill every frame. The animation is a complement to Sara's voice, fleshing out details, underlining emotions, and playing with meaning.
In that way it isn't any more or less artificial than any other documentary—it's every bit as subjective, and every bit as true.