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Cheer and Loathing in Animation: Episode XLVIII - Force Fields at Home

Every Friday Chris Robinson unleashes improvised and hastily scribbled cheer or loathing on the animation community to be digested, swallowed or... expelled. Today: home and homeland at the forefront of many new animation shorts.

'Cheer and Loathing in Animation' illustrations by Theodore Ushev

Home and homeland appears to be a major theme in animation this year. Films like The Adventures of Liang Liang, Mimi, Sog, Lo, Ugly, The Story of OJ, Four Faces of the Moon and Hedgehog’s Home all touch on themes of identity, borders, intolerance, colonialism and displacement. Even feature animation films like I’ll Just Live in Bando and My Dogs, Jin Jin and Akira deal with the effects and pressures of a nation’s shifting cultural and economic landscape on individual identities. 

Maybe it’s been a common theme in the past, but only seems more present now because of the many stories of fragmented nations, displaced peoples, along with a visible rise and increase in the volume of xenophobia and outright racism.

What’s interesting is that these are not the standard ‘existentialist’ driven films asking ‘who am I’ and such impossible questions. These films touch more upon the question that Canadian critic, Northrop Frye once asked: Where is here?:

“It seems to me that Canadian sensibility . . . is less perplexed by the question Who am I? than by some riddle as Where is here?”

He initially asked that question in the context of Canadian culture… like who are Canadians… we spent the first half of the 20th century dominated by English influence (and within that English-Canadian dominance over French-Canadians and First Nation's groups) and then after WWII, U.S. culture and politics took over… and it’s still a problem… The U.S. shadow is vast and smaller shadows of English monarchists remain…   I tend to just see Canada as a sort of united nations of the world…its identity is multiple, constantly shifting and adjusting according to the people occupying the land. In some ways, Canada is a model of multi-culturalism and tolerance… That’s not to say Canada is some Xanadu or Utopia… it sure as shit isn’t… there is plenty of social injustices (e.g. Residential Schools or a blatantly racist new law in Quebec).

I like to see Hedgehog’s Home, a deceptively simple film, as a work that rejects flags, anthems, and national identity… that your birthplace…your homeland… well, that will always be inside of you, a part of you… it doesn't matter where you are, where you go… that cannot be taken from you.

A friend of mine recently sent me an article from a Canadian magazine that speaks about the problems of national identity:

Recent identifiers such as “Native American,” “Aboriginal,” and “Indigenous” are deceptively vague, attempting to contain all of the complexities and differences of each individual tribe under one umbrella term. The problem with such terms, of course, is that the bigger the group they attempt to represent, the more they erase complexities and differences and encourage homogenization. 

Not to minimize and appropriate that argument, but I think it does lead one to ponder the very problems of national identity. I am deemed Canadian, but I often feel more in tune with friends…with liked minded folks from other parts of the world. 

We can talk and talk and talk, but maybe the best strategy towards reconciliation and tolerance and understanding is to stop talking and start listening. No one wants to be told who or what they are here or where they belong. They want to be let alone to tell their stories with their voices. 

Chris Robinson's picture

A well-known figure in the world of independent animation, writer, author & curator Chris Robinson is the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.