And Then Khartoum Destroyed the World

Originally Written: May 4th, 2016

In 1966, when the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, Basil Dearden, one of Britain’s lesser known film directors of the time, embarked on a film that chronicled what is now an ironic circle of repetition, Khartoum (Dearden 1966). Although the historical accuracy of the film is debatable, it depicted the efforts of General Charles “Chinese” Gordon, portrayed by Charlton Heston, trying desperately to save what would be the capital of Sudan from slaughter in 1885 by Mohamed Ahmed “al-Mahdi”, portrayed by Laurence Olivier, a Muslim extremist. It is here, in the mid-1880’s that the British become interested in the Sudan and is the first catalyst among many that would lead to the creation of The Anglo-Egyptian Condominium which would last from 1899 – 1956 upon Sudanese independence. Presently, the government that now sits in Khartoum is committing mass atrocities in the Darfur region, in far greater numbers than the Mahdists of 1885 with the purpose of genocide. The International Criminal Court identifies the combatants as Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and the government backed Janjaweed, an Arab militia, against the various rebels groups of Darfur (SLA- Sudanese Liberation Army, JEM- Justice for Equality Movement) and the United Nations. If a militaristic government is responsible for this, then the question becomes: did British colonialism have adverse effects to cause this genocide or was it simply the inevitable fate of long feuding peoples?

Located in the western part of Sudan bordering Chad, the Central African Republic, and just barely touching Libya, Darfur is approximately the size of the France and is home to approximately 6-7 million Muslims (UN, Amnesty International, Al Jazeera, Docherty 2015, 2016, 2016, 2007). In a rather seminal work, “Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide”, Gérard Prunier begins early on as by refuting claims of simplicity in the media. “The present crisis has been presented in the media as consisting of a form of ethnic cleaning verging on the genocidal, as carried out by Khartoum’s behest by “Arab” tribes against “African” ones. This is both true and false…” (4). Without diving too much into the specifics and forcing tangents, the population of Darfur, as explained by Prunier, is a complex system of tribes that considered both “Arab” and “African”. “In terms of skin color, everybody is black. But the various forms of Sudanese cultural racism distinguish “zurug” [Black Africans] from “Arab”, even if the skin has the same color” (4). This racism stems from the various migrations into the region between the fourteenth and sixteenth century whose descendants make up the modern-day tribes of Darfur that are seen today: Fur, Ziyadiyya, Habbaniya, and Rizzeyqat to name a few (6). What is important to note is the difference between “native-Arabs” and “Arabs” (who would later be called “Khartoumers”). During what is considered the first migration into the Darfur region sometime after the fourteenth century, peoples “from further northeastern reaches (and perhaps directly from the East [Arabian Peninsula]) came Arab groups such as the Ziyadiyya, Ta’iasha, Beni Halba, Habbaniya and Rizzeyqat. These long time settlers are at times described as “native-Arabs” to differentiate them from the more recent Arabized migrants who came from the Nile Valley in the eighteenth and nineteenth century” (6). The “Arabs” came in the region sometime during eighteenth century, during the height of Darfur’s prosperity:

“[They] were almost exclusively fuqara [religious predicators] or jallaba [traders] and settled in towns. Although “Arabs”, they had almost nothing in common with the old nomadic “native-Arabs”. They…constituted the nucleus of a quasi-colonial “foreign-elite”…. But in the South [what would become South Sudan] these “Khartoumers”, as they were called in the 1840s, were a completely colonial element, with nothing in common with the local population…; they came solely for the slaves and the ivory and remained un-acculturated…” (7).

In terms of government, the Darfuri people, as the tribes are collectively known, were ruled by a Sultanate, which was historically operated by the Fur tribe, whose origins of power are largely speculated. As Martin William Daly, author of “Darfur’s Sorrow: The Forgotten History of a Humanitarian Disaster” (2010), explains: “The early history of the Fur [or Keira] state is nonetheless shrouded in legend” (17). The first true Sultan of Darfur is believed to be a man known as Sulayman, who is also shrouded in myth and during his reign Islam became established in the region (18).

Egypt, who was at the time subservient to the Ottoman Empire, thought it proper to expand their influence southward into the Sudan via invasion. The person who organized this, Muhammad Ali, the Viceroy of Egypt, was attracted by the areas resources and Daly notes that following the invasion of Sinnar and Kordofan, “Muhammad Ali had immediately set about extracting the wealth that had attracted him – notably, gold and slaves” (40). However, Daly seems to miss what Prunier states in terms of Darfur; the Darfurians tried to resist invasion, but failed due to superior Egyptian technology, after this, the Darfuris retreated back to their homeland (Prunier 16).

Bhar al-Ghazal, the northwestern most region of South Sudan that borders Darfur, spawned al-Zubayr Rahma Mansur, a powerful merchant prince who wanted to control the slave trade of the Nile Valley, along with all of Darfur’s resources, began to move upon the Darfuri Sultanate in 1873 after the ascent of Ibrahim Qarad, who succeeded after the death of his father, Muhamma al-Husayn. Al-Zubayr, after defeating a small army sent by Qarad, “called up reinforcements from his slave stations in the south…marched on Dara with 7,000 men” (Daly 37-38). Due to this invasion, Egypt was prepared to act:

“Alarmed by the prospect of a Sudanese parvenu in control of Darfur, Khedive Isa’il of Egypt declared war on Sultan Ibrahim Qarad and ordered the governor-general of Sudan, Isma’il Ayub, to invade the sultanate from Kordofan…. Al-Zubayr thereupon marched into El Fasher. The Egyptian army arrived from Kordofan after the fighting was over… Isam’il Ayub began to establish an Egyptian administration” (38).

In 1877, General Charles Gordon was recently appointed Governor of Sudan. Hearing the news of rebellion against Egyptian rule, he decided to see to the affair peacefully himself. As Daly observes, Gordon intercepted the “slave caravans, releasing their human cargo- only to see them snatched up by local Arabs” (55). This brings out the inference that Arab peoples saw African blacks as slaves.

The Fall of Khartoum, as it was known in British circles, and the death of General Charles Gordon, the Governor of Sudan at the time, was the British government’s fault according to the media at the time and initially sparked interest in Sudan. In 1881, Mohamed Ahmed, also known as “ah-Mahdi” rose in opposition to Egyptian rule. Gordon, who was sent by both London and Cairo in1884 to evacuate British and Egyptian troops, was killed in Khartoum on January 26th, 1885 partly due to the inaction of the British government. The British force, which would come two days after Gordon’s death, ultimately failed in recapturing Khartoum and the Sudan fell to Mahdist control after the British retreated. M. W. Daly observes the British reason for colonialization as a means of reclaiming British honor “as the only outcome consonant with British imperial interests and worth of British dignity” (87).

1899 marked the beginning of the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium and thus, the beginnings of trouble for the Darfur region. Darfur was annexed by the British Sudan in 1916 via an invasion of Al Fasher, most likely due to the same reason that the Darfuri’s could not hold up against the Egyptians, however speculative this may be.

Gérard Pruiner points out that soon after the annexation, the British imposed indirect rule and created The Sudan Political Service, which was a group of white male Oxford and Cambridge graduates who knew nothing of the region and ran the government of Khartoum (25). Since the Political Service could not oversee the area themselves, they divided the Darfur region and gave the land to local leaders:

In theory it could have been a good idea, but those appointed to these charges were often incompetent, illiterate, and corrupt… they were usually incapable of implementing any form of technical or administrative progress or dealing with problems of education. This suited the local British administrators, who believed that education and technical change would only “spoil” their charges (29-30).

Sudan: The Longest War, a documentary by Journeyman Pictures and produced by Paul Mooncraft, tells the events of the Sudanese Civil War, which lasted predominately from the eve of Sudanese independence to 2005. The documentary begins with how the British were rather unique when it came to Sudan in terms of how they used their hallmark policy of Indirect Rule:

In 1898, an Anglo-Egyptian Army defeated the Mahdi’s forces. This established British Imperial control of the Upper Nile, and set a precedent for great power intervention in the country. Sudan was officially ruled by Egypt and Britain, but Britain took the main decisions, one of which was the establishment of a separate system of imperial government in the south of the country (Moorcraft 2004).

Upon Sudanese independence in 1956, the southern regions of the country were already speaking of war. The predominately Christian south was planning an anti-Muslim succession movement and from then on, the government in Khartoum was largely dependent on military coups (Mooncraft 2004). In 1969, a coup d’état by Col. Jaafar M. Nimayri overthrew the government. Nimayri was backed by the Sudanese Communist Party and the Sudan Socialist Party and during this time Sudan was being courted by both the United States and Russia due to Cold War tensions (Mooncraft 2004). 1971 saw a failed coup by the Sudanese Socialist Party which resulted in several members being executed. What followed next would later set a precedent for the Darfur region: In 1972 the Addis-Ababa Agreement brought a temporary end to the war in the south. The southern region was granted self-government but not independence (Mooncraft 2004). In the late 1970s, oil was discovered in the south, and this discovery would most likely prompt a reason for genocide. In 1983, Nimayri enforced Sharia Law which prompted the south to protest despite the law not being enforced. The war worsened and the economy followed suit. “In June 1989, the National Salvation Revolution took over in a military coup, General Omar al-Bashir was the military figurehead but the intellectual foundations were provided by Dr. Hassan al-Turabi, an Islamic scholar” (Mooncraft 2004).

In 2009, Sudanese documentarian Hisham Haj Omar presented a film, Darfur’s Skeleton, which chronicles the events of the Darfur Genocide from the lens of Darfurians. One of those Darfurians was Al Nur Daoud Khair Allah, a writer and researcher, who recounts that Darfur experienced radical change during Nimayri’s administration where the President eliminated the Tribal Administration. The Tribal Administration of Darfur was a local government that set local laws separate from the Khartoum, these local laws were called tribal agreements. Through tribal agreements, disputes were settled and the persons who settled these disputes were tribal administrators (Omar 2009). Mohamed Abd-Allah, Tribal Mayor for the Bershel tribe, elaborates further by saying that when President Nimayri eliminated the tribal administration, everything got out of hand- there used to be respect and some sort of order, every leader was responsible for his own, but when the tribal administration was taken, nothing took its place. Darfur was officially without a government and without a voice (Omar 2009).

In the 1980s, the Darfur region suffered drought and famine, as a result of this, migratory movements began southward; due to the nature of the situation, conflicts began emerging over resources. Simultaneously, the war between Libya and Chad, as journalist Adam Khater recalls, “…played a major role in the influx of arms into Darfur due to the ethnical integration between Sudan and Chad- the exchange in weaponry became possible. Which were first used in [the commonplace] local conflicts and this advanced the combatant experience” (Omar 2009). Mohamed Tahir Aseel, Director of the Great Family Organization, got into the root of the Darfuri conflict- the reason as to why the conflict would later emerge in a mere twelve years:

“The main problem in all this the central government in Khartoum, regardless of its nature, whether it was democratic, military or otherwise- instead of solving the conflict, and establishing that the country belongs to and can fit all the people, they always chose to help one group over the other…” (Omar 2009).

By the time the 1990s rolled around, the economy of Sudan was worsening and the war in the south had been escalating. The Sudanese government attempted to mend relations but despite this, both sides committed horror and both sides talked of peace on occasion, but no military solution would be present (Mooncraft 2004). The Sudan had become the interest of the United States and the reason is because of the spread of radical Islamism (who was concerned after the Iranian Ayatollah coup) and Osama bin-Laden:

Washington was hostile to the Islamic Administration in Khartoum, it wrongly liked it to Iran after the Ayatollahs took over. Washington was also concerned about the presence of Osama bin-Laden, the Saudi warlord went to live in Khartoum until 1996 (Mooncraft 2004).

Andrew Natsios, who was Chief Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, took part in an investigation that changed the way the world saw Darfur, as not simply a place on the edge of the Sahara, but as a place of grave concern. This investigation was compiled in a book edited by Samuel Totten and Eric Markusen, “Genoicde in Darfur: Investigating the Atrocities in the Sudan”. Natsios opens his portion with an analysis of why the Sudan grew international importance, particularly with the United States:

In 1992, Sudan played host to Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden used his considerable wealth and contacts to gather around him the veterans of the Afghan war against the Soviet Union… [The U.S. military was allowed to stay in the Sudan region via the Arab ruling elites] Six years later, United States embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were bombed by Al Qaeda. This was the same year that the United States bombed a Sudanese facility suspected of…weapons of mass destruction… In summary, this was the situation in Sudan that faced President George W. Bush (Totten 26).

After September 11th, 2001, the United States was affected by the region due to the estimated “twenty thousand Al Qaeda operatives [in the 1990s] passed through camps in Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. It was there that they were indoctrinated and trained…” (Totten 26). As the War on Terror commenced, George W. Bush released a statement on June 22nd, 2005, which outlined his plans for Sudan, which called for a “unified and peaceful Sudan that contributes to the regional development and cooperates on counter-terrorism; a participator and inclusive democratic government in a federal system that respects human rights and shares resources for the benefit of all Sudanese” (as quoted itn Totten, 27). By the time of Bush’s statement however, Sudan was far from unified and peaceful.

To make the situation even more problematic, the Sudanese Civil War marked U.S. sanctions on Sudanese oil, as peace was coming to fruition in 2003, the Sudan found cooperation with China, as Eric Reeves, a Professor of English at Smith College and human rights activist, who was interviewed for the Frontline PBS documentary, On Our Watch (Docherty 2007) explains:

“Sudan is China’s premiere source of off shore oil production. Even as the Chinese economy consumes petroleum at an ever greater rate over ten percent growth per year, they want as much off shore oil production they can get and Sudan is their premiere source of that production without a close second.”

Alex de Waal, co-author of “Darfur: A Short History of a Long War”, who was also featured in the documentary, discusses the demographics of Sudan. “If you go to Khartoum you see a middle income city… surrounded by hinterland that is not only developing it’s actually pre-developing- it’s some of the poorest parts of the world and Darfur is among those and that fueled a huge amount of resentment” (Docherty 2007).

Hubert Sauper, a documentarian from Australia most known for his Academy Award winning documentary Darwin’s Nightmare (2004), follows his seminal piece with “We Come as Friends” (2014) which deals with the oil situation in the south as well as the south’s independence in 2011. Sauper, who flew into the region on a plane he built himself, observed that most of the oil in South Sudan is owned by foreign investors, namely, China and Russia (Sauper 2014). The United States has some stake in the country in terms of oil, but nothing comparable to the two countries. There needs to be more research on this matter, but it is reasonable to assume that oil also resides underneath Darfur and that the government, who at this point has already been killing the Darfuri, wants the oil reserves underneath their feet. One of the reasons why this genocide occurred is due to the wealth of oil in Khartoum not being equally shared (Mooncraft, Docherty, Sauper 2004, 2007, 2014).

In the same way that Pearl Harbor was the United States’ Day of Infamy, so was February 26th, 2003. In the middle of the longest war in African history, Darfuri rebels rose up against the government of Khartoum for claims of marginalization. The effects of British Colonialism were taking its toll; as the government of Darfur was nonexistent, so was “inadequate representation of the government, a lack of equal justice in the courts, a lack of roads, and inadequate schooling” (Totten xix).

Robert O. Collins, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of California at the time of the investigation, describes the early history and context of the Darfur genocide as a contribution to the investigation, and spoke of the effect Bashir’s government had on Sudanese society:

[Bashir’s government]…Reopened old and deep wounds in Sudanese society…. Injecting an ideological and racist definition as to who is “Arab” and who [is] zuruq, black, or the more pejorative epithet abid, slave, to distinguish between Arab and African – and justify killing, rape, and enslavement of these marginalized people… (Totten 9).

Collins continues with his illustration of Sudan’s Day of Infamy, February 26th, 2003, in which approximately three-hundred rebels, who at the time were called the Darfur Liberation Front (DLF), seized the town of Gulu, a capital of a province in the state of Western Darfur. The rebels, equipped with Chadian and Libya weapons and vehicles, attacked policemen and art posts before returning to camp. Two weeks later, the DLF would be called the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and would retake Gulu, killing one-hundred and ninety government officials and forcing the government garrison off (9). Minni Minnawi, who was at the time secretary-general of the SLM, released a press statement explaining the reasoning behind the rebellion:

The SPLM/A firmly opposes…the Khartoum Government’s policies of using some Arab tribes…to achieve its hegemonic devices that are detrimental both to Arabs and non-Arabs… [Consequently], the brutal oppression, ethnic cleansing, and genocide sponsored by the Khartoum Government [have] left the people of Darfur with no other option but to resort to popular political and military “resistance for the purpose of our survival… (as quoted in Totten, 2003  9-10).

What Minnawi spoke of was a group known as the Janjaweed, a group of Arab nomadic tribesmen, supported by the Government of Sudan, who generally serve as a proxy militia to do the Government’s bidding of genocide. James Traub, writer for the New York Times Magazine explains: “Janjaweed are, in effect, camel born Cossacks, these are young men who are happy to be used as warriors, many of them are bandits in any case and so what they are doing now is becoming government sanctioned and controlled bandits” (Docherty 2007).

Mukesh Kapila, who in 2003 was the UN Coordinator for Sudan, recalls when a young Darfuri woman came into his office in Khartoum: “….Not only had she herself been…raped, but also her sisters and her family were maltreated in that way, and that this had been done by soldiers and people dressed in military and paramilitary uniforms” (Docherty 2007). In 2004, Kapila went to the Sudanese government and told them of these stories but the government denied this and sent him away. He went to places such as Washington and London in the hopes that perhaps the United States or the United Kingdom would act with political pressures on the Sudanese government, sadly, he was met with excuses:

The excuses were ranging from ‘Why does it have to be us?’ through to, ‘it’s not as bad as this’, through to, ‘We will discuss this matter in this Council, that Parliament, and get back’. So, virtually from everywhere, it went from cynicism to skepticism through to disbelief… to actually [the] opposite, ‘we know exactly what’s going on, but actually, what do you expect? This is a country where nasty things happen’ (Docherty 2007).

On June 25th, 2004, Lorne Carner, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), met up with several non-government organizations and suggested that a team of investigators interview the refugees that spilled into Chad in April 2003 (Totten xix, xxiv). This investigation group was the Atrocities Documentation Project, or ADP.

“One writer has said, ‘If the United Nations could die of shame, it would have been dead years ago’” (Docherty 2007). In terms of the international response to Darfur, the results were slow and heartbreaking. The ADP had several things going for it in the beginning- as the information of these reports of Darfur reached Washington in 2004, the Project had originated within the government and branded itself as a State Department document, it reinforced the call to action and the methodology used was so damning of the Sudanese government and documented so strongly these claims by way of consistency, to ignore it would be a crime against humanity in itself (Totten 164-65).

The findings of this investigation, as documented by Samuel Totten and Eric Markusen who conducted interviews with refugees along with several others, coincided with Kapila’s story. A young Masaleit woman from West Darfur relayed to an interviewer what the Janjaweed proceeded to do: “They were saying that the government from Khartoum sent [them] and we [were to be] killed and raped and cleaned [from] their land. Ten soldiers rape[d] me and left me. I was bleeding and could not walk. They did this to me for nearly three hours” (Totten 95).

Besides rape, torture and destruction of property took place. “Houses and entire villages were burned to the ground, the carcasses of dead animals and human bodies were thrown into wells to poison them, and crops were razed and orchards chopped down” (Totten 97).

In terms of genocide prevention however, this evidence did next to nothing in terms of international action. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), one of the advocates for human rights in the world, documented that on September 9th, 2004, for the first time in United States history, an ongoing crisis was called ‘genocide’ by then Secretary of State, Colin Powell: “We concluded—I concluded—that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the Government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility…” (2016). Totten Taylor Seybolt, a Senior Program Officer for the United States Institute for Peace observed: “The U.S. Government clearly recognized in September 2004 that genocide was underway in Darfur. It has done next to nothing in response. No other country has done any better, and the United Nations has proven ineffective” (Totten 167).

The genocide continued into the middle part of the first decade, the Janjaweed persisted their violence via scorched earth tactics, and the Government of Sudan and rebel groups reached cease fires that always resorted in violent means. Al Jazeera, an international news station based in Qatar, reported in 2010 that Mimmi Minnawi, who was still working with his organization, the SLA/M, was the only person to sign the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) in 2006 (Al Jazeera 2010). The DPA called for Power Sharing (Article 2) which loosely means “…the inclusion of Darfurians at all levels of governance in all institutions of the State…” (UN 4), as well as a section that is similar to the United States Bill of Rights titled, Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (known as Article 3): “Every person is entitled to freedom, safety and security. No person shall be subjected to arrest, detention, deprivation or restriction of her/ his liberty, except in accordance with measures prescribed by the law…” (UN 5). Minnawi who was the ‘senior assistant’ to Omar al-Bashir, accused the Government of Sudan for “failing to implement the Darfur agreement, saying that he is ready to do battle” (Al Jazeera 2010).

After the DPA was signed, it allowed the opportunity for the largest humanitarian aid force in the world to go into effect. The United Nations, who had been struggling to push any sort of legislation thanks to influence from China and Russia, agreed on Jun 31st, 2007 to deploy UN Peacekeepers in join operation with the African Union known as The United Nations- African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) (UN 2016). However, there was a condition that the United Nations was forced to accept from Omar al-Bashir. Ahmad Sikainga, a native Sudanese Professor of History who teaches at The Ohio State University, wrote in a 2009 article, “’The World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis’: Understanding the Darfur Conflict”, that Omar al-Bashir’s government declared “its objection to the presence of any European troops on its soil and maintained that it would only allow African Union peacekeepers” (2009). This demand may have been intentional as Susan Manuel, the Chief of Peace and Security Section of the UN Department of Public Information at the time, implies. She was interviewed by Paul Jay, a Senior Editor for The Real News Network. When asked of what was happening on the ground in 2009, she notes one of the main problems of the mission was the lack of equipment in African militaries: “…The African countries, their militaries don’t have equipment, they don’t have transport vehicles, they don’t have helicopters- they don’t have rudimentary signaling equipment. So all the logistics have to be provided by other countries…” (The Real News Network 2009).

In 2009, The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, the first time in the organization’s history that an arrest warrant was issued for a head of state (USHMM). As a result of this, Omar al-Bashir banned all aid groups from coming into Darfur, accusing them of working with the ICC to carry out the arrest (Al Jazeera 2016). By 2010, another peace agreement was proposed, this time the agreement was oversaw by the Qatari Government and the UNAMID. This agreement, collectively known as The Doha Peace Agreement, was extremely similar to the first agreement, but with more focus on recognizing the JEM force, which at the time was Darfur’s largest rebel group, as a political party (UN 2010). The agreement failed in the same way that the first one had, with repeated violence and civil unrest; one of the major successes of the Doha Agreement was the Darfur Referendum. Originally scheduled to take place in 2011, it was most likely pushed back due to South Sudanese independence that same year (more scholarship needs to be made) but instead, took place on April 11-13th, 2016. The referendum was to allow Darfur to become a single region as it was in the time of the Sultanate or the current five state system. The event was covered by Al Jazeera and Radio Tamazuj, a Sudanese radio station, which both reported that the five state policy was upheld, thus setting the region into continued violence and hardship (2016).

To answer the main question, it is probable to conclude that the Darfur Genocide occurred (as is still occurring) as a result of British Colonialism. The inaction of the British government set a precedent for continued inaction by the Sudanese government to invest in Darfur appropriately as an area with rich diverse people who can contribute to society. However, because of British Colonialism and the policy of indirect rule, the Darfur region has been stagnant for the majority of the past century. In order to break the cycle of stagnation, it must be proposed that the Government of Sudan cease the violence in the region, promote a higher standard of living, and generate peaceful and long-lasting solutions to problems that they themselves created.

In conducting research, one of the main obstacles was finding information that was relevant to the roots of the problem. As Ahmad Sikainga observed, “… much of the media coverage tends to follow the familiar patterns of sensationalizing the story rather than providing a nuanced analysis of the root causes” (2009). Most of what is known is rather repetitive, with holes regarding the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium and The Sudanese Civil War in terms of what occurred.

As the genocide continues, the world has been relatively silent, sending in lofty words of moral obligations to help the region. As then Senator Barack Obama stated in 2007: “The United States has a moral obligation any time you see humanitarian catastrophes…” In that same year, Hillary Clinton had more political edge and obvious propagandist flavor in terms of her opinions on the issue. “…The Bush administrations words have not been matched by deeds. Its actions have been ad hoc and inconsistent…” (United to End Genocide). The most recent causality numbers for this conflict, which was reported in 2015 by the United Nations, United to End Genocide, Amnesty International, and others, is in the ballpark of 300,000 with approximately 2-3.7 million displaced persons in Chad, the Central African Republic, and other neighboring countries. Human Rights Watch, who conducts a World Report yearly, stressed concerns about the UNAMID: “In its sixth year, UNAMID has been largely ineffective in protecting civilians from violence and has all but ceased public reporting on human rights issues” (2015). To illustrate the lack of help, in Tabit, Darfur. An investigation, “Mass Rape in North Darfur: Sudanese Army Attacks against Civilians in Tabit”, by Human Rights Watch details that:

Over the course of 36 hours beginning on October 30, 2014, Sudanese army troops carried out a series of attacks… the mass rape of women and girls and the arbitrary detention, beating and ill-treatment of scores of people. (Human Rights Watch 2015).

When Basil Dearden made Khartoum in 1966, he, well, more accurately, Robert Ardrey, the screenwriter, penned one of the best scripts to come from Hollywood. As Charles Gordon says goodbye to his camel just as he heads to the final hours of his life, he says: “So we ride beneath no more desert stars, then. Ah, all things must end.” It is unclear if the real-life Gordon said something to this effect, but what is clear is that all things must indeed end. Genocide, thankfully, does not last forever. So let us make sincere notions to cease this violence, put words to true legitimate action, and finally end the worst humanitarian crisis in history.


Work Cited

“Inside Story – Will the Darfur Referendum Be Credible?” Inside Story. Al Jazeera. 9 Apr. 2016. Al Jazeera English – Will Darfur’s Referendum Be Credible? Web. 23 Apr. 2016. <;.

“Mass Rape in North Darfur.” Human Rights Watch. 11 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Apr. 2016. <;.

“Sudan.” Amnesty International USA. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.

“United Nations Peacekeeping.” UN News Center. UN. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.

“World Report 2015: Sudan.” Human Rights Watch. 2015. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.

Abushouk, Ahmed I. “The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan: From Collaboration Mechanism to Party Politics, 1898–1956.” EBSCOHost. The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 1 June 2010. Web. 23 Apr. 2016. <;.

Daly, M. W. Darfur’s Sorrow: The Forgotten History of a Humanitarian Disaster. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.

Darfur’s Skeleton. Dir. Hisham Haj Omar. Refugee Club, 2009. DVD.

Khartoum. Dir. Basil Dearden. Perf. Charlton Heston and Laurence Olivier. MGM, 1966. DVD.

On Our Watch. Dir. Neil Docherty. PBS, 2007.

Prunier, Gerard. Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2005. Print.

Sikainga, Ahmad. “‘The World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis’: Understanding the Darfur Conflict.” The Ohio State University, 5 Feb. 2009. Web. 14 Apr. 2016. <;.

Sudan: The Longest War. Prod. Paul Mooncraft. Journeyman Pictures, 2004.

The Real News Network. “Not enough support for UN mission in Darfur”. YouTube, 18 Jun. 2009. Web. 1 May 2016.

Totten, Samuel, and Eric Markusen. Genocide in Darfur: Investigating the Atrocities in the Sudan. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

We Come as Friends. Dir. Hubert Sauper. 2014.


Make Your Way Through Little Hedgehog: The History of Russian Animation from 1947-1979

Western animation, while beautiful and memorable as it is, has a certain conscious of other countries and their animated mediums, and a cultural myopic tendency to others. Japan is known for anime and Britain for the work of Nick Park and Terry Gilliam, but one country that is particularly overlooked is Russia. Laura Pontieri believes that Russian animation came around at the turn of the 20th century right on the tail of the birth of American animation. Although historical records are debatable, the first Russian cartoons came c. 1910-1912 when stop motion was the main medium. One of the earliest cartoons on record was “The Cameraman’s Revenge” (1911) by puppeteer Vladislav Starevich (also known as Ladislav Starewich) who used models of insects to create original stories and tell fables (5). Starevich’s films were “…quite successful among audiences” but due to the Russian Revolution his work was panned and was viewed as “a children’s entertainer without educational value” (5-6). Due to Starevich being ostracized, the country turned away from puppetry animation and developed into hand-drawn animation using characterization as a tool for propaganda purposes. However, these hand-drawn cartoons were not cel animation, rather, drawings and flat marionets, known as “cut-outs”. As Pontieri states: “Russian animators waited longer than Western animators for the arrival of the advanced cel technique, that is, drawing on transparent sheets of celluloid. This delay was perhaps due to the cost of cels or to the European tradition of puppet theater…” (18). As the Russian animators gained access to the various means of animation, they began to borrow techniques from the Disney animators, particularly when it came to caricature. The Moscow International Film Festival which was first held in 1935, showcased some of the Disney animated cartoons, which influenced the Soviets to change tactics from strictly propagandist material to material that provided entertainment, especially geared toward children, leading to the creation of Soyuzmultfilm in 1936 (41).

William I. Hitchcock notes that in March 1947, the Marshall Plan, a European aid package drafted by the United States and the United Nations was refused by the Soviet Union due to the stimulation of the German economy, a notion that the country opposed wanting the Germans to pay reparations for the War (Hitchcock 2010). In response, the Soviet Union issued propaganda cartoons that had certain sociopolitical aspects which were continuous themes that A.V. Fedorov lays out:

The world of ordinary characters is invaded by representations of Western values, including economic (Ambulance) and musical (A Foreign Voice) in an attempt to deceive, entrap, rob, and spoil artistic taste. However, sooner or later the ordinary characters realize the deceit of these actions and begin to confront them… Western bourgeois characters may pretend to be pacifists for a time (Mr. Walk) or benefactors (Ambulance). However, their negative, bestial nature eventually comes out…. Ordinary characters are modest in appearance; the Western bourgeoisie live in luxury (Fedorov 2016).

While A.V. Fedorov illustrates the sociopolitical implications of the Soviet films, which were critical of the West using fairy tales, he does not go into detail in the formal techniques of the Russian animated films, nor does he address the problem of those techniques being in danger of becoming impractical methods of filmmaking. By analyzing three pivotal cartoons in their respected historical contexts: “Ruka (The Hand)” (Jiri Trnka 1965), “The Glass Harmonica” (Khrzhanovsky 1968), and “Tale of Tales” (Norstien 1979), I shall argue for a revitalization of traditional animation techniques in Russia, emphasizing personal aesthetics and stylistic choices of directors, suggesting that they, and other Russian animators, used Western animation techniques to create their work in a system that was oppressing creativity, resulting in work that was creative with limitations; and, because of these limitations, produced cartoons of cultural significance.

Context: Soyuzmultfilm and the Two Main Styles of Russia – “Disney” and “UPA Style”

Birgit Beumers, author of “A History of Russian Cinema” notes in an essay entitled: “Comforting Creatures in Children’s Cartoons” that Russian animation, as well as animation in general, is not studied as frequently due to the main target audience – children (Balina and Rudova 153). Originally, Russian cartoons were used to showcase mortality as opposed to an ideology, Beumers notes that: “Soviet animation was less affected by ideological constraints and thus, was able to instill in children universal moral values of right and wrong and often to make subversive comments on contemporary society” (Balina and Rudova 154). If per Fedorov, animation was used for propaganda purposes and per Beumers, the medium was used for a more moral one, then which is the correct reading? Both are correct. “In 1936 Mezhrabpomfilm [a Russian film studio] was reorganized into two studios – Soyuzdetfilm (Studio of children’s films) and the animation studio, Soyuzmultfilm – the latter of which received the special permit to produce cartoons for children” (Balina and Rudova 156). During World War II, Soyuzmultfilm was evacuated to a remote location, making the productions of cartoons nearly impossible to continue; however, upon returning to Moscow, the company focused resources on producing fairy tales which, as Beumers notes: “[were] suitable for feature length material, which were needed to compete with Disney’s Snow White (1937). The fairy tale suited propaganda purposes for two reasons: on one hand by drawing on national heritage, and on the other hand because of the inherent element of moral instruction as considered appropriate over centuries and could therefore hardly contradict socialist principles” (Balina and Rudova 160). Pontieri furthers this argument by suggesting that the Russians adopted the Disney model because: “Disney aesthetic and method of production responded to the needs of official art and prevented the search for new styles” (Pontieri 148). In congruence, Fedorov notes that the sociocultural, political, and ideological atmosphere of Russia in the later part of the 1940s and, to some extent, the 1950s was centered on four fundamentals:

Restoration of the war-torn Russian economy by straining all available human resources; rapid development of military production, nuclear development, and the equipping of many factories with captured equipment; establishment of totalitarian regimes that were completely dependent on the Kremlin in almost all the countries of Eastern Europe; [and, a] return to the practice of mass repressions (the struggle against cosmopolitanism, the anti-Semitic campaign, etc.) (Fedorov 2016).

It was these four fundamentals that prevailed in some of the early propaganda work and it was also these fundamentals that animators rebelled against. In the 1960s, a newer style of animation was adopted into Russian animation, known as the “UPA style” (or “Zagreb”), alongside the older Disney model, which relied heavily on caricature and satire. An example of the UPA style would be “The Millionaire” (1963 Bordzlovski and Prytkov) which adopts elements of the style that Dan Bashara defines as: “hard-edged, simplified forms; bold, unmodulated colors; an evacuation of detail; a minimalist environmental surround often reduced to geometric patterns or even a flat color plane; the avoidance of rounded, centerline character

[Figure 2: Examples of “UPA Style”, From Left to Right: “Gerald McBoing-Boing” (Cannon 1951), “Mr. Magoo (1960-1961), “The Pink Panther Show” (1963-1979), “The Millionaire” (1963 Bordzlovski and Prytkov)

design; and a relaxed (at best) implementation of Renaissance perspective” (Bashara 2015).  In similar fashion to the Disney model, the UPA style was adopted because of UPA’s success with “Mr. Magoo” (1960-61) and “Gerald McBoing-Boing” (Cannon 1951) as well as other cartoons like Hanna Barbera’s “The Jetsons” and Depatie-Freleng Enterprises “The Pink Panther Show” (1963-79). The style was heavily used to further

[Figure 3: Left to Right: The Story of a Crime (1962), “Man in the Frame” (1966), and “Film, Film, Film” (1968) (Khitruk)]

the needs of Russian propaganda with Fyodor Khitruk becoming a spearhead of the style with shorts such as “The Man in the Frame” (1966) and “The Story of a Crime” (1962).



Rebelling Against the State: Jiří Trnka and Ruka (“The Hand”) (1965)

[Figure 4: Jiří Trnka]

            Cerise Howard notes that Czechoslovakian puppeteer Jiří (Jiri) Trnka began his professional life as an illustrator of children’s books and a painter, ultimately settling on the Eastern European tradition of puppetry. Bringing back the stylistic medium of puppet films that Starevich began, Trnka’s puppet films were often wordless and his puppets had a fixed expression which was part of his aesthetic. Břetislav Pojar, one of Trnka’s collaborators, explains: “It was simply Trnka’s way of creating puppets. They had character, and yet to a certain extent a neutral expression, so that they could vary emotional states through body position or silhouettes” (Howard 2013). Per Kit Laybourne, author of “The Animation Book”, Trnka employed a puppet style known as the “Czech puppet” due to the association with Trnka and other Czech animators. The Czech puppet was made of an armature, or flexible yet sturdy skeleton that was padded and clothed (Laybourne 155-56). Most likely, Trnka used a wooden armature, due to his puppets being made from wood. Before Trnka began his puppet films, he had three hand-drawn shorts screened at the first Cannes Film Festival, one of them, Dárek (The Gift) had a profound stylistic impact on UPA. Stephen Bosustow, UPA’s co-founder, went on to say that Trnka was “the first rebel against Disney’s omnipotence” (Howard 2013). This rebellion against the Disney model of animation caused issues when the Czechoslovakian government fell to Communism in 1948. Because of Trnka’s influence and prestige, the state subsidized Trnka’s output, making him a literal puppet of the regime (Howard 2013). Czech writer Antonín J. Liehm notes that: “it was much harder for the watchdogs to penetrate the land of fairy tales, folk stories and poetic visions, in pursuit of puppet film, all the more so since at that time folklore was recommended and defended by the state” (Howard 2013). Thus, was Trnka’s answer to his predicament- make puppet films that told fairy tales to appease the government; and, to make a film that criticized the state but to guise it as a fairy tale, in the hopes of gaining artistic expression and creative freedom.

[Figure 6: “Ruka” – allusion to “Le Passion de Jeanne d’Arc” (Deyer 1928)]
[Figure 5: “Ruka” – the potter swinging the mallet over his head, the camera tracks movement.]

“Ruka” deviates from the traditional fairy tale model of Eastern European animation by focusing on political beliefs and creative freedom, calling back to Fedorov’s claim of the four fundamentals of Russian animation, with the fourth being challenged. Telling the story of a happy potter content with his simple profession, he is interrupted by a large hand who forces him to create state works, eventually leading to violence and tragedy. The film utilizes Trnka’s aesthetic of a constantly moving camera and creative lighting, which is exemplified in two scenes. When the potter attempts to slam the hand’s fingers with a mallet after being forced to watch propaganda from a TV that the hand pulls from a box, the camera tracks the potter’s movements; as the potter swings the mallet over his head, the camera follows the motion- moving side to side and in circles. The second, is when Trnka alludes to “La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc” (Deyer 1928) emphasizing Trnka’s own personal grief and emotions at the time (he also alludes to “Mobilier fidele (The Automatic Moving Company)” (Bossetti 1912), in terms of object movement). Peter Hames of Sight and Sound notes:

“One of Trnka’s most important animators, Bretislav Pojar, noted that when Trnka painted his puppets, he gave them a deliberately undefined look – it was through movement and lighting that their characters and emotions would be revealed: “By merely turning their heads, or by a change in lighting, they gained smiling or unhappy or dreamy expressions” (Hames 2012).

Trnka’s aesthetic in this frame – the paint running down the potter’s face, resembling tears, the expression of desperation, the way the light hits, the extreme close-up, all signify Trnka’s masterful aesthetical use of lighting as well as a subtextual plea for help and a call for creative freedom.  Jiri Trnka would die in 1969, making “Ruka” his last puppet film, and perhaps his most significant due to the censorship received upon release. As Hames details:

Appearing just after the first films of the Czech New Wave, but well before any of their explicitly political works, The Hand remains one of the most overt attacks on Stalinism to have been made in the 1960s. When Trnka died in 1969, the year after the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, he was awarded a state funeral. But when a retrospective of his work was held a year later at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, The Hand was omitted. As late as the 1980s, an exhibit featuring The Hand even mysteriously disappeared from a 1980s Prague exhibition on the history of cinema (Hames 2012).

Trnka’s inability to criticize due to government censorship resulted in Trnka rebelling against the state, and while he was known throughout the Czech as a maker of fairy tales, his seminal work, “Ruka”, remains a creative force in a field full of unoriginal copies of Disney and UPA that dominated the Eastern European landscape. While “Ruka” set into the motion the idea of freedom of thought and creativity, it was “The Glass Harmonica” by Andrei Khrzhanovsky that resulted in a full-scale revolution.

There Once Lived Censorship, and “The Glass Harmonica”

Criticizing the government for disallowing creative freedoms since his college years,

[Figure 7: Andrey Khrzhanovsky (1939-)]

Andrey Khrzhanovsky, a Russian animator known for his use of cut-out animation and films focusing on political critique, made a dangerous statement with his seminal work, “The Glass Harmonica (or Steklyannaya garmonika)” (1968) to challenge the official Disney model of Russia with an intellectual medium. As Pontieri notes: “Khrzhanovsky’s departure from the Disney style did not only constitute a refusal of traditional aesthetic choices, but also signified a rejection of the “official” style that Disney represented during the Stalin years” (148).  In graduate school, Khrzhanovsky created a permissible work, known as “There Once Lived Kozayvin” (Zhil-byl Koziavin) (1966) which was a satirical piece on the censorship of creativity and a commentary on Russian bureaucracy (Pontieri 139). However, “The Glass Harmonica” paints a bleaker picture of the issue that Trnka and Starevich addressed earlier – artistic and creative freedom.

[Figure 8: “The Glass Harmonica” – opening captions]

The film begins with a caption over an effigy of a wrist with a coin in the palm: “Although the events in this film are of a fantastic character, its authors would like to remind you of boundless greed, police terror, the isolation and brutalization of humans in modern bourgeois society” (Khrzhanovsky 1968). What follows is a complex narrative revolving around The Yellow Devil (sometimes called The Governor, depending on the translation) and his grip of a small town that has no creativity, color, and is in absolute despair. When a craftsman travels into the town square, he plays from his magical glass harmonica, an instrument that inspires creativity and good moral action; however, he is almost instantly repressed and arrested by the Yellow Devil and his officials. The craftsman’s parting gifts, broken pieces of the harmonica and a red flower, both of which are withered and dead, are picked up a young boy, who, inspired by the harmonica’s sound, travels off. Meanwhile, the Yellow Devil, initiates a state of chaos with a hypnotic trance of money, resulting in the people quarreling over coin and turning into animals; however, the grip is broken when the boy returns with glass harmonica intact and the townspeople, hearing the music, become enlightened and drive The Yellow Devil out.

Khrzhanovsky’s supposed message, that money is the root of all evil and capitalism is despicable, is a misreading. As Pontieri believes: “… it is no longer the bureaucrat under attack, but a system that represses artistic freedom; thus, this film addresses an audience that is sensitive to the problems of the

[Figure 9: Comparison between “The Glass Harmonica” (1968) (right) and “The Son of Man” (1964” (left)]

artistic world and understands the film’s references” (148).  While Trnka alludes to Deyer’s “La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc” in terms of framing and aesthetic, Khrzhanovsky alludes to paintings; The Yellow Devil, for instance, holds an uncanny resemblance to Magritte’s “The Son of Man” (1964); thus, in an intellectual, less explicit way, Khrzhanovsky is dealing with rebellion against the state, with The Yellow Devil being the epidemy of the bourgeois that the beginning caption warned us about. We know nothing of the face behind The Yellow Devil, despite us clearly able to see him, his actions are often sporadic, mechanical, profit driven, and in the service of a machine (the state that he runs); however, The Yellow Devil also represents a dictator due to the mechanical movements he possesses, particularly in relation to the mouth (Pontieri 149). Pontieri notes that in order to elude censors, Khrzhanovsky was encouraged to emphasize the effect of money over a society as opposed to the question of the artist living in an authoritarian regime – however; to accomplish both goals, he played with subtext:

The intertextuality he [Khrzhanovsky] creates not only expresses an interplay of texts bearing specific significations, but also fulfills a dramaturgic role. The texts that interweave in the film have specific connotations that help… express a precise dramaturgic thought while playing with aesthetics categories (Pontieri 149).

Figure 10: Grotesque imagery. Above: “Plate 12 rom ‘Los Caprichos’: Out hunting for teeth” (Goya 1799). Below: “The Glass Harmonica” (Khrzhanovsky 1968)]

Pontieri continues by suggesting that Khrzhanovsky associates different aesthetics with certain characters: protagonists being represented by mimesis and antagonists are represented by the grotesque image. Because of the contrast, Khrzhanovsky structures the film through contrasting juxtaposition (Pontieri 149). The grotesque and beautiful moments are created through various inspirations from certain artists with inspiration for the grotesque coming from Francisco de Goya, Bosch, Bruegel, and Arcimboldo (150). In contrast, Italian Renaissance paintings from Raffaello, Botticelli, and Perugino, as well as Masaccio’s “The Tribute Money” (1424), which Khrzhanovsky creates a similar effect in terms of perspective, represent those who are enlightened by the harmonica’s music and the idea of enlightenment itself; hence, the fitting symbolism (151).

[Figure 11: Use of Renaissance perspective in “The Glass Harmonica”. Left: “The Glass Harmonica” (Khrzhanovsky 1968). Right:  Masaccio’s “The Tribute Money” (1424)]


Cut-out animation, one of the oldest forms of animation besides puppetry, is used exclusively in “The Glass Harmonica”. While scholars debate on the exact origins of where cu-out animation originated from, Donald Crafton notes that some of the early work in the medium can be traced back to Walter R. Booth, a British musician akin to Georges Méliès. “Booth’s specialty was a type of transformation in which a drawing of a person was changed into a living figure by the use of dissolves or stop-action substitutes” (25). This trick was used in “The Sorcerer’s Scissors” (1907 Booth) which is considered one of the earliest uses of an early form of cut-out animation

[Figure 12: “The Glass Harmonica” (1968) – flight sequence]

(26). Cut-out animation, which is the process of moving figures that have been drawn on pieces of paper and then cut in various ways to be fastened back together (Laybourne 60), provided Khrzhanovsky with the mechanical nature of The Yellow Devil as well as the weightlessness of other characters in the flight sequence because of the control that the medium presents (149, 155).

“The Glass Harmonica”, which was under distribution by Soyuzmultfilm, encountered several obstacles upon release. The script had to be rewritten for the studio to accept the film (163), and the Artistic Council of Soyuzmultfilm (the entity that decides what content to distribute) concluded that because of the themes and complex nature of the film it would be difficult to distribute to a mass audience. One of the reasons, besides political bias, was the fact that the studio was unable to produce complex imagery because the studio was based on a division of labors that it was not able to handle. When the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968, the meetings ended. “The only existing copy of the first version of the film,” Pontieri states, “which had been seen and kept only in the Soyuzmultfilm studio, was ordered destroyed” (Pontieri 163-66). Thus, to have the film made, it was altered and the opening captions were added (166). Eventually, “The Glass Harmonica” was picked up by Soyuzmultfilm after several agreements and revisions, but it was only shown in Moscow a few days after completion and was shelved for many years until 1986, and even today, the film is rarely seen (166-67).

The Greatest Animated Film of All Time: Yuri Norstien and “Tale of Tales” (1979)

[Figure 13: Yuri Norstien (1941-)]

Considered to be one of the greatest animators in history, Yuri Norstien helped create some of Russia’s most beloved fairy tales and turn them into animation classics: “The Fox and Rabbit” (1973), “Heron and Crane” (1974), and “Hedgehog in the Fog” (1975) just to name a few. However, his most crowning achievement, besides “Hedgehog in the Fog”, is the piece that could be considered the tail end of the Russian propagandist era of animation, “Tale of Tales”. Mary Solwik notes that the film is famous for its aesthetic, attention to detail, dream-like quality, complex nature, and is a continuation Norstien’s use of cut-out animation which was used in “Hedgehog in the Fog”; however, “Tale of Tales”, which uses a similar style in terms of character design and aesthetic as “Hedgehog”, adds through use of the multi-plane camera (Solwik 2014).

Solwik recounts the narrative and allusions of the film, suggesting a deeper significance offering the idea that the film is a history of Russia. Following a family during, before, and after World War II, the film’s main antagonist, a wolf cub, and a secondary character, a retrospective narrator (whom we are never fully acquainted to), narrate the story simultaneously, weaving together a non-linear narrative that follows the lives of this family in fragmented segments, with Solwik citing James Phelan that offers an idea that this film might be based on Norstien’s personal life: “‘Writers create versions of themselves as they write, and readers understand both that narrative is a communication from a real person and that they can come to know a version of that person through the narrative’” (Solwik 2014). The film offers four distinct scenes, one of which, involves the family members enjoying a sunny day. Solvik presents the effect of Norstien’s aesthetic:

[Figure 14: “Tale of Tales” (1979) – use of multi-plane camera]

Through layering of paper and other materials over the images, sophisticated lighting and use of the multi-plane camera, the drawings and cut-outs appear vague and indistinct as if we are in the process of reading a book while falling asleep (Solvik 292).

[Figure 15: “Walt Disney’s Multiplane Camera” (1957)]

Multi-plane camera usage can be seen in “Tale of Tales” in multiple occasions, but especially from a scene in which the wolf runs down a hill with a baby and a dance sequence. The multi-plane camera was a technological advancement created by the Walt Disney Company to produce feature length films originating sometime in the early 1920s that was first used in the development of “Snow White” (Disney 1957). In 1957, Walt Disney recorded an episode of “Disneyland” which provided an explanation of the camera: “…with our original picture broken down in this manner, it is possible to control the relative speed with which each

[Figure 16: “Tale of Tales” (1979) – multi-plane camera use]

individual part of it moves to and away from the camera” (Disney 1957).  The multi-plane camera was widely used in Bambi, with its beautiful panning shots being created by moving the individual planes slightly, similar to how animation itself is created (Disney 1957). Norstien uses this effect himself to create the illusion of depth and realism, adding to his difficult to create aesthetic.

[Figure 17: “Tale of Tales” (1979) – the wolf is Virgo leading us on through Purgatory]

In the same manner that Trnka and Khrzhanovsky allude to other works, Norstien is more akin to literary allusions, particularly Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno”. Solvik notes the importance of the wolf character, who acts as Virgo (Solvik 295). Solvik insists that the wolf is the guide throughout this narrative, while the retrospective narrator is the central core and aesthetic (295). In Solvik’s view then, the audience is the core, specifically the Russian audience, which is what this film, a complex one that deserves its own research, is about.

Putin Strikes the Bear, the Bear Strikes Back: 2010 – Present

Unlike Trnka and Khrzhanovsky, Norstien was not censored for his work because most of his films were distributed by Soyuzmultfilm; however, he currently faces a form of creative repression – the medium he uses slowly becoming irrelevant. In 2010, Natalia Afanaseva noted that Norstein expressed his country’s stance on animation, stating: “the country killed animation and left” referring to the bill Vladimir Putin signed into law, cutting the Ministry of Culture’s budget in half (Afansaeva 2010). The reason due to the slashing of the Ministry of Culture’s budget was due to the bankruptcy of Soyuzmultfilm after the fall of the Soviet Union, due to the company’s dependency of government funding (Afanaseva 2010). Per the Moscow Times, Yuri Norstien met with Vladmir Putin in 2011, creating an entity specifically designed to promote public funding of the animation industry. While Soyuzmultfilm is still in operation, it has been replaced by another company that focuses on computer animation, Animaccord, which was founded in 2008, with their main product being “Masha the Bear”, an enjoyable television series focusing on a Russian fairy tale about a bear who keeps a little girl out of trouble (Vereykina 2015).

[Figure 18: “Masha and the Bear” (2009-) – present-day Russian animation]

While “Masha” is no “Hedgehog” or “Tales”, it is saving the industry and is enjoyable, but only due to the familiarity and marketability the show presents. However, “Masha” is no “Tale of Tales” or “Ruka” or “Harmonica”; it is simply a Western copy. The scholarship is limited, but closer examination reveals that “Masha” takes influences from Western animation, particularly the “Looney Tunes” cartoons of the 1960’s in terms of gags; the animation is three-dimensional, but the gags are familiar and sometimes come off as bland rehashes. This is a problem: Russia is no longer producing challenging content- they are simply reverting to the model that served them well in the 1960s, only this time, there may not be a recovery of traditional mediums due to the three-dimensional shift.

RT News reporter, Tom Barton noted that in 2010, most households in Russia watched the traditional Soviet animated cartoons as opposed to the three-dimensional material. The reason, is in part to what Beumers stated, these cartoons taught a sense of morality. Natalya Maskovch, a mother of several children, supports this argument by saying: “Apart from many other things, these cartoons laid the very basics of my concepts about life – what’s good and bad, what’s valuable and what’s to be ignored” (Barton 2010). In the same report, Norstien was interviewed, speaking to the humanity the cartoons of him and his colleagues possess: “Speaking of humanness, Pope John II used to say: ‘If you want to bring up your children in a humane way, show them Soviet cartoons, there you are!’” (Barton 2010). Traditional animated mediums need to revitalized in Russia, if not only for originality, but for the sake of Russian identity and specificity. Cartoons such as “Tale of Tales” and “The Glass Harmonica” are Russia’s fairy and cautionary tales. Without works being created in such a manner, we shall be left with “Masha”, a Westernized version of a Russian folk tale, instead of a pure Russian one. With traditional techniques gone, Russia will lose a large part of its cultural history. Although more recently the situation has improved, thanks in large part to the success of “Masha and the Bear” and the state funding of animation doubling as of 2015, the content is limited and improving (Vereykina 2015). The only hope is that with “Masha”, the animation industry in Russia can have a resurgence, ushering a new animation renaissance. Until this occurs however, traditional animation must be re-instated.

“Ruka” and “The Glass Harmonica” and “Tale of Tales” challenged the Western and state notions of what a cartoon should be. These artists did not necessarily care what was the norm, they strove to be creative in the system that used the Western models oppressively. The animators used Western animation techniques such as cut-out animation, the multi-plane camera, and filmic camera movements to create their work, and the cartoons such as these provide a cultural significance to Russians and Eastern Europeans. Animation is not just for children, it can be against the government, intellectually challenging, and moving. The story of Russian animation is not so much about the cartoons themselves, but the processes and contexts in which they were created and the persons who created them.  With the death of traditional animation, a sense of humanism and creativity is lost. Perhaps with a revitalization, the potter can be avenged, the musician can play his music, and the wolf can finally rest after the war.



Work Cited

Afanaseya, Natalia. “The End of Russian Animation.” Russian Life Feb. 2011: 50-57. Print.

Barton, Tom. Same Old ‘Toon: Cash slash spells end of era for Soviet animation? RT News. 10 Nov. 2010. Web. <;.

Bashara, Dan. “Cartoon Vision: UPA, Precisionism and American Modernism.” Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal (2015): 83. Web.

Beumers, Birgit. “Comforting Creatures in Children’s Cartoons.” Russian Children’s Literature and Culture, edited by Marina Balina and Larissa Rudova, Routledge, 2008, 153-160.

Crafton, Donald. Before Mickey: the animated film 1898-1928. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1993. 25-26. Print.

Fedorov, A. V. “The Application of Hermeneutical Analysis to Research on the Cold War in Soviet Animation Media Texts from the Second Half of the 1940s.” Russian Social Science Review 57.3 (2016): 194-204. Web.

Hames, Peter. “The hand that rocked the Kremlin: Jirí Trnka.” Sight and Sound 6 June 2012: n. pag. Print.

Hitchcock, William. “The Marshall Plan and the Creation of the West.” The Cambridge History of the Cold War, edited by Melvyn P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad, vol. 1, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2010, pp. 154–174. The Cambridge History of the Cold War.

Howard, Cerise. “The Passion of the Peasant Poet: Jiří Trnka, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Hand.” Senses of Cinema. N.p., 09 Aug. 2015. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

I maestri dell’animazione russa = Masters of Russian Animation. Dir. Yuri Norstein. “Tale of Tales”. N.p., 1979/2004. Print.

I maestri dell’animazione russa = Masters of Russian Animation. Dir. Andrey Khrzhanovsky. “The Glass Harmonica”. N.p., 1968/2004. Print.

Laybourne, Kit. The Animation Book. New York: Random House International, 1999. Print.

Pontieri, Laura. Soviet animation and the thaw of the 1960s: not only for children. New Barnet, U.K.: John Libbey Pub. Ltd., 2012. Print.

Ruka (“The Hand”). Dir. Jiri Trnka. N.p., 1965. Web.

Slowik, Mary. “Telling ‘What Is’: Frame Narrative in Zbig Rybczynski’s Tango, Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis’s When the Day Breaks, and Yuri Norstein’s Tale of Tales.” Animation 9.3 (2014): 292-97. Web.

Tricks of Our Trade. Perf. Walt Disney. N.p., 13 Feb. 1957/4 Feb. 2011. Web. <;.

Vereykina, Elizaveta. “Russian Animation Rises From Ashes of 1990s.” The Moscow Times. N.p., 25 May 2015. Web.

Through Passing Comes Peace

Run Time: 26 seconds

Medium: Traditional / Charcoal

Lighting: Natural

Inspiration: William Kentridge

Plot: A young kid walks up to a mysterious castle on a cliff, only to discover that a butler with a zipped up face is residing over his master that is taken away by death.

Meaning; The title gives the viewer a clue as to what this piece is about, it is about coming to terms with literal death and being liberated from a different kind of death. The Butler has been serving this family for years, and has not left the grounds because his master has been alive; with the Master dying, the Butler now has the chance to go and live his life and the Master, when he looks back, gives the man his freedom. Death, meanwhile, does his job.

A piece that was heavily inspired by the work of William Kentridge, South African artist who is known for his charcoal paintings and animations (Johanesburg: 2nd Greatest City After Paris, Felix in Exile). The challenge in this piece, which was my first charcoal animation, was the lighting, which goes in and out due to natural lighting being used. I thought it was a nice design choice, but looking back it was not the best decision. If I could go back and re-do this piece, I would keep the lighting and registration consistent. The design of the piece was fun and my favorite part was the fire flame, which I wanted to have a character/personality on its own per Calcifer (Howl’s Moving Castle).

Candle Concerto

Run Time: 30 seconds / 3 minutes (varies)

Program: Maya (2017)

Plot: A little candle in the middle of a restaurant puts on a lovely rendition of Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” with beautiful atmospheric lighting.



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The centerpiece for my portfolio, it is my senior project.

Based on the novel by Timothy Findley, I first read the novel back in 2012, and knew that I had to write a script based on the work. after a few years of working on the project, I approached the publishers, who agreed to allow me to produce the project. The producing process was a long and detailed one, with various people interested from actors to cinematographers alike. The biggest challenge was the location; the film is set in 1914; however, the set had to be accommodating to the modern world, not an easy feat in the part of the state that I was shooting in (especially when I was not paying anyone); fortunately, my aunt was gracious enough to let us use her house and allow the cast and crew to spend the night. The production was a huge success and I cannot thank my friends and family enough for their hard work and perseverance. The following is a detailed analysis of the entire process I went through.

The Novel and Screenwriting: Adapting a Genius

Timothy Findely (1930-2002) was a Canadian author, most known for his plays, but his novels centered on humanism and psychology, with war and humanity being mainstay themes.

In “Pilgrim”, the world has just experienced the tragedy of the Titanic, and in London, an English gentleman commits suicide by hanging himself via a tree. His butler, Forester, a man who is generally caring and studious, takes him down and calls the family physician, Doctor Greene, who examines and declares the Englishman, Pilgrim, dead; however, Pilgrim managed to come back to life two hours later, and much to the concern of family and friends, he is taken to a hospital in Zurich, Switzerland, known as Burghölzli Psychiatric Clinic, where Carl Jung, a young Swiss doctor, practices. Jung’s colleague, Doctor Josef Furtwangler, a German man who is rather portly (at least, in my head), and carries a rather big voice, originally administers Pilgrim, who is taken to the hospital by his best friend, Lady Sybil Quartermaine, who stays in town on occasion to check in (along with Forester). At first, Josef is unsuccessful with treatment and getting Pilgrim to speak, but Pilgrim seems responsive to Carl Jung, whom eventually, becomes his doctor instead of Josef. Later, Pilgrim claims that his peculiar condition (for he has tried to kill himself multiple times, has been pronounced dead, and has come back from death every single time) is due to him living forever. Sybil assures this by giving Jung Pilgrim’s personal journals to look through, and it is these journals that propel both Pilgrim and Doctor Carl Jung to uncover the truth about what is really going on.

The book is a phenomenal take on history and psychology, and Findley was an admirer of Carl Jung specifically, using his brand of psychology throughout his work. What caught my attention most, when trying to adapt this entire novel into a short, was Chapter Seven of Book Three, which is what was I based my script on (with some creative liberties).

For about a year, I had most of the characters involved, from Sybil Quartermaine as an adult (for there are flashbacks in which she is a child, or at least, they are alluded) to Josef Furtwangler, but I condensed all of these characters down to six in the spring of 2017, when I discovered that some of the characters (i.e. Josef Furtwangler) were creating something that was not existent in the original story and I made a rule for myself to stick to the source as much as possible. So, in June, I finalized the script, which was draft 14.

The Producing Process: Casting, Location, and Crew

As producer, my main job included gathering the cast, the crew, and securing location and food for the duration of the shoot. The food was easy, my parents covered that, the location and cast were my main struggles.

I knew very early on who my director was going to be, Lane Lewis, a college friend whom I trust extremely well and is one of those people that I work really well with (he is easily a life-long friend), and my brother, Blake, who is my editor and assisted with production design. Another friend, Haley, was my Director of Photography (Cinematographer) who works really well with Lane, and my parents, aunt and uncle, and my friend, Taylor Barnett, whom I’ve known since middle school, helped with grips and other production assistant work. My sister, Riley, was production assistant and 2nd AC.

Casting was a struggle because I had a hard time picturing Carl Jung, it was difficult for me to visualize his specific character (along with this issue was costuming, I wanted to be as economical as possible). In terms of location, for a while I was set on Perryville, KY, for they have a fantastic Main Street and a host of old houses from the late 1800’s to the early-to-mid 1900s, great for period pieces like this, the main problem was that the Perryville location was straight from 1851, they did nothing to the building, so there was no air conditioning, no running water, and no electricity (which means that we would have to rent a generator, something that we did not have the funds for). There was a location closer to Bowling Green, KY, a town in Tennessee called Dover, and their muesum was a perfect candidate; however, by the time this location was found, the cast was set and I was worried about distance, so we choice for the middle, less expensive, and most reasonable option, my aunt’s house, which fit our needs enough for our purposes.

Current Post-Production: Editing and Color Correction

The on set experience was fantastic, I suppose it was because it was so relaxed and everyone knew each other, for the most part (some of the actors we didn’t know, but they were fantastic and we all made fast friends). The crew and cast were the best that I could have asked for as a producer, exceptional thanks to them.

At the moment,we are in post production, which includes film editing, sound editing/mixing, color correction, color grading (which is similar but different), rendering SPX (if needed), and exporting it all by December 8th, 2017.

The goal is to have copies sent out for Christmas for the cast and crew and the production company that this is for.

Above are a slideshow of original and color corrected stills, as the project is worked through, I decided to create some test images.

Release Date: December 25th, 2017

Starring: John-Michael Lander, Jeffery Lowry, Damon Sudduth, Brady Gentry, Jenna Johnson, Breck Johnson

Granted permissions by Pebble Productions Inc., / Westwood Creative Artists, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and The Timothy Findley Estate

Based on an excerpt from “Pilgrim” by Timothy Findley