Dr Bella Honess Roe
Academic and research departmentsSchool of Literature and Languages.
I joined the Film Studies programme at Surrey in 2009 after gaining my PhD in Critical Studies from the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts. My doctoral thesis was on animated documentary. I also have an MA in Critical Studies from USC and a BA in Philosophy from the University of Cambridge. In between my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees I worked in the film industry in Los Angeles and London in various roles in script development, including at Lakeshore Entertainment, MGM and Granada Film. I also worked with the non-profit London-based DocHouse, an organisation devoted to the promotion and exhibition of independent documentary film.
University roles and responsibilities
- Director of Employability, School of Literature and Languages
- Athena Swan lead for School of Literature and Languages Bronze award application (successful)
Affiliations and memberships
Broadly, my areas of research interest are animation, documentary and the media industries. I have also published in other areas, including genre film and British cinema. My published work includes a monograph, Animated Documentary (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), which won the Society for Animation Studies McLaren/Lambart Award for Best Book. This expanded my doctoral research and is still an area I publish on and I have given several invited talks and keynotes on this topic.
My edited books include Aardman Animations: Beyond Stop Motion Film (Bloomsbury, 2020). Vocal Projections: Voices in Documentary (Bloomsbury, 2018 - co-edited with Maria Pramaggiore) and The Animation Studies Reader (Bloomsbury, 2019 - co-edited with Nichola Dobson, Amy Ratelle and Caroline Ruddell).
Current solo research projects and publications-in-progress include the relationship between the historiography and contemporary context for women in animation, animation and the philosophy of knowledge and imagination, an interdisciplinary project on the visual culture of the invisible. I am co-editing, with Eric Herhuth (Tulane, USA), a multi-volume reference publication on animation studies for Bloomsbury and co-editing, with Christopher Holliday (KCL), an anthology on animation and performance.
Postgraduate research supervision
I welcome proposals from students wishing to undertake PhDs in any of my areas of research interest:
- Animation studies (particularly animated documentary, stop motion animation, women / gender, British animation)
- Documentary film and media (in particular the significance of the voice, contemporary/mainstream documentary, animation and documentary and other types of 'unconventional' documentary)
- British cinema (particularly post-1980)
- The film and media industries
- Visual studies/ visual culture
- Genre cinema
Modules taught at Surrey currently include:
ELI2044 (Transmedia Narratives)
ELI3060 (Women Behind the Screen: Gender and Labour in Film)
MFC3042 (Understanding Animation)
Previous modules include:
MFC1019 (Blurred Boundaries: Fact and Fiction in Film)
MFC1020 (Key Concepts in Film Studies)
MFC2044 (Hollywood and the Business of Film)
Courses I teach on
Re-appraisal of the Amber Collective film "Byker", a documentary about nostalgia and loss of place. Argues that the film is more a construction rather than a representation of the community of Byker, with reference to Henri Lefebvre's concept of space as a social construct.
This article gives an overview of the history of animated documentary, both in regard to the form itself and how it has been studied. It then goes on to present a new way of thinking about animated documentary, in terms of the way the animation functions in the texts by asking what the animation does that the live-action alternative could not. Three functions are suggested: mimetic substitution, non-mimetic substitution and evocation. The author suggests that, by thinking about animated documentary in this way, we can see how animation has broadened and deepened documentary’s epistemological project by opening it up to subject matters that previously eluded live-action film.
This article considers the several animated interviews made by Bob Sabiston between 1997 and 2007, and the implications of considering these films as documentaries. The author argues that the films are liminal, discursive texts that negotiate tensions between reality and make-believe, observation and interpretation, and presence and absence. Textual analysis of the short films in question demonstrates an aesthetic presentation that confirms their documentary status at the same time as exploiting the expressionistic potential of Rotoshop. The nature of Rotoshop also emphasizes the absence of the physical body of the interviewee, replacing it with an excessively present style of animation. Other conventional markers of documentary authenticity and evidence, such as the visual index, are also absent in these films. These absences, coupled with the presence of an aesthetically liminal style of animation infer a pleasurably complex and challenging epistemological and phenomenological viewing experience.
The young princess Snow White is kept in servitude as a scullery maid by her stepmother, the wicked Queen. Jealous of her beauty and the attentions of a handsome Prince, the Queen orders the Huntsman to kill Snow White. After the huntsman is unable to fulfil his task, Snow White flees into the ominous-looking forest and, aided by friendly woodland animals, comes across the cottage of the Seven Dwarfs. Here Snow White finds safe harbour, after wooing the fearful Dwarfs with her beauty, charm and domestic talents. The wicked Queen disguises herself as an old hag and persuades Snow White to eat a poisoned apple, which sends her into a death-like sleep. Desperate with grief, the Dwarfs are unable to bury the beautiful princess, but instead place her in a glass and gold coffin. Snow White’s slumber is broken by a kiss from the handsome Prince, with whom she rides off into the sunset to ‘live happily ever after’.
This chapter explores the 'special relationship' between Britain and the US via Working Title's romantic comedies that couple British and American characters. At first glance it would seem that these films are an attempt to reassert British dominance over America. However, close examination reveals a much more complicated attitude towards Americans and the US with the American as the object of the Briton's desire and narrative closure resulting from the union of man and woman, Britain and America. Films discussed include Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Wimbledon.
Animated documentaries have been written about in a mostly positive way that explores the way the form enhances and expands the documentary agenda. This is true of scholarly and academic writing as well as that in the popular press and film reviews. However, some authors have taken issue with the ascription of the term ‘documentary’ to animated documentaries. In addition, there are potential issues regarding audience response to animated documentaries and the technical proficiency of the films themselves as they become more ubiquitous. This chapter explores the existing, and potential objections to and criticisms of animated documentary and suggests that a more ‘360-degree’ discussion of the form will enrich the scholarly discourse on animated documentary.
This chapter analyses the 2013 film adaptation of Graham Chapman’s autobiography and questions its surface interpretation as an unreliable biopic that undermines the conventional goals of the genre. At first glance, the film’s freewheeling narrative and fragmented visual style that uses fourteen different styles of animation could be argued as representing the unknowability of its subject. However, this chapter argues that through rejecting the typical aims and approaches of the biopic, this film in fact works to reveal much about Chapman’s personal life and his creative work with Monty Python.
Aardman is a Bristol-based animation company known for its quintessentially British aesthetic and tone. Yet it continues to thrive internationally, its recent feature Shaun the Sheep Movie made $19 million at the US box office, Flushed Away made $64 million and the latest Wallace and Gromit film Curse of the Were-Rabbit made $56 million stateside. To some extent inextricable from one of its key animators, Nick Park, it made its mark in stop-motion, Plasticine-modelled family films and has more recently begun to experiment with modern digital filmmaking effects that either emulate ‘Claymation’ methods or form a hybrid animation style. This unique volume brings together leading scholars from film studies and animation studies and children’s media/animation professionals to explore the production practices behind Aardman's creativity, the key personalities who have formed its ethos, its representations of ‘British-ness’ on screen and the implications of traditional animation methods in a digital era.
This article refines previously made claims that evocative animated documentaries enable us to gain knowledge about unfamiliar states of mind and mental experiences through prompting our imagination. Building on recent scholarship in philosophy of mind, cognitive film theory and film and animation studies, I argue that it is evocative animated documentaries that do not, counterintuitively, invite audiences to identify or empathise with individual characters or documentary subjects that effectively prompt knowledge-through-imagination. This is because these films elicit a primarily epistemological rather than emotional response. The films in question, which include the Animated Minds films (2003–ongoing) and An Eyeful of Sound (Samantha Moore, 2010), feature documentary subjects that stand in for a mental health condition or psychological state that we are invited to primarily understand rather than feel. It is in this way that these evocative animated documentaries are less like fiction than their live-action documentary counterparts, despite their animated form. Applying philosophical ideas on the relationship between imagination and knowledge to a new filmic context, this article offers a way of understanding how these films work and how they are effective as documentaries of subjective, psychological experience
This chapter explores the short-lived phenomenon of the live broadcast of museum exhibitions into cinemas between 2011 and 2014, including Leonardo Live (2011) from London's National Gallery, Pompeii Live (2013) and Vikings Live (2014) from the British Museum, and Matisse Live (2014) from the Tate Modern. These incongruous broadcasts, part arts documentary, part promotional material for their respective museums and exhibitions, appeared at the peak of the rapid growth of event cinema that took place at this time. However, unlike theater and other live performance, museum exhibitions and cinema exhibition are two distinct very distinct " media, " visually, temporally, and spatially. This chapter argues that this intermedial incompatibility is evidenced in the broadcasts' use of cinematography and liveness and they are also a response to questions surrounding curatorial intent in museum exhibitions.
Examining the development of animated documentary through the lens of media ecology, Honess Roe reveals complex interrelations between the animated documentary text, and its contexts of production and consumption. From the emergence of digital animation and film editing tools in the 1990s to the impact of the Internet as an alternative distribution platform, the chapter considers the economic, social and technological factors shaping the evolution of animated documentary. Honess Roe argues that while the digital media ecology has provided new opportunities for animated documentary production it has also challenged established business models and practitioner identities.
Animation and documentary may seem an odd couple, but Animated Documentary shows how the use of animation as a representational strategy for documentary enhances and expands the realm of nonfiction film and television. From prehistory to states of mind, animation can show and evoke things that elude live-action. The current boom in animated documentary production is situated in the historical context of the cross-pollination of animation and documentary, before exploring the different ways animation functions in the animated documentary. Through analyzing films and television programmes such as Waltz With Bashir and Walking With Dinosaurs, this volume – the first to be published on this fascinating topic – demonstrates that while animation might at first seem to destabilize documentary's claim to represent reality, the opposite is in fact the case. Table of Contents: List of Figures Acknowledgements Introduction 1. Representational Strategies 2. Digital Realities 3. Animated Interviews 4. The World in Here 5. Animated Memories Afterword Notes Bibliography Index
The Animation Studies Reader brings together both key writings within animation studies and new material in emerging areas of the field. The collection provides readers with seminal texts that ground animation studies within the contexts of theory and aesthetics, form and genre, and issues of representation. The first section collates key readings on animation theory, on how we might conceptualise animation, and on some of the fundamental qualities of animation. New material is also introduced in this section specifically addressing questions raised by the nature, style and materiality of animation. The second section outlines some of the main forms that animation takes, which includes discussions of genre. Although this section cannot be exhaustive, the material chosen is particularly useful as it provides samples of analysis that can illuminate some of the issues the first section of the book raises. The third section focuses on issues of representation and how the medium of animation might have an impact on how bodies, gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity are represented. These representations can only be read through an understanding of the questions that the first two sections of the book raise; we can only decode these representations if we take into account form and genre, and theoretical conceptualisations such as visual pleasure, spectacle, the uncanny, realism etc.
Gwen Haworth’s 2007 documentary about her male-to-female gender transition is an autobiographical documentary that comprises mostly interviews with family members and close friends, interspersed with home video and observational material. The film also includes some less conventional documentary material in the form of a few short animated segments. About thirty minutes into the documentary an interview with Gwen’s mother is interrupted by an animated sequence that playfully establishes the issues she has with Gwen’s take on being female. Captions are added to retro magazine images of women and domestic scenes, such as ‘family events are not optional’ and ‘grow your hair long.’ Haworth (2008) has commented that she included the animation to lighten the mood and to add humour to a film that would otherwise become too intense and serious. However, this segment is more than a comic interlude. We might think of the use of animation in She’s a Boy I Knew as an interjection. In spoken language, an interjection is a word such as ‘wow’ or ‘aha’ that one utters to create emphasis, draw attention to what has just been, or is about to be, said and to express emotion and attitude. Grammatically, an interjection is not related to the other part of a sentence, yet it only really gains meaning, or significance, when heard in conjunction with that sentence. If a speaker says ‘wow!’ and nothing else, the listener will most likely wonder ‘what?’ If the same speaker says ‘wow! That’s the best documentary I’ve ever seen!’ then the listener will better understand why they said ‘wow’ and the value judgement being made regarding the documentary in question will gain greater emphasis. So, while the ‘How to be a girl’ section in She’s a Boy I Knew can be viewed independently of the documentary in which it appears and as such could stand as an exclamatory statement on its own, it only fully resonates as an articulation of the film’s themes about the societal expectations around gender when viewed within the film as a whole.
Vocal Projections: Voices in Documentary examines a previously neglected topic in the field of documentary studies: the political, aesthetic, and affective functions that voices assume. On topics ranging from the celebrity voice over to ventriloquism, from rockumentary screams to feminist vocal politics, these essays demonstrate myriad ways in which voices make documentary meaning beyond their expository, evidentiary and authenticating functions. The international range of contributors offers an innovative approach to the issues relating to voices in documentary. While taking account of the existing paradigm in documentary studies pioneered by Bill Nichols, in which voice is equated with political rhetoric and subjective representation, the contributors move into new territory, addressing current and emerging research in voice, sound, music and posthumanist studies.