‘Flee’ Director Talks Pairing Animation With Trauma for Impactful Doc: ‘You Start to Listen In’

The Danish film “Flee,” with Oscar nominations in animated, documentary and international film categories, tells the tale of Amin, a gay refugee from Afghanistan who is separated from his family.

Director Jonas Poher Rasmussen says that when his school friend opened up about his childhood, the helmer had intended to make a short, which grew to feature length as more details were spilled. “It really started out as a conversation between two friends,” he says.

“We are exposed to so many of these stories in the media so I think a lot of people, me at least, I have a tendency to block things out because it becomes too much,” he says. “If you take everything in, you’re not able to get up in the morning.”

Using animation also helped re-create Amin’s childhood in Afghanistan that the doc obviously couldn’t depict.

“The fact that you don’t have to relate to a human face, that makes you listen more and because animation is a medium that you’re used to from when you’re a kid; maybe you don’t have your guards up. There’s a path to your heart and you start to listen. Definitely I think it eases up these traumatic experiences and you can take it in.”

Rasmussen didn’t do the animation himself, “that would be a very different film, very surreal,” he says. Instead he tapped Kenneth Ladekjaer as animation director and left his team to it. Ten animators and cleanup crew from Denmark as well as coloring artists from France worked on the film.

Rasmussen also says he was inspired by “Waltz With Bashir,” Ari Folman’s animated documentary about serving as an Israeli soldier.

“That was when I realized it could be done,” Rasmussen says, referring to the 2009 pic as “the crown jewel of animated films. I had not seen that done before. That was wild [and] that also deals with trauma.”

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