SXSW 2022: ‘More Than I Remember’ Shows the Depth of Animated Documentaries

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More Than I Remember - But Why Tho

Last year’s animated documentary FLEE captured how animation can be used in a documentary format to tell a heavy story. With its world premiere at SXSW 2022, More Than I Remember is a stunning short animated documentary that chronicles the story of a woman named Mugeni. It shines a light on the humanitarian crisis in southeastern Congo, where militia attacks on the Banyamulenge, a persecuted minority, have led to the destruction of hundreds of villages and the displacement of over 200,000 people. Directed by Amy Bench, produced by Carolyn Merriman, and animation directed by Maya Edelman, More Than I Remember knows exactly what it is.

Aware that it is just one story of hardship from one refugee, the film imparts information about the crisis, serving as a critical point to raise awareness. However, outside of this push to showcase the situation in the region, More Than I Remember is a beautifully crafted tale that places the real Mugeni as the narrator of her own story.

In this animated short, Mugeni recounts how one night at her home in southeastern Congo, she awoke to the sounds of bombs. At just 14-years-old, her family scattered to the surrounding forests to save themselves, and Mugeni found herself completely alone. From there, she sets out on a remarkable solo journey across the globe, determined to reunite with her lost loved ones and lift the Banyamulenge people up. Mugeni’s story is ultimately a portrait of hope, love, and family bonds despite unimaginable obstacles.

Mugeni’s narration of her story is as heartbreaking as it is resilient. While we can read about the genocide in the Congo and the people it displaces and harms, Mugeni gives a face to the situation. Moreover, her struggle to survive not just the violence but the bureaucracy that denies refugees citizenship and sanctuary adds a context that some audiences ignorant of the struggle may not understand.

Mugeni’s voice is critical to the power of More Than I Remember. Every bit of it feels less like reading a script and more like a woman retelling her life in a comfortable setting. She allows her voice to crack, her pauses add emotional weight, and there is an uncertainty matched with hope as we move from her life at 14 to the present. When you couple this story with a whimsical and gorgeous animation, there is so much to love about this short.

While 2D, the depth that the animators achieve with a gorgeous color palette is remarkable. While there is an abstract and whimsical quality to More Than I Remember, the reimagining of violence and fear still holds a heavy weight. According to the production notes, “The team’s approach allows the viewer to witness events in a way that does not distract, glorify, or burden the storyteller with brutal imagery, in turn creating a unique level of intimacy that can transcend what’s possible in other visual forms.” And they succeed in doing this.

But the most stunning element of animation that needs to be noted is the attention given to showcasing the beauty of Mugeni’s skin. Using the light to capture different tones, oscillating between warm and cold depending on the situation, Mugeni is gorgeously animated. As a result, her skin tone is dynamic and rich, showcasing the beauty in dark skin that we rarely see from animation.

Overall, More Than I Remember is stunning. From the animation style to the choice to have Mugeni tell her own story, it all works. Animation and documentaries go hand-in-hand, and this is a testament to the dynamic storytelling the medium brings to the genre.

More Than I Remember had it’s world premiere at the SXSW 2022 Film Festival.