Chris Dainty’s animated documentary Shannon Amen is as raw and organic as the materials from which it was made. Using a mixture of ice, animation, and even his own blood, Dainty resurrects his close friend, queer artist Shannon Jamieson in a mesmerising and heartbreaking elegy from the NFB.
Utilizing old footage of Jamieson as well as her original music, poetry and paintings, the film is a prime example of a documentary showing instead of telling. In Shannon Amen, Dainty lets Jamieson tell her own story, that of a young queer woman’s lifelong conflict between her sexuality and Christian faith, which eventually led to her taking her own life.
As the film jumps from playful scenes featuring rainbow animated hands caressing young Jamieson’s body as she discovers her sexuality, to more distressing moments, like the artist’s ice-cold body shattering as she crawls through a deserted church, Dainty’s visual language succeeds at providing viewers with a deep understanding of Jamieson’s multifaceted struggle in just fifteen minutes.
According to Dainty, Jamieson’s artwork left behind all the pieces to the puzzle, and all he had to do was put it together. “This project is something that has been on my mind since 2006,” said Dainty. “Whenever I got lost in the project, I kept going back to Shannon’s artwork and she would find a way out of it.”
Every frame of Shannon Amen demonstrates a remarkable and meticulous attention to detail and dedication that one can only achieve from being personally involved in the story. Dainty, in addition to being an animator, is also a skilled ice-carver. For the film, he carved a total of 60 ice sculptures, which he then animated to create a style he coined “icemation.”
The process involves sculpting and animating figures from ice for a haunting, fragile representation of the human body. “I felt for this short, it [using icemation] made sense as a way of showing Shannon’s soul,” said Dainty. “There’s something about ice that is so beautiful. Ice is heavy and strong, but can also break easily, so it just embodied Shannon.”
Shannon Amen, in addition to being a poignant dedication to a life of a dear friend, is also a homage to documentary and the healing forces of art, showing how seamlessly the two go together. With Shannon Amen, Dainty merges emotionally charged non-fiction material with state of the art animation that is equally dreamy and haunting.
The result is an elegiac film that literally speaks for itself. Jamieson’s art guides the viewer through the complexities of her mind, showing not only her painful battle between her sexuality and faith, but also her playful personality.
One scene in particular stands out. Text appears on screen, saying “I’ve decided to pursue women over my faith,’’ which is a line from one of Jamieson’s poems. The film then fades to a video of Jamieson standing in an old church and singing. As she finishes singing and the last notes echo throughout the church, she leans over and gives the stone statue of a woman next to her a big kiss.
Shannon Amen premieres at the Ottawa International Animation Festival.