Drawing the Unspeakable Understanding ’the other’ through narrative empathy in animated documentary

  • Jan Erik Nåls Arcada University and University of Helsinki


How to represent the suffering of distant others? An international exchange program between Africa and Europe was set up in 2006 to tackle this issue with the help of documentary filmmaking. A result was A Kosovo Fairytale (2009), a  case study of how animated documentary can provide insights in how to represent "the other".

Theories of narrative empathy informs the understanding of the process as well as the final film. This paper examines animated documentary from three distinct perspectives. As a pedagogical tool to enhance cultural understanding, as a process of narrative empathy and as a coherent text which makes use of narrative strategies endemic to animated documentary in order to create emotional engagement.

Conclusions suggest that animated documentary can be a novel way of representing the other, especially if narrative empathy is present throughout a production process, and that the process involves participatory elements where the subjects contribute to the narrative.


Key words: empathy, narrative, Africa, representation, animated documentary, refugee

Author Biography

Jan Erik Nåls, Arcada University and University of Helsinki


PhD (c)

Media and Communication Studies

Department of Social Research

University of Helsinki

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