Alice Bibette depicts what it’s like for an LGBTQ+ person under the Taliban regime

The new partially animated documentary, made for Channel 4, charts four stories of pain, confusion and perseverance.

19 December 2022


Gay Under the Taliban is a new documentary telling the stories of four LGBTQ+ people whose lives were left in ruins when the Taliban took full control of Afghanistan in August 2021. Since then, the situation for the LGBTQ+ community has become a matter of life and death. Some were lucky enough to flee to neighbouring countries, but many remained under the Taliban regime. The semi-animated documentary comes as part of Channel 4’s news and current affairs strand “Untold”, looking at true stories from around the globe.

The ambitious documentary was directed by London-based director Dan Hall and produced by Rogan Productions. Its video recreations and documentary footage are artfully interwoven with animated retellings of each of the contributors’ accounts, as a way to preserve their anonymity. Using an unusual mix of rotoscoping and compositing in After Effects, Paris-based animator Alice Bibette brings these stories to life. Alice isn’t new to exploring fresh processes. During her schooling at Central Saint Martins, she says she “experimented with all sorts of animation techniques, from scratching 16mm film to 3D,” though her love for moving image started much earlier: “I remember watching TV as a child and wondering how graphics, reel images, depth and flat things could mix together so magically.”

GalleryRogan Productions: Gay Under The Taliban (Copyright © Alice Bibette, 2022)

Alice’s first foray into animated documentaries was with AJ+ (a social media publisher owned by Al Jazeera). For her, this was a transformative experience and so when moving back to Paris, she immediately set up her own practice, Deepsheep Studio. Her work, focusing on emotive movements and atmospheric sketches, has since been used by the BBC, Cambridge University, La Sorbonne and Tate, among others.

Despite her experience, going into this project was a new challenge. For one, she’s never been to Afghanistan, nor is she part of the LGBTQ+ community. “I was concerned that I lacked the personal experience to express the contributors’ stories. I was scared not to deliver at the right level,” she says. But as the project unravelled, she found the stories had a profound effect on her. “They are hard truths to hear and I wanted to translate these points of view the best I could to honour their courage and fight for freedom,” she explains. “I wanted the audience to relate as much as possible to their lives and to feel their despair to raise awareness.”

As Alice points out, “the animated bits are the only moments which you can spend with the contributors” and as such, every illustrated moment is filled with the angst, fear and worry of each contributor’s experience. Alice wanted every detail to add to that effect. Colours were meticulously chosen through research: the blues, for instance, are taken from the colour of the Afghan sky, but also the blue burqa that women must wear under the Taliban regime. “The result was very pastel-like/washed colours which is very poetic,” Alice says. Using this palette, she then illustrates shuddering sketched-out figures and forms that convey a very palpable sense of uncertainty and fear. The use of rotoscoping allowed her to trace “facial expressions and fight scenes to stay focused on reality” and she says that mixing this with layered backgrounds in After Effects added “lighting, depth of field and cameras playing with parallaxes, to bring a cinematic feel.”

Though it was a huge task, it let Alice play with the poeticism that she is used to in her other work. “A close-up of a fly on an empty water bottle shows lack of supplies and an emptiness felt inside,” she says. And because each story was coming in day-by-day, Alice says they had to “find a malleable workflow to animate on the go” but she credits producers James Rogan, Soleta Rogan and Mark Hedgecoe for their guidance and support. Still, the process was laborious and had to be handled with care. “Having to decrypt [the contributors’] mental states for months and being so close to this reality was new to me.” But it also pushed her to experiment with form, which led to moments like a dance, carried out by one character called Habib, which starts with rotoscope and then transforms into the actual video which in Alice’s words “reminds the audience that animation is part of reality.”

The film can be viewed now on Channel 4.

GalleryRogan Productions: Gay Under The Taliban (Copyright © Alice Bibette, 2022)

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Rogan Productions: Gay Under The Taliban (Copyright © Alice Bibette, 2022)

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About the Author

Roz Jones

Roz (he/him) joined It’s Nice That for three months as an editorial assistant in October 2022 after graduating from Magazine Journalism and Publishing at London College of Communication. He’s particularly interested in publications, archives and multi-media design.

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