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Leunig Animated – How Democracy Actually Works (2001)


How Democracy Actually Works (narrated by Sam Neill) illustrates with industrial imagery what happens to our ballot papers on election day.

Curator’s notes

This is episode 28 from the Leunig Animated series of 50 one-minute animations narrated by actor Sam Neill and produced by actor-producer Bryan Brown. It shows Michael Leunig – writer, cartoonist, artist, homespun philosopher and Australian Living Treasure (as declared by the National Trust of Australia in 1999) – at his absurd and provocative best.

He is telling us in this episode that our votes count for very little. Our ballot papers are burnt to produce electricity to operate a light bulb in the men’s lavatory at Parliament House, as witnessed by a Man standing outside. Andrew Horne and Deborah Szapiro, the creative team behind Freerange Animation, were keen to bring Leunig’s work to life with stop-motion animation as they felt it gave a sense that Leunig’s world and his characters really do exist in their own universe. They recreated Leunig’s whimsical, bewildered little Man in lovingly rendered latex puppets, and with an imaginative, sensitive use of the medium. The Freerange team imbues the little Man with new life, while maintaining fidelity to Leunig’s original, line-drawn character.

This is quite a feat. Brevity being the soul of wit, the director has just one minute of film time to tell the story, which he does with aplomb. Art director Tristan FitzGerald gives little Man a stage on which to perform. He colours it poetically from the bleak dawn of the opening scene to the hot colours of a fiery furnace, concluding with a cold, inky blue, moonlit night.

How Democracy Actually Works won the Gordon Bruce Award for Humor at the Ottawa International Animation Festival in 2002 and the Audience Award for Best International Short Film at the 2003 Florida Film Festival. It screened on SBS Television.