When you see pixels used in animations, it’s usually quite frivolous and fun, giving a knowing nod to fondly remembered video games and their 8-bit heritage. But this animated short from Adam Butcher uses the beloved stripped-down pixel to tell a somber tale in Bradley Manning Had Secrets, a short film commissioned by UK-based Animate Projects.
The film tells the story of Bradley Manning—the whistleblower who leaked US diplomatic files to Wikileaks and is now facing prosecution—and his online discussions with Adrian Lamo, the ex-hacker who turned him in to the FBI. Lamo was Manning’s correspondent and confidante and in their chat conversations, Manning candidly revealed his activities and his personal issues to Lamo, all material that would later come to be used against him.
The animation is kept bare using pixelated rotoscoping over live action footage and the dialogue is taken from the chat logs between Manning and Lamo, which were published by Wired back in July. Bruce Sterling wrote a great essay last year about Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, detailing what a sorry affair it was for all involved. This video, which seeks to humanise Manning outside of the super fame he’s garnered for his deeds makes for an interesting take on the whole ordeal. The film itself is provocative, exploring Manning’s loneliness, isolation and his transgenderism as revealed in the chat logs.
It’s interesting to see this style of pixel minimalism being used in a serious way. The cold inscrutability of this digital aesthetic has a way of highlighting Manning’s alienation while also being strangely poignant.