Anonymity: An Analysis of Stranger Comes to Town 


by Brendan Boustany, Joalda Morancy, Katerina Stefanescu, Shahrez Aziz, and Zach Cogan


I would say that the film is a documentary, in a similar way that Waltz with Bashir is. Both stories rework nonfiction events into artistic images. Still, the stories of the characters remain entirely intact. The artistic style does not interfere with Goss’s goals in terms of the story that she is trying to tell. If anything, her decision to use video game images was simply an artistic choice to emphasize the themes of the film. The strong narrative voice is compelling enough without many visual distractions, so the sparing CGI images do not interfere with the interviews about coming to this country as visual reenactments might. Most importantly, the anonymity that this visual style allows may have been crucial to attaining these interviews. 


I believe that the film is definitely a documentary. I believe that something can be characterized as a documentary as long as there are no changes to the actual content of the story, and that it is being presented in an unbiased manner so that no inherent perspective could be made out of it. I think the main thing with the style of this documentary is just how it is being presented, and how we as viewers are interpreting the information being presented to us. I think it was interesting for Gross to use characters from World of Warcraft to tell this story about immigration in the United States, and I feel like there was some sort of purpose behind it. The film focuses on strangers coming to a town, or in other words “foreigners” coming into the United States. I feel like the use of WoW characters helped symbolize the immigration aspect since these characters look sort of “foreign” to us. I also feel like the use of the WoW characters helped attract more attention to what the film was trying to discuss. Usually when documentaries are presenting someone who wishes to stay anonymous, they just show like a black shadow, which could be kind of boring. Instead of that, Gross uses a different method of presenting these people, through the WoW characters, and makes listening to the individual stories more intriguing. Regardless of how Gross was trying to use this visual style, I think it provides an interesting take on documentaries and challenge the stereotypes on how they’re supposed to be portrayed.


I definitely think that Goss’ Stranger Comes to Town is a documentary, albeit a highly creative and stylized one much like Folman’s Waltz with Bashir. In the same vein as Waltz with Bashir, I think Stranger Comes to Town uses animation much like history documentaries use reenactments as a kind of artistic method of engaging the viewer and maintaining attention while also educating/spreading a message. By using actual interviews that Goss conducted with immigrants to the United States, I believe this format does not inherently invent anything that does not capture the sentiment of these interviewees. If anything, Goss’ artistic choice of representing the immigrants as World of Warcraft characters that they design both alienates and humanizes them. Unlike the border patrol people that are shown as little more than stick figures, the immigrants are seen as practically alien and fundamentally foreign/different looking than the Americans working at the airports. This depiction shows that they feel like they are treated as an ‘other’ during this process. However, the fact that Goss allows the subjects to create their own characters imbues them with far more humanity and agency than they were allowed to have during their actual immigration process. In this very small way, they are able to regain some control over the process – or at the very least how they choose to reflect and remember the process. In this way, I think Goss’ choice of animating her documentary in this style enables her to reach an even subtler point that actually might have been lost if she had decided to film a more traditional style documentary.


I too think Stranger Comes to Town is indeed a documentary which uses the visuals and characters from World of Warcraft to add to it and serve its purpose better. Jacqueline Gross uses the documentary to make claims about the U.S. immigration system and what the experience of going through it is like for people from outside the U.S., which acts as the ‘assertive stance’ for this film. Meanwhile, in terms of the ‘interpretive frame’ of the documentary, these claims are presented to viewers in the form of first hand accounts from various people who have been through the process. When viewers are evaluating the ‘interpretive frame’ of the documentary and thinking about the question of whether the film is lying to them, these first hand accounts play heavily into that consideration and the validity and acceptance of the documentary, rather than it being a staged performance by a third party. I think the visuals help keep the narrators anonymous without sacrificing the integrity of the claims being made. As such, I think the assertive stance and the interpretive frame blend perfectly in making use of people narrating their own personal experiences to in turn make any uninitiated viewers accept the claim rather than suspect the documentary to be ‘lying’.


Specifically looking at the stance that Goss’ Stranger Comes to Town takes, it is important to note that besides some of the stances taken by the onscreen sound, the film takes a stance through the animation of the characters on the idea that the people being affected by their experiences with the immigration system are not even considered to be people, and are rather invisible in this seemingly discriminatory process. Therefore a use of the animation is that the people themselves are merely statistics, generated by the features that are least important to them as human beings (height, eye color, weight, etc.). However, they are not viewed on the content of their character. I find the animation to be very important because in some counter-intuitive fashion, the animation of World of Warcraft is the world in which they are judged based on who they are, not what they are. The cold nature of the immigration system judges people on where they come from, and the man from Egypt even said, my religion was unimportant to me, but it was very important to them. This made me think of the college process. Students apply to colleges and are judged on reports, recommendations, and grades. However, what makes a student a truly good fit into a college campus, are not only the statistics on what they have done, but the importance of who they are as people. I find that although this is specifically about the immigration system, the director most likely understood that this very same concept, can be applied to more situations. The report of these people through the World of Warcraft platform is a documentary because it shows the livelihood of the people and their stories that brought them to the film. I liked the format because without revealing too much about them, it makes the point that they are not the only ones affected by this, since for example there are many Egyptian Muslims trying to immigrate into the United States. 


One thought on “Anonymity: An Analysis of Stranger Comes to Town 

  1. Ian Bryce Jones May 28, 2020 / 6:41 pm

    Brendan/Joalda/Katerina/Shahrez/Zach –

    Darn! My attempts to coax out disagreement among group members have been thwarted. I honestly didn’t expect your voices to be aligned in such unison – thought that maybe there’d be at least one holdout, sticking to a definition of documentary that excluded animated films such as this.

    I’m especially intrigued with Shahrez and Zach’s write-ups, given that the two of you were the voiced the most skepticism toward Waltz with Bashir being a documentary in Tuesday’s discussion boards. Although, looking back on it, the root of that skepticism (at least initially) in both of your cases had much more to do with the film’s attempt to illustrate dreams than it did with the film being animated, per se. I suppose, compared to Waltz with Bashir, Stranger Comes to Town is much more straightforward in how it approaches the task of animating documentary (integration of World of Warcraft footage notwithstanding).

    Now I’m wondering what the exact tipping point is for all of you, as far as the amount of fantasy allowed in animated documentaries. Can we imagine a version of Stranger Comes to Town that goes past simply using animated figures as stand-ins for real interviewees, one that might prompt some more skepticism? (This is purely rhetorical on my part, thinking through pedagogical possibilities – I’m not asking for a response from any of you!)


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