Film

African animation goes global

Karen Van Schalkwyk

A local film's success raises the prospect of South Africa creating its own Pixar-like brand.

Ubuntu filmmaking: Adventures in Zambezia producer Stuart Forrest hopes the animated movie will prove that South Africans are capable of telling child-friendly stories with international appeal.

The South African animated movie Adventures in Zambezia was the highlight of the second Kunjanimation festival, held in Cape Town last week. Made by South African company Triggerfish, this story of a young falcon with an ubuntu message (tagline: “No bird is an island”) has been picked up by Sony and is getting a worldwide release.

Featuring the voices of international stars Jeff Goldblum, ­Leonard Nimoy, Richard E Grant, Samuel L Jackson and Abigail Breslin, the film has already been seen in Russia, for instance, where it was a hit with 800 000 tickets sold and a gross of about $2.7‑million. It opens in South Africa on December 26.

“The best reviews have come from Germany, but the best box-office results have come from Russia and Israel,” says producer and Triggerfish chief executive Stuart Forrest. He expects “good things” of the local release: “I think that South African audiences will be surprised by the quality and entertainment value of the film.”

A joint initiative of Animation South Africa and the local branch of the French Institute, Kunjanimation 2012 had the support of Wesgro, the Western Cape destination marketing, investment and trade promotion agency and the National Film and Video Foundation.

This year, the festival’s main aim was to showcase South Africa’s emerging animation talent and make connections with the global industry. Screenings included compendiums of South African animated shorts, the 1973 French science fiction classic Fantastic Planet and the 2007 local claymation film Tengers.

Festival director Daniel Snaddon says that, based on the success of the 2011 festival, held in Johannesburg as a forum for industry professionals, “this year we decided we would cast our net much wider, with film viewings for the general public and learning opportunities for students and professionals at every level … The public support was great and shows that animation is, indeed, a much-loved art form.”

Globally competitive
Kunjanimation also focused on education and skills development. There was an impressive array of workshops and presentations by leading South African animation companies such as Black Ginger, Triggerfish, Imaginari and Strika Entertainment. Master classes were offered by local experts such as writer Daniel Dercksen and international animators such as DreamWorks Animation’s Alexandre Heboyan, who recently produced his first independent feature.

Snaddon was pleased to host a preview of the much-awaited Adventures in Zambezia at the festival. Its success overseas, he says, “has ­created an attitude among animators in the local industry that we can be globally competitive and make films that the world wants to see”.      

“One thing I have come across around the world,” says Forrest, “is how genuinely surprised audiences are that this film was made in Africa. It does not compute with their vision of a ‘dark continent’ with no technical skills, yet to date more than one million people have bought tickets to see the film. For those people, South Africa has been slightly reframed in their minds. We are a nation that is capable of producing upbeat, funny, heart-warming, child-friendly adventure stories.”

Triggerfish will release its second animated feature, Khumba, in December next year. “Like Pixar, we are aiming at developing a ­studio brand. I think it’s vital that the industry has more festivals like ­Kunjanimation to get all the stakeholders together to discuss where we are heading as an industry,” says Forrest.   

Snaddon agrees. “The animation industry can benefit the country economically and create employment opportunities. If the festival takes off, it can become a central point for animators from Africa, who will have the opportunity to network with animators and companies from around the world.”

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