Jan 012010

I read this great article today on ArtMatters about an important figure in African animation and cinema, who I’m embarrassed to say, I had not yet heard of.  His name is Moustapha Alassane, and he came out with the animated short ‘Aoure’ in 1962, a few years before Ousmane Sembene came out with his first short live action films and was hailed as the ‘father of African cinema.’  The article talks about a UNESCO initiative called ‘Africa animated!’, launched in 2004, that sets up animation workshops to train young people to make animated shorts that ‘reflect the regional culture, language and life.’  Some of the past animation instructors include Nina Paley (of Sita Sings the Blues) as well as Kenyan artists or illustrators.

The article also includes a very interesting interview with Alassane, who is asked some persistently pointed questions about what he thinks about Sembene being hailed as the ‘father of African cinema’ when he actually started making films first, and has made more of them.  Another interesting thing: Alassane actually became interested in animation after meeting (animation pioneer/legend) Norman McLaren in Canada.

Here is the most interesting answer I believe Alassane gave in the interview:

Q: UNESCO has launched Africa Animated, a project through which it aims to generate animation content for African children. What do you think about this project?

A: It is good as it is stimulating people to learn animation. However, UNESCO should find out what has already been done here instead of just launching into the project. Africa is too much used to donations which are not helping the continent much.

Good for him. Absolutely. I feel like Africa is plagued by the prevailing attitude that they need help rather than helping themselves. I wish I had known about Alassane before I went to Ghana and ran an animation workshop. I think it would have had much more of an impact if I had shown them their own artist’s work. If you want to see the result of the workshop I ran in Ghana, (where the kids made each made 12-frame drawn segments that we compiled and timed to ‘row your boat.’) it can be found in the workshops section of my website

Below is the only animated short I could find online made by Alassane, ‘Bon Voyage Sim’ from 1966:

This is a short made by the students in an animation workshop in Kenya – not sure if it is the same initiative as the UNESCO ‘Africa Animated’ or if it is an organization called Lola Kenya Screen. But I think it’s lovely:

Also, the article mentions ‘Legend of the Sky Kingdom’, the only animated feature to come out of Zimbabwe, and one of only two to come out of the whole of Africa. I remember this film – I bought it online and had it shipped to me in the UK. It was made with pieces of junk (junkmation), and as much as I wanted to like it, I realized a third of the way in that the whole movie was a VERY thinly veiled metaphor for the story of Christ, and for the need to believe in Christianity and Heaven.  I was supremly disappointed. What I thought was an an original piece of art, was instead a tired retelling of religious doctrine, told through interesting puppets made of bottle caps and wiring.  I ended up taking the film with me to Ghana, and lending it to a teacher who was very religious, and who I knew would appreciate, rather than resent, the religious message of the movie.  He never returned it.

This is the trailer:

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