The purpose of the African Women in Cinema Blog is to provide a space to discuss diverse topics relating to African women in cinema--filmmakers, actors, producers, and all film professionals. The blog is a public forum of the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema.

Le Blog sur les femmes africaines dans le cinéma est un espace pour l'échange d'informations concernant les réalisatrices, comédiennes, productrices, critiques et toutes professionnelles dans ce domaine. Ceci sert de forum public du Centre pour l'étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinémas.

27 February 2010

African Women and Animation Cinema

The Cora Player
African Women and Animation Cinema (published 27 February 2010)

Perhaps the most dominant image that comes to mind in the history of African women and animation cinema is Karaba, the fascinating sorceress in Kirikou and the Sorceress (1999) by Michel Ocelot of France drawing from the stories he remembers during his childhood in Africa. The internationally acclaimed animation film is about a sorceress who because of her own personal suffering, terrorizes a village only to be released from her pain by Kirikou, a precocious little boy with supernatural powers. After the success of the film, all over France, children’s notebooks and backpacks were covered with her image.

In the area of production, several African women have positioned themselves as important players in the world of animation cinema, as animation filmmakers, creative producers and business partners. Cilia Sawadogo of German-Burkinabé descent, based in Montreal, draws from the rich oral tradition of Africa, and the everyday experiences of Quebec. Malian Kadiatou Konaté works both in documentary and animation. Her puppet animation film L’Enfant terrible (1993) traces the mischievous adventures of a little boy. Aïda Ndiaye co-directs Pictoon, the Dakar-based animation film company created in 1998. In 2000, Isabelle Rorke co-founded Anamazing Workshop, an animation production company in South Africa.

Pioneer Cilia Sawadogo who made her first film in 1992, had this to say about how she came to animation filmmaking:
At first, I wanted to work in television, but afterwards I found that it was much more interesting to work in animation because I draw quite a bit. I genuinely like drawing and I think that it is a way to express oneself and to be able to express universal ideas. There are many of my films that don't have dialogue and this allows me to touch a larger audience, such as… Le joueur de cora (The Cora Player). (1)

She elaborates on the traditional, drawn animation process that she uses to produce her films:

Animation requires a different approach to filmmaking. Initially we draw everything. It is not like conventional filmmaking where you tell an actor to cross the street, then the actor crosses and you shoot the action. In animation if I want my character to cross the street, I draw the action in twenty-four images per second to show him or her crossing the street.

It is a great deal of work, which means that the cost of filming is very expensive. It demands a lot of time and work and there are many people who work on it, and they must be paid. It is an artistic concept that is particularly thorough because one must envision the scene down to the smallest detail and create the costumes and the decor. Drawing the decor is not like composing images and then photographing them, or setting up a decor and then filming it. It must be entirely imagined and designed. It is a different approach. An animation film is visualized. The film is actually drawn. (2)

Kadiatou Konaté studied filmmaking in Senegal in the 1980s and developed her skills while working with her compatriot and renowned filmmaker Souleymane Cissé during the production of the award-winning film Yeelen. While documentary films have been a focus of her work, she is equally drawn to the storytelling nature of animation, which she finds to be an “excellent medium for children” to educate them “about the tales, customs, culture and realities of Africa.” (3)

Aïda Ndiaye, a businesswoman in Senegal, is equally passionate about telling African stories and thus the start of a partnership with French-Cameroonian animation filmmaker Pierre Sauvelle to create the Dakar-based animation studio Pictoon. The internationally acclaimed Kabongo, a 13-part cartoon series made entirely in Africa, is the shining star of Pictoon.

South African creative producer Isabelle Rorke was also driven by the need to tell African stories, and together with executive producer Dumisani Gumbi created the company Anamazing in 2000. Like Kadiatou Konaté, she had a desire to provide African children with positive images of Africa and its culture: “Kids are becoming increasingly detached from their various cultures; because it is both entertaining and educational, animation can help to incorporate our own local values and norms back into their live…” (4)

While there has been a burgeoning focus on animation filmmaking in Africa, it is important to recognize veteran filmmaker Mousapha Alassane of Niger, a pioneer in animation as early as 1966. As a result of the growing interest in this genre, several initiatives have been made to increase the efforts of continental-based production and exhibition of African animation films. The very promising trend of African animation film festivals attests to the success of this genre on the continent. Festival de cinéma d'animation africain de Ouagadougou (The African Animation Film Festival of Ouagadougou [Burkina Faso] was created in 2007. Senegal organized its first traveling festival of animation film, Festival Afrikabok, in 2009. Also in 2009, the African animation festival, Animafrik, was organized in Ghana.

The UNESCO project “Africa Animated” was launched to inspire local training and production with a specific focus on the creation of children’s animated cartoons in Africa. The interest in children-focused programming for African youth has been a long-standing objective, as indicated in the theme of the 15th edition of Fespaco in 1997, "Cinema, Childhood, and Youth." Florence Yameogo stresses the importance of presenting African images to African children:

I was very pleased with the choice of this year's theme, "Cinema, Childhood and Youth" because it was a theme in which I was already interested. Through this topic, I felt that we were given the opportunity to really think about the impact that images have on our children. I work for the television and we have very few national programs for children. We know that children like to imitate, and so everything that they see on television they try to imitate. We are realizing that if we make films that address their needs in particular, that treat themes and subjects that interest them, that, in fact, we will actually participate in their intellectual, cultural and physical development. (5)

Cilia Sawadogo hopes that animation films will reach a universal audience, as she enjoys making films for both adults and children:

Yes, we are often the victims of a certain stereotype when doing animation films. Especially when they are presented in festivals where there are no animation films at all. Moreover, people often don't really know what animation is. Yet, many animation films are made for the general public or even for adults only. Oftentimes children don't really understand what is going on or they are not comfortable with what they are seeing. I think in the West there is not a large market for animation films for adults. However, we find in Asia that adults watch animation films just as much as they do other films. Personally, I like doing films for children. It does not bother me at all. I enjoy it very much and I find that I have much more freedom. Because for children we can do things very "fly" as we call it here in Montreal, with much fantasy and fun, where the filmmaker can really let herself go. One is not obliged to be too down-to-earth, and I like that, actually. (6)

Report by Beti Ellerson


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