Art

Kenyan animators win big at Kwetu film fete

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Poster for the Inaugural Kwetu International Animation Film Festival. PHOTO | POOL

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Summary

  • Easter weekend was a time for binging on online animated films that were shown for free during the Kwetu International Animation Film Festival (KIAFF).
  • For two days straight, April 2-3, the public had a chance to watch dozens of animated films, many of which were focused on Africa-related topics by African animators.

Easter weekend was a time for binging on online animated films that were shown for free during the Kwetu International Animation Film Festival (KIAFF).

For two days straight, April 2-3, the public had a chance to watch dozens of animated films, many of which were focused on Africa-related topics by African animators.

Featuring everything from full-length feature animations and children’s cartoons to TV commercials, film shorts, and original films by African animators, the theme of the festival was ‘Between Art and Reality’.

Launched late last year by Tanzanian filmmaker Daniel Nyalusi, former CEO and manager of the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF), the inaugural festival ran from April 1 through 3 with 48 hours-worth of nonstop animated films being shown to viewers watching from all over the world.

“We screened 50 animated films out of the more than 1,660 submitted,” says Festival manager Kassim Mtingwa. “They were all shown on Nuella TV. But unfortunately, the link to the screening came down once the awards were announced on Monday evening [April 5th],’ he adds.

Among the 10 top awards given, three of them went to Kenyans. Two were selected by a three-person jury of international filmmakers while the remaining one, the Audience Award, was determined by the votes of viewers. That honour went to Stanslaus Manthi for his science fiction animation, ‘208’.

The other two were Kwame Nyong’o for ‘The Legend of Lwanda Magere,’ which won ‘Best Film Made in Africa’ and Brian Msafiri for his animation, ‘From Here to Timbuktu’ which won ‘Best East African Film.’

None of the other winners were from East Africa. They were from either Costa Rica, winning for Best Sound and Best Story Script; Denmark for Best TV Commercial; France for Best Short Film; and Iran, for Best Feature Film, Best Character and the Special Jury Mention.

Otherwise, Nyalusi, who is a filmmaker himself (though not an animator), anticipates that many more African animators will participate in next year’s festival. “We received calls from many filmmakers after submissions were already closed. It was too late for them to be in this year. But now that the word is getting round, we expect even more entries next year,” he says.

Having been the manager of ZIFF before becoming its CEO in 2017, Nyalusi watched ZIFF grow from its infancy into being an important international festival that attracts top filmmakers from all over the world. This is one reason why he feels so optimistic about KIAFF becoming a platform where African animators are able to exchange ideas among themselves and with filmmakers from other regions as well.

“During my time at ZIFF, I saw animation being treated as if it were less important than filmmaking. But I also saw the interest growing in animation among young Africans as well as worldwide,” says the 41-year-old filmmaker.

“I felt it was time to fill in that gap and give the animators the opportunity they deserve to be recognised for their talent and artistic skills,” he adds. Thus was KIAFF born, not only as an annual event but as a platform for fora, workshops, and cultural exchanges.

The East Africa-based animation festival is not the first to be held in the region. Accra had its first Animation Film Festival in July 2020. There was another one meant to take place in Cape Town, but it was cancelled due to the Covid pandemic.

Fortunately, Nyalusi had already cultivated partnerships with the Goethe Institute in Dar es Salaam and Nuella TV which enabled viewers on the African continent to watch for free while those viewing from other regions had to pay a small fee to watch the films. The awards night was viewed on Facebook, so KIAFF was able to circumvent to Covid hurdles.

The fact that three out of the 10 top awards went to Kenyans indicates the artistic emergence of the country’s animation film industry.

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