Africa in the Spotlight

in 61st Annecy International Animation Film Festival

by Djia Mambu

Animation on the African continent is booming even if it is still struggling to be professionally recognized in its territory. At this year’s Annecy Animated Film Festival, one of the pioneering events dedicated to the genre, animated films from Africa were featured in various contemporary and classic programs. The recent reopening of theatres in France made it possible for festival goers to see works from around the globe on the big screen again, which people were not able to do last year because of the pandemic when the festival was held entirely as an online event.

One of the African films on offer was the very remarkable Lady Buckit & the Motley Mopsters (2020) by Adebisi Adetayo, which turned out to be the first Nigerian animated feature straight out of Nollywood studios that will also be available in cinemas very soon. There were also key figures in the sector among the festival guests such as Marguerite Abouet, the Ivorian author of the comic strip and eponymous film of the same name, Aya of Yop City (Aya de Yopougon, 2013), or another giant of animation, the South African William Kentridge, to name but a few.

Other major highlights in the program included the tributes to some of the pioneers of African animation. Among them, the Frenkel brothers are considered to be the first to have introduced the art of cartooning to Egypt in the 1930s. Together, they developed and created their own material and started producing their own works including the mythical character Mish Mish Effendi that became a real movie star, often compared to Disney’s Mickey Mouse.

We cannot talk about African animation without also mentioning the Nigerian Moustapha Alassane. Author of the first fictional and animated feature film in Niger, he too was self-taught and, at first, gradually embarked on animation before devoting himself fully to the genre. Tired of observing the lack of support from national institutions and local authorities for his independent and committed cinema, he found a more accessible way to express his art through animation.

Nearly half a century later, this attitude is still alive among contemporary designers. In fact, there are many young directors who are getting more and more involved in animation. Even if the participation in international events is still low – in the 60 years of the Annecy Festival’s history, only 47 African films were shown in the official selection – we have nonetheless observed a boom in recent years, especially across the continent. One of the reasons for this growth is the establishment of animation studios. For example, during the festival, Walt Disney Animation and the African studio Kugali presented the animated series Iwájú (2022) which is set around an Afro-futuristic universe.

There were also cultural events at Annecy that highlighted animated films, such as the Meknes animation festival, which presented a carte-blanche selection of works. Founded in 2001, it is the first of its kind in Africa. In addition, Fupitoons Festival, initiated by the African Animation Network, travelled to Annecy to present a special program during this year’s edition.

Finally, another equally important thing to note is that, while most TV and film production shut down due to the COVID-19 health crisis, animation did not stop producing. On the contrary, the pandemic situation has increased the supply.

Djia Mambu
Edited by Pamela Jahn