currently researching african animation : interested in compiling a database of practitioners in various sub-saharan countries : welcome any postings from practitioners

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Afrimation Event at SOAS, 20/10

On Saturday the 20th, we held a day of screenings of African Animations, with a retrospective of Jean Michel Kibushi's work, with a discussion later with the filmmaker himself - at SOAS, Russell Square, London.

Although like most events, we had some inconvenient mishaps, such as our guest speaker arriving later than expected - it all went off smoothly in the end. Attracting various people, whether academics, general public, and some festival organisers, and representatives from film bodies - this event also provided people with the opportunity to network and establish potential links for future projects. The intention behind this event, was greatly to dispell the myths that are created around animation: such as it being targeted largely at children, being closely related to Disney, and (in the case of African Animation) as it presenting orientalist imagery that would conform to stereotypical assumptions surrounding African imagery per se. The program of screenings made an attempt to present examples of animation, that challenge these assumptions.
They vary in form - from Stop-motion and traditional techniques, to high-end cutting edge 3D computer generated imagery, as in the case of the talented Peter Mute from Kenya - and in content presenting a myriad of issues, from current local social concerns and political critique to traditional legends.

The collections of shorts screened included a collection of some of the "Africa Animated" projects run by UNESCO, independant animators such as Tessa Comrie and Cartoonist Mike Scott from SA, some diasporic work by Victor Osula and Tessa Lewin.

The retrospective screened three of Kibushi's films: Le Crapuad Chez ses Beaux Parents; Muana Mboka, Prince Loseno. J.M. Kibushi gave a short account of his early developments in this form, the decisions he made earlier in his career to dedicate himself to his art, and retain the qualities of the auteur, in so doing rejecting any possibility of working within the commercial sector. His production company, StudioMalembeMaa, is based in two locations Brussels and Kinshasa, between which he travels regularly. His production process generally involves training artists in Kinshasa to be able to work on the productions. His film Prince Loseno, took five years to make, involving a production team of about 100 people from various specialisms, working on pre-visualisation, concept design, cinematography, to model making, animators, set designers etc. He is currently in the early development stages of his first feature length stopmotion film which will go into production next year in Kinshasa, DRC.

His loality to his craft and art has enabled him to develop his techniques and move from 2 D cut-out animation to the more complex techniques of stop-motion using 3D sets and silicon modelled characters. When asked what his main influences in his work are, of course he explained he looked at other European practioners like Harry Hausen and Tim Burton, but in terms of inspiration, he claims, that comes from his life experiences and memories of archetypal characters he encounters on an everyday basis in his home town, Kinshasa. In fact he goes on to say most of his characters in the film Prince Loseno, are modelled around people whom he personally grew up with or knew. The stories sometimes variations of myths and legends he grew up with, or based on a local saying... as in the case of Prince Loseno, and even Muana Mboka. Muana Mboka interjects aspects of contemporary Kinshasa, whilst interweaving with mythical imagery and beliefs such as the surreal sequences with the tortoise and grandfather.

He also views his work as having a documentary ability such as his work on the Atelier Graphuoi project, which resulted in the animation, Sebtembre Noir. This animation was produced with limited animation techniques, in this case chalk on black paper. The artist worked alongside street children, who drew their memories of the miliatry coup that occurred at the time. Here the animation became an account or document of the events that were ongoing in Kinshasa at the time. The children, Kibushi claimed, were able to present an honest account, lacking the political awareness of adults, they presented a document of a time. This animation, Kibushi says, was later used by European new agencies, to depict the attrocities that were occuring / and give an account of the events. The Western media at the time had no means of entering the country, under the Mubutu regime, the animation therefore provided access into what was truely happening at the time.

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