The glories of ancient Egypt, Kush and ‘futuristic’ Africa came live at the monthly Lola Kenya Screen Film Forum at Goethe-Institut in Nairobi, Kenya, on January 26, 2009.
Here, BETHSHEBA ACHITSA reports, two animated short films “KILIMANJARO and CHARIOTEER” were shown in the presence of the animator and director, Alexander Alaka, followed by some equally animated discussion.
Alexander Alaka, a new entrant into Kenya’s audio-visual media sector who just graduated from The South Africa School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance (AFDA) in Cape Town, South Africa, brought out the forthrightness and candour that lack in the local sector when responding to the queries his films raised.
Teacher and freelance writer Betty Caplan broke the ice when she admitted that she could not follow the plot of the two films and sought to know if her age(she is above 50)had anything to do with the problem or if it had to do with the fact that the story line had not been fully developed. She said the film moved too fast for her that it was too much for the mind to comprehend at one sitting. Many participants concurred with her.
For some of the audience members who could relate to the events in KILIMANJARO, they said perhaps the title was not too apt for it.
Responding to the queries, Alaka said that being his first piece of work he was more fascinated in playing around with the characters and thus resulting into such a complex story line. He admitted that he had done away with many parts of the story that could have brought about the relevance of the title and made the story easier to follow. Lack of adequate time, he said, hindered him from developing the story completely. The two were his school projects without which he would not have graduated.
As to what his animation characters are”animals, humans or machines” Alaka said he had created ‘futuristic’ characters with characteristics of humans, gods and robots: his films are set in the future!
Alaka concurred with Lola Kenya Screen director Ogova Ondego’s observation that to create captivating and meaningful audiovisual media productions technology cannot substitute for good stories. Alaka said it was as true as mastering story-writing tools like Microsoft Word, which is not synonymous with writing best-selling novels.
So what are KILIMANJARO and CHARIOTEER about?
KILIMANJARO, according to the synopsis, is about an emperor of a 22nd-century empire who is trapped in the clutches of a barb-wired monster cobra-woman. The emperor’s daughter ventures up to the barb-wired cobra woman’s lair on the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro in order to rescue him. And thus the forces of evil are pitted against those of good.
CHARIOTEER, on the other hand, revolves around Prince Mwangavu of Kush who since childhood has been taunted with being a bastard by his cousin, the immortal Pharaoh of the neighbouring Kingdom of Kemet. When Pharaoh begins a scheme to mine an ancient doomsday weapon from a forbidden valley along the border of their kingdoms, Mwangavu’s fiancée, Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love and Beauty, reveals to him that his father is actually the Sun. On acquiring this information, Mwangavu decides to stand up to Pharaoh who in turn dares him to prove it by driving the fiery chariot of the Sun across the Sky for a day, declaring that this is the only way to stop him from digging up the forbidden valley.
The other issues that Alaka, who is one of the animators currently working on Tiger Tinga, a 2-dimensional animation African folk tale that is a collaboration of a British animation company and a Nairobi firm that will be aired on Cartoon Network and the Disney Channel, addressed were:
Alaka: Not necessarily; Kilimanjaro and Charioteer target people between the ages of 15 and 25 years old. Animation is not necessarily for children.
Moderator: What opportunities are available to animators in Kenya?
Alaka: Animation is used in websites, advertising, and on television.
It is now up to Kenyans to develop the skills in animation so that outsourcing jobs do not go to other countries.
Moderator: Is it necessary to go to film school to get into animation? What qualities should an animator possess?
Alaka: It is not necessary to learn animation in school since it all depends on interest. Some of the qualities of an animator are determination, perseverance, the ability to meet deadlines and technical competence.
From the discussion generated, it was clear to the almost 50 people in attendance that Kilimanjaro and Charioteer had livened up the rather cold evening.
While everyone was interested in knowing the financial cost that the animations had cost, Alaka provided little direction on this, arguing that the school, that produced the films, was the only source that could say how much was spent. In other words, issues dealing with production are handled by producers while the creative aspect is in the hands of the directors. While some participants concurred that it was all right to specialize, others felt a filmmaker should aspire to know other areas of production even if they specialize.
Acknowledging his good efforts in coming up with the films, the audience could not fail to point out some of the issues that they felt were not right.
Though 45 people turned up for the 30th Lola Kenya Screen Film Forum, one cannot fail to express the disappointment when it comes to keeping time. Instead of the scheduled 6.00pm, many trooped in thirty minutes late. To buy time a Lola Kenya Screen documentary, THE CIRCLE and several short films created by children, youth and adults for children and youth were screened.
The screening of KILIMANJARO and CHARIOTEER began at 6.30pm with discussion following soon after. The meeting wound up at 7.40 pm. Grace Kinya moderated the 30th LKSFF.
Lola Kenya Screen, the initiative of ComMattersKenya in conjunction with Goethe-Institut, has brought together practitioners in the audiovisual media sector”directors, producers, screenwriters, camera people, actors, funders, journalists, researchers, academics, students, seekers of information, consumers”every last Monday of the month since December 15, 2005.
During LKSFF, participants gather to watch and discuss films, socialise, and network.
Saying participation is usually by invitation only, initiative founder and director says any one interested in being invited to the Forum is advised to email firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
The next LKSFF will be on February 24, 2009.
Additional reporting by GRACE KINYA