Annecy: Modern African Fairy Tale ‘Kariba’ Explores Diversity in Animation

Project pitched Friday at Annecy MIFA market’s new Animation du Monde showcase

Illustrator Daniel Clarke developed the concept for a modern African fairy tale called “Kariba,” and, along with a South Africa-based animation collaboration called the Blue Forest Collective, is working to develop the story into a feature film. The animated story takes place in 1950s Rhodesia where, angered by worker constructing a dam, the river-spirit Nyami-Nyami unleashes his daughter, Siku, onto the banks of the river in human form. Siku embarks on a mission to settle the feud between man and river, and reunite with her home. The 2D short is currently in development and is seeking partners this week at the Annecy Fest’s Mifa market, where it will be pitched Friday in the new Animation du Monde showcase.

How did the idea for this project take shape?

“Kariba” really came about as a reaction to a frustration shared by me and a few friends concerning the types of animation films that where available to us in cinemas. As much as we admire these large-budget CG films, we felt that there is room for something a bit different — a bit more subtle, perhaps even hand drawn — with subject matter that isn’t as neatly parceled up and digestible, yet just as entertaining.

The actual idea came to me when I was walking in a forest close to where I live. I’m not particularly fit, so I took a break and found a large rock to lie down on and catch my breath. As I lay there I remembered some stories my grandfather and mother had told me about the legend of Nyami-Nyami and the Kariba damn, and was struck by how rich a mythology it would be to tell a story around.

This is a fairy tale for kids about the environment. Are you more focused on education, entertainment, or both? How do you strike that balance?

You are right in saying “Kariba” is about the environment, although it is about many other things as well, and it has never been my intention to be didactic or adopt a simple agenda or point of view with the story. I think it is dangerous to present a scenario that simplifies man’s relationship to nature as a binary and destructive one — which is not to say that the disastrous and irreversible damage being wrought on our planet is not largely man’s doing. We must just be careful not to take a patronizing approach that teaches children that they are separate from nature and must in some way ‘save’ it, as opposed to realizing that they are themselves inextricably part of nature. So yes, nature will play an important role in the film, but it is a film after all. And as filmmakers we are in the entertainment business and so must first and foremost entertain.

Your main character is a feisty young girl. Is this a feminist story?

I can’t say that deciding to have a girl as a lead was motivated by any sort of feminist ideals. I think feminism is an important and complicated issue and I feel unqualified to offer any sort of direct voice or claim to the movement. But I can benefit from the efforts of those who have championed the cause in that it isn’t an issue for me to write about a strong, interesting self-motivated young girl.

The animation is reminiscent of Miyazaki films. Were those Japanese animators your inspiration? If not, who?

I came to animation quite late. There were a few Disney films I saw as a kid, which were beautiful and I can remember enjoying but didn’t have much of a lasting impact. I particularly remember a stop-frame version of “The Wind in the Willows” and a Czech animation about a mole by Zdeněk Miler as being my favorites.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit to being a great admirer of Studio Ghibli and especially Mr. Miyazaki. I think he has a regard for his audience that few other filmmakers have. He never panders or presumes that children won’t understand. His films have powerful sentiment without ever resorting to sentimentality. One can sense an earnestness and sincerity that seems to resonate in some sort of fundamental way, as though he has somehow retained the ability to see the world as a child — at least that’s how I personally view his films.

You said the music is going to draw on Southern African sounds… what instruments are you planning on using? What does it sound like and how does it impact the story?

I think music can give a film a distinct sense of place. We would of course want to use instruments endemic to southern Africa and Zimbabwe like the mbira and the ilimba drum, but at the same time avoid the clichés that a lot of ‘World Music’ films about Africa fall back on. This is, after all, a film where many different cultures collide and we wish to explore this in the music. I think music is also one of the most powerful tools to imply scale, and it’s important to me that this world feels expansive and extends beyond the borders of the frame.

What are your future plans… ideally what happens next?

I, along with the other members of Blue Forest, simply want to make a film where we can express what we think is important and exciting — a film where we can take risks and not compromise too much (a little compromise is always necessary). We are all aware that the odds are slim, but we hope to find partners with similar ambitions and vision who can help us make “Kariba” the best film it can be.

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