After receiving nearly 1,400 submissions from 30 countries across the African continent, South Africa’s Triggerfish Animation Studios’ Story Lab initiative has selected two quartets of tomorrow’s storytellers for further development.
This week, Triggerfish in partnership with the Walt Disney Company and South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry, selected four feature film projects and four TV series ideas whose creators will now journey to Disney’s headquarters in Burbank, California to receive mentoring from studio and television executives.
“Many of the shortlisted stories had all of the ingredients we were looking for: heart, humor and global appeal,” Triggerfish development head Anthony Silverston told Cartoon Brew. “One of the key questions became what would differentiate them in the market; what could we offer that any other studio might not? We chose stories with new worlds that hadn’t been depicted onscreen before.”
Feature films chosen for Story Lab development include Wanuri Kahiu and Nnedi Okorafor’s afrofuturistic The Camel Racer, a collaboration representing Kenya and Nigeria, as well as the only non-South African entrant in Triggerfish’s final movie cut. The other full-length projects are Ian Tucker’s Dropped, Kay Carmichael’s Lights, and Naseem Hoosen’s The Wild Waste.
Similarly, three of the four television series selected into Triggerish’s Story Lab hail from South Africa — Mike Scott’s Bru and Boegie (which was also recently selected as a Cartoon Brew Pick of the Day), Marc Dey and Kelly Dillon’s Ninja Princess, and Wormholes from Lucy Heavens, a writer for South Africa’s animated series, Supa Strikas. Malenga Mulendema’s KC’s Super 4 is Triggerfish’s lone Zambian entrant.
Some of Story Lab initiative’s chosen creators are thankfully pushing storytelling into new speculative directions. Kenya’s award-winning director Kahiu is best known for the incredible sci-fi short, Pumzi, while the Nigerian-American novelist Okorafor won the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Who Fears Death. Hoosen and Carmichael’s projects are similarly anchored in African survival and innovation, while dreaming of worlds beyond.
“The Camel Racer is set in Kenya, in a near future where technology has been embraced to eke out survival in an arid landscape,” explained Silverston. “The Wild Waste is set further in the future, in an urban landscape which, seen through the eyes of our child hero, is more like an overgrown fairytale land. In Lights, we have another urban world dealing with unreliable electricity, something we here have grappled on and off with.”
“They’re all different takes on the future than might have been presented by the Western world,” he added. “For us, the challenge is to develop that central emotional relationship that will make it a universal story, while retaining the originality of the core concepts that made us excited about the stories in the first place.”
A shortlist of 23 features and 14 TV shows — whittled down during a two-week workshop last month in Cape Town with Disney EMEA digital content vice-president, Orion Ross, and The Coffee Break Screenwriter author and script consultant, Pilar Alessandra — went before a panel led by Aardman Animations’ co-founder, Peter Lord, as well as writers Kiel Murray (Cars) and Jonathan Roberts (The Lion King), Disney development executives, South African comedian David Kau, screenwriter Paul Ian Johnson, and Triggerfish’s Silverston, Wayne Thornley and Raffaella Delle Donne.
Triggerfish is investing up to $2.8 million in Story Lab over the next three years, although it notes the overall development process, which includes a route to market through the William Morris Endeavor agency, may take longer. The South African studio, enriched with Disney’s support as well as the international credibility of its own films, Adventures in Zambezia and Khumba, is in for the long haul.
“Africa is more than a single story,” Triggerfish CEO Stuart Forrest told Cartoon Brew. “The role of the news media is mostly to report threatening aspects of current affairs — corruption, war, crime, poverty, disease — but we like to tell friendly, fun, resourceful, and welcoming stories of Africa to help balance people’s impressions. We look for stories presenting us with a window into an Africa different from our preconceptions, and surprising to our audiences.”