After sending out a call to African animators for ideas, Triggerfish Story Lab quickly received 1,378 entries from 30 countries.

In July, Cape Town-based Triggerfish Animation Studios, South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry, and the Walt Disney Company joined forces to create Triggerfish Story Lab’s $3.5 million initiative to support homegrown African animation. Before the summer was up, the Story Lab had an impressive 1,174 feature submissions and 204 television series submissions — which did not come as much of a surprise to some as to others.

“When I told people I expected over 1,000 submissions from across Africa, everyone laughed at me,” Triggerfish Animation Studios’ development head and partner Anthony Silverston said in a statement. “Now who’s laughing?”

The job of sifting through those submissions for production-worthy projects now falls to Silverston, Aardman Animations’ co-founder Peter Lord, The Lion King co-screenwriter Jonathan Roberts, South African storyteller Gcina Mhlope, comedian David Kau, and Writing For Emotional Impact author Karl Iglesias, as well as executives from Disney and Triggerfish. The judges will be searching for all-ages, optimistic narratives that deviate from the same old American and European stories of African apocalypse.

“I’m looking forward to helping unearth new African talent in animation, and telling stories from Africa that will show the world that there’s an Africa beyond the genocide, Aids, corruption, and dictatorship that’s the daily gospel of most news outlets about Africa,” said Kau about the three-year initiative to develop and support local talent.

This November, creators who make the the 20-person shortlist will participate in workshops to polish their final pitches. Triggerfish, whose animated features Adventures in Zambezia and Khumba, were distributed in over 150 countries, will announce the Story Lab participants in December.

But no matter who made the list and who didn’t, the initiative has proven that the continent is fertile ground for animation. “The overwhelming response we’ve received shows the depth of storytelling talent in Africa,” said Silverston.

“With our feature films, I think we have shown that animated stories for a global audience can come from anywhere in the world,” Silverston told Cartoon Brew in July. “The barrier to entry is no longer the technical side of animation. Now it is the quality of the stories, and that’s where we all still have a lot to learn.”

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