Bon Voyage, Sim! 1966
Moustapha Alassane | Niger 1966 | 5m
This is the earliest short animation from West Africa. Sim, the President of a Republic of Toads, goes on a journey. When he returns, things have changed beyond recognition.
Afrika Eye Film Festival | Aardman Studios, Bristol | 26 Oct 2017
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Clips from classic African animations
The history of animation on the African continent is sporadic in nature and focuses on only a handful of different countries on the continent. Egypt and South Africa are the most well-documented countries, and have also been the pioneering countries in terms of animation filmmaking. The beginnings of animation in South Africa date as far back as 1916, with The Artist’s Dream made by Harold Shaw, who also directed the Afrikaner nationalist film De Voortrekkers in 1916. In Egypt, animation appeared in 1936 at the second ‘National Film Festival’, with entries from the Frenkel Brothers, who had migrated to Alexandria from the Soviet Union.
It is the African filmmaker and animation director, Moustapha Alassane, from Niger, who is usually hailed as the ‘father’ of sub-Saharan animation film-making. His career in this field began when he worked as a technician and mechanic, which enabled him to make his own magic lantern in the 1950s and later his very own film camera. However, it was through his meeting with the French ethnographic filmmaker, Jean Rouch, who was working in Niamey in the 1950s, that Alassane consolidated his love for filmmaking and learnt a range of filmmaking techniques. Alassane also travelled to Canada to study and work with pioneering animator, Scot Norman McLaren of the Canadian National Film Board. On his return to Niger in 1962, he began making both indexical films and animations.
Moustapha Alassane’s films are vital and imaginative records of Nigerien traditions and rituals. In his most-loved film, Happy Travels, Sim (1966) he satirises colonialist attitudes toward black Africans as well as the corrupt despotism, pomp and grandeur of new African leaders of the time. The film is often cited as the first example of sub-Saharan African animation. His earliest animated films were simple projections of cardboard cutouts, but his work quickly matured into more sophisticated clay and stop-motion art. The frog is his favourite animal and protagonist of most of his animated films, because Alassane believes it is funnier to animate frogs rather than humans. He directed around thirty animation, documentary and fiction films.
Alassane was Head of Cinema Department at the Niamey University for 15 years. His workshop then settled in Tahoua, a calm city from Niger’s interior, far away from the bustle of the capital. Alassane used several materials, such as wood, metal or wire, glue, fabric or sponge. Alassane was made Knight of the Legion of Honour, during the Cannes Film Festival in 2007. He passed away in 2015.