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Triggerfish: Telling African Stories to the World

In 2015, South African animation studio Triggerfish launched a pan-African talent search for animated films and series. Supported by The Walt Disney Company, The Triggerfish Story Lab received nearly 1,400 entries from across the continent.

Triggerfish - Kizazi Moto

Fast forward eight years, and all of the Triggerfish Story Lab's TV series winners have major animated series out this year. Marc Dey and Kelly Dillon are co-creators of the preschool series Kiya & The Kimoja Heroes on Disney Junior, and Lucy Heavens is co-creator of Kiff on Disney Channel. Both shows debuted in the United States in March 2023 and will premiere across the continent soon. Malenga Mulendema's Zambian teen superhero series Supa Team 4 premiered in July as Netflix's first original animated series from Africa and is currently streaming to 238 million subscribers in more than 190 countries around the world. And Mike Scott is co-creator of a series launching soon across the continent on African streamer Showmax, produced by Braintrust and Mind's Eye Creative.

Triggerfish’s work is helping to change the image of Africa, showing the world that Africa is a continent of creativity, innovation, and storytelling, whilst creating opportunities for African animators and filmmakers. "Talent is everywhere; opportunity isn’t," says Triggerfish creative director Anthony Silverston. "So when you’re the first to open the door, there’s a backlog of talent queuing up."

2023 is becoming a breakthrough year for African animation. In addition to helping produce Supa Team 4 and Kiya & The Kimoja Heroes, Triggerfish is the lead studio on the African sci-fi anthology Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire and produced Aau's Song, the final short film in Lucasfilms' Star Wars: Visions Volume II.

Both anthologies are now streaming on Disney+ with rare 100% critics' ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, making them two of the most acclaimed animation series of 2023 so far. Collider hailed Kizazi Moto as "one of the best animated shows of the last decade," while Aau's Song was ranked as "the best episode" of Star Wars: Visions Volume II by Screenrant and described as "gorgeous" by everyone from Empire to Polygon, who called it "a perfect note to end the season on".

Triggerfish has been a pioneer in African animation for 27 years. They have produced award-winning work, including five BBC Christmas specials based on Roald Dahl and Julia Donaldson books, an Oscar-nominated short film, and a feature film that cracked the Netflix Global Top 10. In 2023, they are taking a major step forward by telling original stories about Africans.

"Parents in South Africa often treat the idea of making a career out of iPopeye [South African slang for animation] with skepticism, but animation is a growing, labour-intensive industry which is struggling to keep up with the global demand for talent," says Silverston. "Even outside the traditional film industry, there’s demand for animation talent within fields like advertising, app and web design, architecture, engineering, gaming, industrial design, medicine, and the motor industry, not to mention growth sectors like augmented reality and virtual reality. So, in a country like South Africa, with a 32.9% unemployment figure for the first quarter of 2023, animation can make a big impact."

"We are opening the door to the first generation of African animators to tell our stories," says Silverston. "This is an incredible honor, and we are committed to making sure that these stories are heard around the world."

Searching for Sugar Man: The Man, the Music, the Myth

The subject of one of the most fascinating music documentaries ever, the 81-year-old Sixto Rodriguez passed away in his sleep at his home in Detroit on 9 August, 2023. The acclaimed Mexican-American singer-songwriter's death came as something of a shock, having been in good health in recent years. Fans took to social media to voice their tributes to the true music legend whose enigmatic persona and soulful music will live on.

Rodriguez: The Man, The Music, The Myth

A sad loss, the man's inspirational story was captured by the Oscar-winnning music documentary, Searching for Sugar Man. A real-life fairy tale, the touching chronicle relayed the incredible story of Sixto Rodriguez, who achieved cult status in South Africa. Virtually unknown in his native United States, the fillm documents the music artist's deeply entrenched following and pop culture phenomenon with folk music interpreted as songs of resistance against apartheid. As Spling put it in his 8/10 Searching for Sugar Man review, "This true story is like a dream, fleeting and well-versed in an elusive truth about the music industry, ambition, fame, self-promotion and what's really important in life."

Powered by the music that made him famous, the stirring documentary Searching for Sugar Man follows Stephen Segerman and Craig Bartholomew-Strydom, two die-hard fans of Rodriguez. In an interview with Segerman, the Maby Vinyl record store owner described Rodriquez as "reserved, contemplative, philosophical, enigmatic and deep-thinking", faithfully captured in the documentary.

Having made a name for himself as a music icon in South Africa, inspiring artists like Dave Matthews and local musos such as Ard Matthews who covered the Rodriguez anthem 'Sugar Man', a point of interest morphed into a full-blown armchair investigation. Both heavily invested in the music scene, the lifelong fans set out to find out what had become of the enigmatic Rodriguez in a bid to learn the truth about his mysterious disappearance and why he hadn't reached a third album.

Rodriguez released two albums in the United States in the late 1960s, 'Cold Fact' and 'Coming from Reality', both deemed to be commercial failures at the time. He was subsequently dropped by his record label and went back to working as a construction worker. Yet, his albums and music found resonance with the folk music scene in South Africa where Rodriguez's raw power and socially conscious lyrics hit home with themes of poverty, injustice and the struggle for freedom.

As documented in Searching for Sugar Man, Segerman and Bartholomew-Strydom eventually tracked Rodriguez down to Detroit, where he was living in poverty. They helped him revive his career from obscurity to realise his untapped fan base, which prompted a long-awaited tour of South Africa. Rodriguez's story is a reminder that even the most niche artists can have a profound impact on people's lives. His music inspired hope and resilience in South Africans during a time of great political and social upheaval and his story is a testament to the power of music to connect people from all over the world.

'Gaia' and 'Silverton Siege' Go Head-to-Head at SAFTAs 2023

In its 17th year, the South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) ceremony is set to take place in September and Gaia is sure to be one of the favourites of the night. Having garnered 9 nominations, it's in competition for Best Film against Silverton Siege with 11 nominations and Wild is the Wind with 6 nominations. While there are only three films nominated for this category, it seems like the race is a dead heat between Gaia and Silverton Siege.

Gaia vs Silverton Siege

While both South African films have technical finesse and mainstream appeal, powered by several full tilt key performances, both could have benefitted from sharper screenplays, more substance and more self-assured direction. Refraining from tying up loose ends, Gaia has an edge in terms of not over-explaining its free-ranging and unpredictable forest horror. While a natural enhancement for horror, this degree of uncertainty tends to count against films of this nature when it comes to assessing the more finite aspects of screenwriting come awards season. While Silverton Siege is based on a true story that's anchored in South African history, the bank heist thriller is built on its slick book-ends with a sluggish and simmering middle, opting for style over substance.

Competing in many of the same categories Silverton Siege managed to land a scriptwriting nomination and seems to have the edge with more acting nominations. Having won several prestigious international awards and received critical acclaim making Best Horror of the Year lists everywhere from Forbes to Variety, Gaia outperforms Silverton Siege in several areas and is more artful and full-fledged as an original vision, a superior film. Although being a horror with a more mainstream international flavour, a genre that doesn't typically perform well at these kinds of awards ceremonies, it's still anyone's guess.

Gaia scored a 6/10 from SPL!NG versus a 5/10 for Silverton Siege, which makes it Spling's clear first choice for Best Film at this year's SAFTAs with Wild is the Wind chiming in with a 4/10. It's curious to note that the black-and-white art epic Time Spent with Cats is Never Wasted (unrated), the haunting psychosexual horror Pou (7/10) and stirring coming-of-age drama Mense van die Wind (7/10) either were too niche, slipped through the cracks or just didn't connect with this year's SAFTAs voting committee.

Shot on location, the eerie and skin-crawling eco-horror follows a forest ranger who's injured on a routine mission in the Tsitsikamma National Park. Saved by two off-the-grid survivalists, what starts out as a welcome rescue becomes more suspicious as the son and his renegade father reveal a cultish devotion to the forest. When their cabin ceases to be a safe haven, it’s clear there's a far greater threat in this unrelenting wilderness.

Monique Rockman (Nommer 37) is up for a Best Actress SAFTA for her performance as the forest ranger. She's joined by Alex van Dyk (The Harvesters and Carel Nel (em>Raised by Wolves), who was unlucky not to be nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role. Jaco Bouwer (Spinners, 4 Mure) is up for Best Director, and Jorrie van der Walt is up for Best Cinematography after winning this category at SXSW.

Gaia has already won Best Film at the Silwerskerm Film Festival and holds an 85% critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film has been praised for its stunning visuals, thought-provoking story and strong performances.

The Lego Movie v. Barbie: A Battle for the Ages

You get toy brands and then you get mega toy brands. While a Hot Wheels movie hasn't come about yet, unless you count The Fast and the Furious as an adequate approximation... especially Fate of the Furious, there are a few toy enterprises that just don't seem to quit capturing young minds. While Micro Machines didn't quite make it, two of the biggest toy brands from the 1980s are still alive and well with no sign of slowing down. We're not talking about Transformers, even though Michael Bay continues to flex his metallic bayhem, we're talking about Barbie and Lego (not Legos or even Legolas, please).

lego movie vs barbie

While both brands have had a broad slate of serviceable animated films, we're talking specifically about their greatest adverts... sorry films The Lego Movie (2014) and Barbie (2023). While Will Ferrell is their common denominator, there's actually a lot more these two mega toy brand adaptations have in common. Both films feature a strong female lead and a self-aware protagonist who questions their place in the world. The Lego Movie and Barbie both feature a diverse cast of characters and a visual style that is both playful and eye-popping even. They both make use of a meta-narrative that breaks the fourth wall and explores themes of identity, creativity and the power of play. Now two of the most popular and critically acclaimed animated films of recent years, both have been praised for their humour, heart and positive messages.

The Lego Movie and Barbie have a number of similarities in terms of positioning and style but there are also some key differences. For instance, the Barbie movie has received mixed reviews, now sitting on an 88% Tomatometer score. Some praised the film's humour, visuals, and performances, while others have criticized its lack of originality and PG-13 rating. The Lego Movie still holds a 96% Tomatometer score and was a smash hit with film critics, with many praising its humor, creativity, and heart. A feast for the eyes, the film won several awards, including the Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Feature Film.

When it comes to box office outings, both films have outperformed expectations. Barbie looks set to hit the $1 billion mark, now on $795 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing film ever directed by a woman, based on a toy property and the biggest box office hit for 2023. As for The Lego Movie, it was the highest-grossing film in 2014 grossing over $468 million worldwide but didn't find the same phenomenal level of anticipation and hype ahead of its release, in spite of amazing reviews. Pink seems to be everyone's favourite colour at the moment.

A nostalgic trip down memory lane and a standalone film with their own message, both have led to a great deal of buzz, which will undoubtedly boost sales for Barbie. The Lego Movie's popularity and critical acclaim helped raise its profile, linking the many divergent themes its undertaken in recent years.

The Barbie movie and The Lego Movie are both first-rate films that have something to offer audiences of all ages. While the groundbreaking and original The Lego Movie is the clear victor in terms of reviews, it seems that Barbie's infiltration and long-awaited release has had a greater ripple effect, making it the clear winner when it comes to brand exposure and box office takings.

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