“Africa Oscar” Winner
The annual African Movies Academy Awards has become known as the “Africa Oscars” and this year at the April ceremony in Lagos, Nigeria—whose booming film industry has been dubbed “Nollywood”—a Ford took home one of the golden statuettes.
Kwame Nyong’o ’94 won the Best Animation category for his short film The Legend of Ngong Hill, a retelling of a Kenyan folktale about the defeat of an evil ogre by the villagers he has terrorized. Nyong’o, who grew up moving between the U.S. and Africa (his mother is American; his father Kenyan), settled in Kenya in 2000 and launched his animation studio, Apes in Space, in Nairobi in 2009.
A fine arts major at Haverford, Nyong’o got into animation when he went on to pursue a master’s at Academy of Art University in California. Introduced to the production process there for the first time, he discovered that animation “was an exciting blend of my other passions, like drawing, sculpture, photography and music,” he says. Before striking out on his own, Nyongo’o got some valuable animation experience working as an art director on Tinga Tinga Tales, a 52-episode children’s series based on African folk tales that was commissioned by the BBC and the Disney Channel and was made in Kenya by a 50-person studio.
Tinga Tinga Tales isn’t the only big budget entertainment property produced in Kenya, lately called the “Silicon Savannah,” reports Nyong’o. “Kenya’s tech sector is very innovative and it’s growing exponentially,” he says. “Mobile money transfer was invented here. The government of Kenya is supporting growth in the IT and creative content sector by facilitating high-speed internet access across the country and providing trainings and grants to content developers.”
Nyongo’s Africa Oscar, and the publicity the win has garnered has led to the film being screened at a number of film festivals, including the Cesar Panorama in Paris in June. “That was great,” says the animator, who is currently working on a script for an action adventure short. In some ways similar to the The Legend of Ngong Hills, it is part of a wider project to create an animated series based on African mythology, he says. “We also certainly do the bread and butter work of serving the local broadcasters and advertisers with animated content, which is increasingly in demand here in East Africa.”