I get the sense that short films are often viewed as a way to develop skills and advertise those skills, or as a proof of concept for a feature-length film. I’m starting to see more and more short film available for general viewing on Youtube, Vimeo, and even Hulu as a way to reach audiences that don’t normally go to film festivals. Shorts, because they can be filmed much more quickly, also give filmmakers who have a very limited budget a chance to still tell an engaging story.
Finding genre film from Africa is a challenge in the US. Other than District 9, I don’t think much has made it over here as of yet, and I don’t honestly know how much is actually made, (tough there is plenty of film being made in various African countries, particularly Nigeria! Just do a bit of googling about Nollywood if you don’t believe me. In terms of sheer number of films produced per anum, it’s right on Bollywood’s heels and ahead of Hollywood).
Read on for a selection of African short films. On the strength of these, I hope we will see more feature length films from these countries over here soon!
The Tale of How
Country of Origin: South Africa
I couldn’t begin to tell you what this animated short is really about. It’s gorgeous, whimsical and highly disturbing by turns, and the story is told in song. Just watch it.
The Day They Came
Country of origin: Nigeria
The Day They Came is a very simple concept — a man witnesses an alien invasion — but I think it is still fairly impressive considering it was shot with virtually no budget and relies heavily upon VFX (there are a couple of visual hiccups, but the final shot in the short looks pretty darn good). The credits start with the statement that this was episode one; it definitely feels more like a teaser than a full short.
Country of origin: Kenya
This short is very experimental and only genre in the sense that it’s post-apocalyptic. Gorgeously shot and rather surreal, it’s a young boy’s journey through a strange city intermixed with his dreams where he’s a being with a live TV for a head. Also, some of the music is done by Just a Band, and I love them (start with Ha He.)
Alive in Joburg
Country of origin: South Africa
This is the short that powered Neill Blomkamp through to make District 9, released 3 years later. You can see here all of the basic concepts that carried through to District 9, particularly the arrival of the aliens allowing the formation of a new sort of Apartheid. The short is shot like a documentary (a style that’s gentle on tiny budgets) and takes place, very pointedly, in Soweto.
Country of origin: Egypt
Two aliens track down a criminal from their planet to the Earth. One of them has decided that he wants to stay here. Something about not wanting to go back to the burnt-out wasteland that is their home planet after their rather snazzily-dressed enemy got done with it. The film isn’t entirely successful in its ambitions, but I enjoyed the slightly different perspective on aliens pretending to be humans saving the planet.
These last three films come out of a program run by Focus Films called Africa First, which offers funds to emerging African filmmakers. You can watch all five of the short films (most of which are non-speculative) from the second volume of Africa First on Hulu right now, or they’re all embedded here.
Country of origin: South Africa
(Available for viewing on Hulu)
A brutal street thug named Mthunzi rescues a little boy he finds in a building that has been cordoned off by the police. The boy has supernatural powers he cannot control, and the thug saves him from the superstitious relatives who killed his mother. Mthunzi seems extremely harsh at first, but is unable to simply leave the boy behind, and the film is really his journey from antisocial thug to protector to make up for his past sins.
Country of Origin: Kenya
From the first volume of Africa First, Pumzi imagines a bleak future where there is no water left on the surface and humans live in an authoritarian habitat in order to survive. Gorgeous and absolutely heartbreaking.
Mwansa the Great
Country of origin: Zambia
This short could be very loosely called fantasy, though I think it would be more accurate to perhaps slot it in with magical realism. It shares creative DNA with Kichwateli wherein the dreaming/imaginary journey of children is at times presented as the reality. I originally hesitated to include it here, but the final scene is what takes the film from dreams depicted as real to dreams become real. Plus, it’s an incredibly cute short film, and I kind of needed something super cute after re-watching the heart punch that is Pumzi.