CULTURAL AND SOCIAL AWARENESS THROUGH ANIMATION
Jibril Mailafia is a young Nigerian filmmaker whose specialty includes directing, film editing, animation and visual effects. He holds a diploma in Theatre Arts from the University of Jos and a Bachelors degree in Film Arts from the National Film Institute (NFI), Jos. He has worked with notable filmmakers and producers like Kunle Afolayan, Kenneth Gyang and Grace Edwin Okon, and won over 12 awards and numerous nominations for the various short films and animated shorts he produced and directed. His work includes short films like Retribution and animation shorts like Ink, Protect Us and The Throne. At the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) 2015, his experimental animation The Throne was nominated in the Best Animation category and in the Best Short Film category at the African Magic Viewers Choice Awards (AMVCA) 2015.
The Throne was also screened at the Africa In Motion Film Festival (AIM) in Scotland and African International Film Festival (AFRIFF), both held in 2015. In 2014 he won the Best Experimental Film award at the Abuja International Film Festival AIFF and the Mohammed Amin Media Africa awards in Kenya for the Most Innovative Programme. Mailafia’s animated short Mission Possible was nominated in the Best Animation category at the AMAA 2013. His new domestic violence-themed animation short, Got Flowers Today was selected to screen at the NOLLYFEST 2016 in London.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired your course of study at the University of Jos and NFI?
Jibril Mailafia is a soon-to-be 30 year old filmmaker who is passionate about arts in general and animation in particular. Growing up, I was captivated by the Chinese; Bruce Lee movies, Indian; Amitahb Bachan movies and American films like Rambo of the 90s. At that time, I was drawn to films for their entertainment value, but over the years, I have come to discover the power of film in shaping a society’s mentality and perception. Looking at Nigeria and Africa today, our biggest setback is our mentality and perception about ourselves. I seek to make global impact and I feel the best way of doing so is dedicating my life to film. For me, film is bigger than any missionary or evangelic movement. Where else is there to learn the basics of film arts if not the theatre, the birthplace of film? After my study at the university, I saw the need for a more specific or specialized learning strictly based on film and that is why I went to the National Film Institute.
You work in the areas of directing, film editing, visual effects and animation. Which do you find most rewarding and challenging?
I started filmmaking as a production assistant, this gave me the leverage to work with every aspect of the filmmaking as well as what happens in post-production. I then discovered that those who decide what goes up on the screen as well as what happens in post-production at the end of the day, are the directors. Thus, I decided I would stick to editing, and then fortunately animation and directing came along. I would say animation is the most challenging and rewarding. Animation’s ability to task the brain into creating something from absolutely nothing is what makes it amazing to me. Before I start an animation process, I would have nothing but an idea. Then from scratch to finish I would create everything the viewer would see. Unlike in film where the camera captures the environment and actor’s actions, in animation you create the environment and the actors plus their actions. At the end of it, there is no better joy than people following the story along and commenting about something that was just an initial idea in my head. I would say the challenging nature of animation makes it more rewarding at the end of the process.
In the course of your career which film or animated short is your most memorable till date?
Sometime in 2012, right about the time I was completing my film study at the NFI, I had an idea to make an animation movie but without animating the actions of the actors. We were leaving school and well aware of the economic and distribution challenges of the Nigerian film industry. We knew cutting down the budget to the barest possible minimum was sensible as far as one put out a good enough production. With that in mind, I intended to cut down the production time so that I would be able to reduce the budget. I went on to achieve this by experimenting with taking the live action of the actors and creating animation with it, hence saving me the time I would have spent in creating characters and making them move. The final outcome and success of this movie The Throne, makes it my most memorable because the circumstances which led to its creation and how it was received internationally.
In 2015, you received several nominations for your experimental animation, The Throne, which was also screened internationally at the AIM in Scotland. What inspired the storyline and have these nominations helped the production?
The Throne was born out of my desire to try out an animation concept I thought of while at the NFI. At first, the story wasn’t there, it was just an idea of a style of animation. While developing it, I was looking at the achievability of the scenes and movements of the actors. Personally, I called it a semi-animation because though the actors and their actions were live,the environment was created and animated alongside. The production was widely accepted because of its style and freshness and luckily for us, our story was captivating enough to make audience see it to the end. In most cases, they wanted more but it is an experimental short film. The awards and recognition were proofs that the experiment was a success. Plans are on the way to make a feature length version of the film.
Since your works are mostly short films and animation shorts, how are they distributed and how do you make money?
When I make a short film, it is definitely not for direct financial returns, though it indirectly brings back money. I see it as a form of marketing or exhibition of what I can achieve or sometimes, an experiment. I put the shorts out on Afrinolly for any one who wishes to see them. Making films is rewarding because it gives me an opportunity to correct a societal wrong or convey an idea to an audience. Since filmmaking is an expensive venture, I stick with the shorts for now. I see making short films as very important to any filmmaker. I worked with notable Nigerian filmmakers based on the fact that I had earlier created a short film they loved. I receive nominations and awards from my shorts, which puts me in the limelight, and through them I get to work on other productions. I got to direct my first feature film On a Trip as the producer found me worthy because of my short films.
When you want to embark on a short film or animation project, what is the first thing you do?
In making a short film or animation, my process is pretty much the same at the beginning. The first thing is to have an idea or inspiration. Then I put it down on paper. Most of the time, I write my scripts. Funding for me is long-term and I fund my productions myself. When I am satisfied with my script, I talk about it with friends and colleagues. I listen to their opinions and ascertain what can be changed or left and how to go about it
What do you do differently on an animation project and can you run us through your work procedure?
In creating animation I don’t follow any set of rules or procedure. I make procedures I feel would work better for me bearing in mind the challenges. Basically, I get the inspiration for the story then put it down. Having the script is super important because one could get so carried away with the animation that one overlooks the story. This can be bad and confuses the audience. When the script is ready, I do the character designs in line with the style of animation. While drawing, I have in mind the movements they would eventually carry out. When the character design is ready, I begin to design the environment which is where the character would live and operate. They are mostly numbered in scenes as indicated in the script. The next step is the animation proper where the character lives and acts in the created environment. This stage is tasking but enjoyable if one knows what one is doing. It takes more time to be completed but when it’s done, I edit it as one does for a movie, as the animation is now like the rushes—raw visuals for a film, and then fix the dialogue and music score.
What inspired the animated short Got Flowers Today and how was it selected for a screening at the NOLLYFEST 2016 in London?
Got Flowers Today would not have come to be if I had not met a lady called Grace Omaiye at AFRIFF 2015. My animation, The Throne was selected for screening at the festival, which held in Lagos. Grace showed me an audio production of the poem You Got Flowers Today by Paulette Kelly. I fell in love with it because the story was so apt. Sometime last year, a lady in my area died because her husband who was a drunk and regularly beat her up, forgot the fact that she was sick. He came back home drunk and beat her so badly that she was rushed to the hospital but died afterwards. Domestic violence is rampant in many households but women would rather remain silent. We only hear their stories when it is too late. The animation is new and NOLLYFEST 2016 is the first festival I entered in for, so I am happy it was selected. The story is strong, I am hopeful it will be received well at festivals and touch many lives.
There seems to be a steady growth in the Nigerian film industry with our movies being screened at major international film festivals like Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival. Do you think our animation and short films are also getting much required attention?
In Nigeria presently, animation as an art form is only at its infancy. We do not have the artistic capability to compete favourably with the rest of the world though we are trying our best. It is time consuming and hard to find a sponsor because the African mindset is that animation is for children. For many, it does not make sense to sink in large amounts of money required for animation. It is hard to find funding for regular movies how much more the animation but we are surely getting there. For now, we make animation and it is on the rise.
Are you planning to get your productions on mobile and online video on demand platforms like Afrinolly and Iroko TV?
I already have them on the Afrinolly platform.
What would you advice people that want to work in animation?
My advice to anyone who wants to make animation is to make animation! Go for it! Make something great by thinking out of the box or even without the box. Get the resources and software you can lay your hands on and don’t wait to be able to make 3D animation before you start but begin with the basics.
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