African films, series that made waves in 2020

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Africa unleashed countless cinematic and television productions that made waves globally over the past year, and we reproduce reviews of some of them here as captured by The South African. For the full list, visit https://www.thesouthafrican.com/lifestyle/sa-tv-film/african-films-and-series-that-made-waves-internationally-in-2020/

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Zog

“Zog” was named Best Animation at the 2020 International Emmy Kids Awards and won the 2020 Children’s Programme Award from the Royal Television Society, among other honours like Kidscreen, Annie and British Animation Awards nominations. Animated in Cape Town by Triggerfish and produced by the UK’s Magic Light Pictures, the 27-minute animated short captures the magic of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s bestselling picture book, with an all-star voice cast including the likes of Kit Harington, Sir Lenny Henry and Tracey Ullman. It’s co-directed by multi-award-winning South African Daniel Snaddon (Stick Man) and two-time Oscar nominee Max Lang. Zog is the keenest but clumsiest pupil in his class at Dragon School, where he longs to win a gold star as he learns how to fly, roar and breathe fire. He keeps meeting a kindly young girl who patches up his bumps and bruises, but can she help him with his trickiest school assignment yet: capturing a princess? 

The Snail and the Whale

“The Snail and the Whale” won the 2020 Venice TV Award for Children/Youth, as well as Best Voice Performance (for Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins as the snail) at the 2020 British Animation Awards, where it was also nominated for Best Longform Animation and Best Use of Sound. “The Snail and the Whale” follows the amazing journey of a tiny snail who longs to see the world and hitches a ride on the tail of a huge humpback whale. It’s a joyous, empowering tale about our wonderful world and discovering that, however small you are, you can make a difference. “The Snail and the Whale” is produced by the Oscar-nominated Magic Light Pictures and animated in Cape Town by Triggerfish, with South African Daniel Snaddon co-directing with two-time Oscar nominee Max Lang.

Momma, I Made It!

In her first HBO comedy special, Nigeria’s Yvonne Orji, better known as Molly from Insecure, has the audience rolling with laughter as she brings her razor-sharp wit and confidence to the stage. Both celebrating and poking fun at her strict, formative Nigerian-American upbringing, Yvonne shares her unique journey from pre-med to comedy, talks about parental pressures to get married, and takes us along to Lagos to meet her family and friends. Entertainment Weekly calls “Momma, I Made It!” “an hour of joy”, IndieWire hails it as “a rip-roaring standup special,” and Fast Company says it’s “the laugh the black community needs right now”. On 2020, Yvonne also recently earned her first Emmy nomination and her fourth Black Reel nomination in a row as Molly in “Insecure”.

Lusala

“Lusala” won the Rimbaud award at the 2020 Les Rimbaud du Cinéma, held in France at the oldest active cinema in the world. Brian Ogola (“18 Hours” and “Poacher”) stars as Lusala, adopted by an affluent Nairobi family a decade ago, but now imposed on to leave home and start on his own. Eager and willing at first, he makes the most of his life, until the demons from his past return, and he has to face them on his own. Stycie Waweru (Jo in “Supa Modo”) co-stars. Lusala is the directorial debut of Mugambi Nthiga, who co-wrote “Kati Kati” and “Supa Modo”, and acted in “Nairobi Half Life” and “Stories of Our Lives” – four critically acclaimed Kenyan films awarded at Toronto, Berlin, and AFI respectively, among many other festivals.

Noughts + Crosses

South African costume designer Dihantus Engelbrecht earned a Costume Design (Drama) nomination from the 2020 Royal Television Society Awards in the UK for his work on “Noughts + Crosses”, a controversial six-part BBC One series based on Malorie Blackman’s multi-award-winning novel. South African Masali Baduza (“Trackers”) and BAFTA winner Jack Rowan (“Born to Kill” and “Peaky Blinders”) play Sephy and Callum, two star-crossed lovers in the tradition of Romeo and Juliet, in an alternate universe where Africa colonised Europe, rather than the other way round. Shot largely in Cape Town with Film Afrika, the series also stars South African actress Bonnie Mbuli (Invictus, Wallander) as Sephy’s mom, Jasmine. Koby Adom – who is from Ghana, was born in Cote d’Ivoire, and grew up in London – is one of the two directors. Times (UK) praised it as “mesmerising… It’s important, this one. We’ll be talking about it for years.”

Trackers

Fresh from outperforming “Game of Thrones” – and everything else on M-Net last year – “Trackers” was released internationally by HBO and Cinemax in June 2020. Based on Deon Meyer’s bestselling novel, “Trackers” has an 88 percent critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The New York Times called it “a more polished product than ‘Blood & Water’”, Haaretz called it “the guilty pleasure” of the week, adding “it comes to life when it places Cape Town front and centre”, and Stuff called it “a high-octane thriller … a good rollicking story”.

Knuckle City

“Knuckle City” was the most nominated film at the 2020 Africa Movie Academy Awards, where it was up for 12 awards, including Best Film, Best Actor (SAFTA winner Bongile Mantsai from “Inxeba” and “The Wound”), Best Director (multiple-SAFTA winner Jahmil XT Qubeka, who is making the upcoming Showmax Original “Blood Psalms”), and Best Supporting Actress (Faniswa Yisa from upcoming Showmax Original “DAM”). In this South African 2020 Oscar entry, an ageing, womanising professional boxer (Mantsai) and his career-criminal brother (Thembekile Komani) take one last shot at success and get more than they’ve bargained for.

The Letter Reader

“The Letter Reader” was nominated for Best Short Film at The Africa Movie Academy Awards. Directed by Sibusiso Khuzwayo, “The Letter Reader” also won Best Short at the 2020 SAFTAs. Inspired by Thabo Mbeki’s biography, “A Dream Deferred”, “The Letter Reader” tells the story of Siyabonga, a 12-year-old boy from Johannesburg who is sent to a village in KwaZulu-Natal to live with his grandmother while his parents are sorting out their marital problems. As a city boy who is not accustomed to doing household chores, Siyabonga struggles to adapt. He discovers the power of words as he reads letters that put a smile on people’s faces, until one day, a letter with bad news lands in his hands.

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