A belly flop can be a painful and very public failure, but not in this case.
Belly Flop won for best animated film at this year’s Africa Movie Academy Awards along with several other international animation awards. The film has already been screened at more than 60 international film festivals, according to producers. Just under five minutes long, the film took nearly three years in production but has been a passion project for over seven years.
The short film may not offer the social commentary of the animated short In a Heartbeat by Beth David and Esteban Bravo or more adult themes like Steve Cutt’s viral Rat Race, but it is a delightful picture of girlhood the world rarely ascribes to little African girls.
Directed by Jeremy Collins and Kelly Dillon, Belly Flop tells the story of the disarming Penny and her determination to conquer the dive board. With her fluffy hair, freckles and floral armbands, Penny refuses to be intimidated by a more graceful diver who steals the spotlight at the local pool.
“The character of Penny was inspired by a girl I au-paired for when I was at university,” said Dillon, who wrote the screenplay in 2011 already. “I remember when she started taking swimming lessons, I admired her persistence in learning to dive properly, oblivious that she kept belly flopping.”
Penny’s perseverance pays off in the end and in some ways she echoes the determination of the continent’s small but creative animation industry. Cape Town-based Triggerfish Animation Studios has produced award-winning African children’s films and cartoons with few resources and sheer willpower partly because they wanted African children to see themselves on screen. It’s also why Belly Flop is free on YouTube.
“Belly Flop was made as a creative exercise and for fun with a lot of people going above and beyond to volunteer their time to contribute their expertise in between paid projects,” Anthony Silverston, Triggerfish’s head of development told Quartz. “It was not a commercial project, so we wanted to release it for free so that anyone could watch it, keeping in the spirit of the project.”
This “spirit” reflects much of what drives the local animation industry and it’s what makes watching the short film worth it, notwithstanding its wonderful main character of course.
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