This week, a much-anticipated, six-part series of short films called “African Folktales, Reimagined” premiered in Nairobi, Kenya, and on Netflix.
The anthology of films based on traditional African folk tales is a partnership between Netflix and UNESCO, which has been putting a spotlight on the growth of Africa’s film industries.
Tendeka Matatu, director of film in Africa at Netflix, said the goal of the partnership is celebrating African storytelling and celebrating heritage.
“Folk tales have always been an important way of passing culture and heritage and the values, you know, from generation to generation,” he added.
Last year, Netflix and UNESCO launched an Africawide contest to seek out emerging filmmakers. According to Netflix, they received around 2,000 submissions, which were narrowed down to six finalists.
“We've got six short films from six different countries. So, from Mauritania, from Uganda, from Kenya, from Tanzania, from South Africa, and from Nigeria,” Matatu said.
“Each of the stories really speaks to something that is specific and local to those countries,” he continued.
One of the filmmakers, Voline Ogutu, drew from a traditional Kenyan folk tale for her film “Anyango and the Ogre.”
“It was this fun, scary story about an ogre that is determined to eat children. But then, the children have been taught a song by their mom or their dad in some stories to make sure they don’t open for the ogre by mistake,” she explained.
Ogutu said she heard this tale many times as a child.
“This is a story you grew up hearing. This is a story that was in exam papers at some point. Growing up, we had literature classes, and we would have different folk tales within those exam papers.”
In her short film, Ogutu puts a futuristic spin on the tale, and reimagines it as a story about a woman dealing with gender-based violence.
“The ogre represents not just the man who is tormenting her and her kids. It also represents the society that is reinforcing that environment and kind of making women feel like they have to stay in such environments to endure several ogres in their lives,” she said.
Another one of the films in the anthology comes from Mauritania, where filmmaker Mohamed Echkouna grew up.
His short film “Enmity Djinn” is inspired by djinns, which are known as genies in some parts of the world.
“Djinn in Islam in general, or the way we view them in West Africa, where I grew up, is this hidden spirit that [does] not interact with humans. But there are these stories of humans using them for either evil or good,” he explained.
Echkouna said he also grew up hearing different folk tales of djinns as a child.
“At the end of every story is basically, don't do this to your brother or don't do this to your sister, or friends shouldn't be like that,” he said.
“So, there's always like a moral at the end of these stories that children learn from.”
Echkouna said he grew up in the Sahara Desert, in a small village of about 15 families. He recalls not watching his first film until he was 12 years old.
Now, his Mauritanian film will be viewed on a platform with millions of subscribers from around the world.
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