South African animation directors win NHK Japan Prize as local projects in the running for iEmmys

A scene from “The Smeds and the Smoos”. Picture: Supplied.

A scene from “The Smeds and the Smoos”. Picture: Supplied.

Published Nov 14, 2023


South African film-makers are hoping to follow in the winning footsteps of the Springboks as they count down to the International Emmy Awards in the US next week.

An unprecedented number of local projects are in the running at the awards, also known as the iEmmys, which is set to take place in New York City on Monday, November 20.

Chief among them is the South African team behind multi-award-winning children’s film “The Smeds and the Smoos”, which is nominated for Best Kids’ Animation at the prestigious international awards ceremony.

The film, which is now streaming on Showmax, is based on the book which is partly inspired by Brexit and dedicated to all the children of Europe. It is co-directed by South Africans Daniel Snaddon and Samantha Cutler, who worked together on the BAFTA-winning “The Snail and the Whale.

Narrated by Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins, from “The Shape of Water”, “The Smeds and the Smoos” tells the story of two warring families whose children, Bill and Janet, fall in love and run away together.

Hotly pursued by their grandfather, Smed (played by comedian Bill Bailey) and grandmother Smoo (Adjoa Andoh from “Bridgerton”), the two young aliens (Ashna Rabheru from “Sex Education” and Daniel Ezra from “All American”) lead their families on a chase across space, giving them the opportunity to find out they have more in common than they think.

“The Smeds and the Smoos” has already in 2023 won several prominent awards. This includes, among others, the Audience Award at the New York International Children’s Film Festival and the Rockie for Children’s Animation at BANFF.

Meanwhile, the film will join the likes of other South African projects which are also in the running at the iEmmys.

They include “Two Sides in the Best Sports Documentary category. The SuperSport series explores the British Lions and Springbok rugby tour which saved SA Rugby from financial ruin during the 2021 Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.

Meanwhile, “The Mandela Project” is nominated in the Best Short-Form Series category for the awards; “Takalani Sesame” as a Best Kids Factual nominee; and “The Dreamer – Becoming Karen Blixen”, which is produced in collaboration with South Africa’s Stage 5 Films.

Meanwhile, “The Smeds and the Smoos” is adapted by fellow South African Julia Smuts Louw from writer Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler’s best-selling children’s book of the same name.

Louw, who co-wrote Aau’s Song for “Star Wars: Visions Volume II”, and co-director Snaddon are married and the couple admitted that the lines between work and home life “became blurred during the project.”

“We have a 5-year-old Frank and a 3-year-old Sonya, so they’re right in the drop zone for the books,” Snaddon explained.

“These sorts of films tend to be more than a nine to five; they kind of end up being like a third child constantly demanding attention.”

A scene from “The Smeds and the Smoos”. Picture: Supplied

He added that Frank was about 4 years old during filming and this made him a perfect test subject for early storyboards. “He got to see a couple of builds of the film and one of the animatics went down well, because he asked to see it again,” Snaddon added.

The couple, through the help of their son, said they knew what to highlight on screen for other children to relate to. “We knew we had to make the reveal of the rocket quite a thing,” Snaddon said.

Meanwhile, Louw added that they were reading the books to their children often, which also made this project more special to them as a family.

“We’ve got these copies of Julia Donaldson’s books that are quite special because of the movies that Dan has worked on, like ‘Stick Man’, ‘Zog’ and ‘The Snail and The Whale’,” she said.

“They’re marked up with production notes, so they’re like artefacts from the films as opposed to just being kids’ books. I love these production volumes that are so intertwined with the process that lasts for a year of our lives.”

A scene from “The Smeds and the Smoos”. Picture: Supplied

Meanwhile, production for “The Smeds and the Smoos” began in 2021 during lockdown, which meant that the directors and the animation team had to collaborate daily via Zoom between South Africa, where they were leading the project, and the UK, where the majority of the crew were based at Blue Zoo.

“With the pandemic, a lot of South African artists have had the opportunity to work for overseas studios for the first time because people can work remotely,” Snaddon explained.

And while Snaddon and his co-director Cutler won’t be able to attend the iEmmys in New York, they will be in Japan where they will be accepting the NHK Japan Prize for Best Preschool Media.

And whatever the outcome at the iEmmys, Cutler said they are just thrilled to have been nominated.

“It makes me overjoyed that all the beautiful hard work is being recognised,” she said.

“I hope that through an award like this, we can reach an even wider audience and bring them something heart-warming.”