Students Create Animated Short with Oscar-Nominated Filmmaker

Cori Shepherd Stern, an American filmmaker, was looking for Rwandans to create an animation to accompany her Oscar-nominated documentary "Open Heart," about Rwandan children sent to Sudan for heart surgery.

So she did what most people do these days: she Googled "Rwanda" and "animation." When she came upon ADMA students' animation work for the Know Zone Rwanda, Cori knew she'd found her animators. She hired a student-run company called Mento Pro Ltd. – recent winners of a $20,000 Rwanda Media Hub grant – and spent four weeks working with ADMA students.

Children watch "Rooster Says: Child Heart Health" at an outdoor screening in Bugesera, Rwanda, on September 10, 2014. Photos by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/ADMA

Children watch "Rooster Says: Child Heart Health" at an outdoor screening in Bugesera, Rwanda, on September 10, 2014. Photos by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/ADMA

"Our main challenge was time," said Oscar Niyigena, director of Mento Pro and an animator and editor on the cartoon. "Some days we worked until 3 a.m. But it was cool. If you have to deliver to a client, you do it."

The resulting short animation, called “Rooster Says: Child Heart Health,” stars a megaphone-toting rooster who urges his animal neighbors to be vigilant against strep throat, which can lead to rheumatic heart disease (RHD). RHD is the ailment that afflicts the Rwandan children in Cori’s film. Virtually eliminated in the west, RHD is an easily prevented disease that afflicts 8-10 million children throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Cori was thrilled when she first watched the final animation.

"I think my exact quote was 'Wow! I love it !! Be proud of this work!!' I worked in animation in Los Angeles for a long time and I don't think I've ever had that strong of a happy reaction before," Cori wrote in a recent email. "I couldn't wait to share it with people. I actually cried when I saw the final version, I was so happy."

Both the documentary and the animation screened on September 10, 2014, in the hometown of one of the girls in Cori’s film. The glow from the inflatable movie screen lit up the faces of a couple hundred moviegoers. Some sat but most stood in the dirt road, transfixed by the films. Afterward, people said they learned things they never knew about sore throats and medical care. One woman said that even if her house had been robbed while she was watching the films, it would have been worth it for what she saw and learned.

"It was the first time many people saw a Kinyarwanda animation produced by Rwandans. They liked it so much," said Oscar. "I like that people appreciated what we made. I feel encouraged to work hard and get more projects like that."

"Rooster Says" will show at all screenings of "Open Heart" worldwide. The animation will also be on DVDs that will be distributed and shown at 600 health centers and hospitals in Rwanda. In addition, Cori said Rwanda's Ministry of Health would like "Rooster Says" to be used exclusively as the face of future health-related animations.

To learn more about rheumatic heart disease, visit:

Partners-in-Health: http://www.pih.org/blog/childhood-rheumatic-heart-disease
Open Heart Film: http://openheartfilm.com/about/the-story/

A couple hundred people attended the screening of "Rooster Says: Child Heart Health" and "Open Heart" in Bugesera, Rwanda, on September 10, 2014.

A couple hundred people attended the screening of "Rooster Says: Child Heart Health" and "Open Heart" in Bugesera, Rwanda, on September 10, 2014.

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This project was produced by The Strongheart Group, supported by a grant from Stories of Change, a project of Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program supported by the Skoll Foundation. 

Animation produced by Mento Pro Ltd at the Africa Digital Media Academy under WDA, Rwanda. Created in consultation with the Government of Rwanda, Ministry of Health.

Students who worked on the short animated film:

Clement Byiringiro M.
Steve Gatera
Seth Habimana
Cedric Hakizayezu
Patrick S. Ndaruhutse
Cyril Ndegeya
Oscar Niyigena