April is World Autism Awareness Month – and a proudly South African crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo is asking for contributions towards a short film on the topic of autism acceptance starring a unique little hedgehog called Sam.
Conceived by Johannesburg-based animation studio MAAN Creative and writer Julia Smuts Louw, SAM THE HEDGEHOG is a short film concept that seeks to shed light on the experience of autistic children and their caregivers through the story of a hedgehog raised among sheep. The completed 12-minute short film will feature 2D characters composited into exquisite hand-crafted miniature sets.
Sam, the main character, is a little prickly, but other than that, his sheep parents, Mr and Mrs Mouton, are sure that he’s a perfectly ‘normal’ lamb. “Their journey as a family leads them to the realisation that there’s more than one type of person in the world,” explains director Michael Clark. “Sam is a hedgehog, and the world has a place for him, prickles and all.”
The aim of the crowdfunding campaign is to fund the next step of production, which is to build the sets and miniatures. Backers can choose from perks including lasercut props from the film, virtual studio tours, or even a ‘cameo role’ in the film, which means the team will design a background character to look like you or your child. All backers who give more than $15 will also receive advance screenings and, later on, hi-res downloads of the completed film.
The team have been working closely with Bellavista School and experts at other autism-related bodies to hone the story. “Getting the message right is something we take very seriously,” says Clark. The script, developed with the help of a National Film and Video Foundation grant, was nominated for a WGSA Muse Award in 2016.
“We’ve had great support from inside and outside the community,” says Clark. “Nickelodeon Africa are airing our promo throughout the month of April.” MAAN Creative’s staff animator, Rita du Plessis, who has Asperger’s Syndrome (a variant of autism) has also appeared on SABC Health Talk to promote the campaign.
Once the film is complete, the plan is to make it widely available, free of charge. The studio also plans to develop Sam the Hedgehog’s dedicated site into a resource of information helpful to those interested in autism acceptance.
Otherwise, email Team Sam at [email protected]