Ayam / The Days is an animated short by Sofia El Khyari about three generations of Moroccan women exchanging feelings and anecdotes while preparing the traditional ceremony of Eid Al Adha.
Our journey through African animation finds us in the heart and mind of El Khyari Sofia who invites us to have some tea, share a meal, and recount the stories of the two generations of women that moulded her.
In this cut-out animation, we discover a young woman born out of the sacrifices of her mother and grandmother. As they reflect their days, we learn about the efforts and the events that shaped the thoughts of these women on ideas from education to childbirth, and compare the cultural transmission of the three – past, present and future – taking away lessons on love, loss and happiness.
First things first, the women in Ayam / The Days
To each character, we find difference but not divergence.
The women around this dinner table have a harmony that runs through them, notwithstanding the variant periods and ideas they were raised into.
It was from the desire of her grandmother to learn that her granddaughter takes her education seriously. And where her mother shares the struggle in raising 2 children with an absent husband, Sofia’s grandmother – at the age of 40- was already widowed and raising 10 children. The resolve these women pass unto their child is the need to make sacrifices in order to secure the happiness of future generations. While education and culture play a strong role in this story, Ayam’s underlying theme is sacrifice; for the future, and in honour of the past
Hence the reference to the festival Eid-ul Adha ( the Feast of the Sacrifice). Upon realising this, you understand that this film is an ode to the strength, resilience and determination of the people that led to Sofia’s successes and shows a strong sense of appreciation and love.
In an interview with Stefanie Van De Peer of Morrocan Cinema, Sofia confirms that the dialogue was based on conversations she remembers from speaking with these women in her life although parts were crafted to better capture the story that she sought to tell.
Food tells the story
Looking at the tea as it spills into each cup is almost like watching the days and resolutions each woman made to be at this point, each character becoming the vessel of her story. From the same tea-pot, a line of Moroccan women is poured who have braved the heat to form something savory.
In the making of kebabs, we again see how each effort is passed and built upon to make the end results that are the women whom we have the pleasure of meeting.
The Art as a Character
Scattered across the frames, Ayam is saturated with the beauty of elaborately drawn sacred Morrocan geometry that immediately stimulates your visual senses and draws you into the richness and vibrancy of the culture portrayed. I see that El Khayri put her identity into her work but beyond going beyond the aesthetic to have these artistic elements perform a functional role.
For instance, her subtitles were types unto a cut- out in border made specifically for them so that they became part of the story and not seen as a post-production edit. The Geometrical shapes could reflect time ticking away, and the calligraphy used helped the audience transition from frame to frame, keeping her film in constant motion except where one needed to stop and listen.
Although short, the piece contained enough weight in the values it imparts and the craft of the film to sustain the audience. In watching and writing on this, I too began to reflect on my life and the sacrifices of those before me. I was reminded of how decisions we make can go on to impact tomorrow. But I think what excites me the most about this work is how such heavy thoughts can be so highly discussed over dinner (the miracle of food).
I will admit that the culture had me confused a bit since I thought we were reporting on African animation until I checked the background (and the map) and realised my own ignorance. The African continent has more to offer than we are used to and should take an active part in appreciating all that we have within us.
Let’s get a little technical
Ayam took form through cut-out stop animation techniques. Each frame had the creator drawing and snipping out her characters and the objects around them. Her incorporation of calligraphy had a functional role, allowing for the liquid transitioning between frames. It is also a nod to Sofia’s grandmother, who learned to read and write on her own.
Ayam, which was produced in only six months by Sofia during her tuition at the Royal College of Art has been screened at more than 25 film festivals and has won several awards too including Best Animation Film at FICP (2019), Best animation for adults, Animaevka (2019), Best of Fest, Animation Nights New York ( 2019), public award, winner of the Public Awards at FICAM Meknes (2018) and Paris International Animation Film Festival (2018).
Watch the beautifully crafted animated film below.