3 Teaspoons of Sugar is one of those rare films that manages to be educational without being preachy, emotional with being cheesy, and heartwarming without being saccharine. This triumphant animated documentary follows the lives of three generations of women all impacted by diabetes.
The animator, Kabelo “Cabblow” Maaka, founder of Cabblow Studios, brilliantly interweaves interviews that help define the narrative with medical explanations from Dr. T, the animated version of her mother, Dr. Tshepo Maaka. With the goal of forging a genuine connection with the audience so they can inform viewers on effective diabetes management practices, this mother-daughter team has created a truly unique work of art. 3 Teaspoons of Sugar originally debuted on World Diabetes Day (November 14) in 2019, and went on to screen online as part of the 2020 Annecy International Animated Film Festival this past June.
I caught up with the creators to get a look at their creative process, the film’s impact, and what’s next for this innovative team.
Read the full interview below:
Marley Crusch: What drew you to animation rather than live action?
Dr T: My daughter is a qualified animator and since we are an animation studio, the choice was obvious. The heart and the kidneys that were depicted in 3 Teaspoons, were easier to depict using animation rather than live action.
MC: How did you decide on the art style?
Kabelo: My innate drawing skill and capability, the need to have detailed characters animated that are based on real-life characters with minimal backgrounds, a style that could be duplicated by other team members and the speed with which we needed to conclude this film.
MC: Why a documentary rather than a fictional narrative?
Kabelo: The story is based on real lives of my family, so I wanted to leverage on the documentary style of telling a true story with the imaginative strength of animation to depict a true lived experience
MC: What would you say are your artistic influences for this film?
Kabelo: I first found out about an animated documentary while I was still a student and I fell in love with the style
MC: What was the most exciting part of making this movie?
Dr T: Working with my daughter as a team and getting to combine our skills sets in clinical medicine and animation to bring this film to life. I got to get a refresher course in diabetes while researching this film, and lastly doing something that was never done before was very exciting to me, in that we used real life voices of the real life characters of my family members depicted in the film.
MC: What was the most challenging part of the creative process?
Dr T: The tight deadline we had set for ourselves and the fact that I was such a novice in the making of this film that my production skills were challenged. I only got to see the film on the morning that it was to be released, needless to say I was biting my nails until the very end.
Kabelo: Coming up with the idea and committing to a storyline while looking to finish on time when the deadline was tight.
MC: What has been the impact of the film so far?
Dr T: We have heard people from Virginia to India saying how it has simplified the message of diabetes and how it has relayed the message in a very warm, yet factual way that was relatable.
MC: A few interviews mention the impact of the pandemic on the release. Has the response been what you’d hoped?
Dr T: Our original plan was to do a country wide tour of the film, first in South Africa ,with a health event where people were to be tested for diabetes before or after watching the film, and we could not do that because of the lockdown and the pandemic. We have, however, through Annecy, gotten such an exposure for our film that we are now looking at alternative ways to have the film seen, especially over the November month which is World Diabetes Day and yes, regulations permitting, we will do that in the future.
MC: What are some of your favorite cartoons or animated movies?
Dr T: The Lion King, Popeye the Sailorman, Tom and Jerry, Cinderella, and Tangled.
Kabelo: Mulan, Tarzan, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Kubo and the Two Strings, and a Japanese animation called From Up on Poppy Hill.
MC: What’s next for this creative team?
Dr T: We are currently working on our dream project, “The Fam”, an animated reality series. We are also in pre-production of a sequel to our short film, called “The Little Teaspoon of Sugar” and we have created a medical short segment called “Dr T’s Nuggets” and lastly we are working on 2 COVID-19 projects
MC: Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
Dr T: We need to create animated content for adults where animation is used to educate and change behavior. I am excited at the embrace medical animation is getting through our film.Our fundamental value is to create films with a purpose and going where no one has ever been before. Our selection at Annecy made all the difference and we are eternally grateful for that opportunity.