Ndoto, Africa’s first artificial intelligence (AI) film on climate change, is the brainchild of former CNN correspondent Zain Verjee and Grammy award-winning director Matthew Cullen. The film depicts the effects of climate change in Africa using AI, aiming to change how we view these effects. The film combines a beautiful and devastating approach to showing the dangers of climate change by depicting the gravity of climate change in Africa without relying on stereotypes.
According to industry reports, Africa contributes only 3% of greenhouse gas emissions, yet it faces the most risk from climate change. The continent has experienced severe loss of life, money, and property in the past three years due to drought in the Horn of Africa, floods in Nigeria and Mali, and the Sahara’s descent into the Sahel. The drought in the Horn of Africa alone displaced 1.5 million people. It killed 13 million livestock, making climate change the most important topic of our generation and an existential threat to humanity.
Ndoto was created in just a week using Runway ML, an AI video creator, and an in-house tool built by Mirada Studios, co-founded by Cullen and Guillermo del Toro, the director of Pacific Rim and The Shape of Water. The AI tools created thousands of images, but only a few made it into the final film. Verjee and Cullen preferred AI over traditional filmmaking methods because it allowed Africans to tell creative stories in an accessible way.
Using AI means that Ndoto was created in minimal time and with almost no cost, making it accessible to a global audience. The film proves that incredible work can be done with the precision of algorithms and the creativity of humans. The choice to use artificial intelligence was influenced by the need to display the impact of climate change on Africa without approaching it from a doomsday angle.
Verjee and Cullen have previously partnered on Unstoppable Africa, another film showcasing Africa, which was presented to the United Nations General Assembly and featured music from Grammy Award-winning musician Angelique Kidjo and Nigerian singer Mr Eazi. Verjee is also working on Wanja, an AI chatbot built with data curated by The Rundown, a communications agency co-founded by Verjee. Wanja was built using retrieval augmented generation, a technique introduced by Meta AI researchers, and can give users accurate information on Africa. Although yet to be available for public use, tests show that Wanja is knowledgeable about climate, sports, and the creative industry in Africa.
Verjee said, “We attempt to shape Africa’s storytelling using powerful, authentic, credible, and curated datasets of expertise that we allow a large language model to access.”