It’s also not an easy place to make a movie, but that didn’t stop filmmaker Yared Zeleke, whose first feature film, “Lamb,” was also the first Ethiopian film ever to be selected at the Cannes Film Festival.
“Film is hard no matter where you are, but in a place like Ethiopia, what’s difficult becomes almost impossible,” admits Zeleke.
“There are so many difficulties facing young filmmakers in Ethiopia today. There aren’t proper support systems in the country. We have to work on that, and I hope Lamb will open the minds and hearts of all Ethiopians to nurture real storytelling and cinema in this country,” he adds.
According to the country’s filmmakers, the biggest challenge facing the industry is that, well, there is no industry.
“I spend from my pocket… I have other businesses, that’s why I survived. There are a lot of filmmakers in Ethiopia who are really trying to do it without any profit,” admits Arsema Worku, whose film, Imnet, is one of the most popular in Ethiopia right now.
“There are no sponsors for filmmaking because most of the investors would rather spend on other aspects,” she says.
Despite the lack of funding, there are many still determined to nurture the talent that does exist in the country. Addis Ababa University, for one, has recently added a film program to its curriculum.
“(The film industry) is at graduate level, but it’s progressing,” says Behaila Wassie, a film student at the university.
“There are some entertaining, visionary filmmakers coming. Hopefully, we are going to give a lot to the world.”
Lamb: The love story?
Zeleke was forced to leave Ethiopia for America when he was 10, and it was a move that he mourned at the time.
“Everybody was telling me, ‘you’re so lucky,’ but I remember distinctly the day I left there was this heaviness, this lump in my throat,” he recalls.
“I didn’t understand why I was leaving my grandmother, my family, my country, my home. It was really confusing for me. The American dream was more like an American nightmare.”
For him, Lamb — which was filmed in the rural village of Kissoye, and which tells the story of a boy hoping to save his pet from slaughter — was partly an homage to his home and partly a way of processing grief (his grandmother passed away before he returned to Ethiopia).
“When she passed away, that’s when I really started thinking about this story. It was a way of coping with my loss and so I just came up with the story of a kid leaving his home.”
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