Ethiopia Film Industry: What went wrong
This week presented itself with the GUMMA FILM AWARDS, an Ethiopian movie award whose aim is to acknowledge and honor the best performing films and artists in the country. The event shines a light on the forgotten film Industry and was able to attract some attention from the public. I am among those whose attention was caught by the event. I have been an admirer of cinema and movies ever since my dad bought a 14-inch Philips tv when I was ten years old. Back then I was just amazed at the fact that big people were able to fit in such a small window. I didn’t care about the content but was only amazed by the technology. If my memories serve me correctly, my first taste of a movie came with a movie called ‘I AM DAVID’.
It tells the story of a young boy who, with the help of a prison guard, escapes from a concentration camp in an unnamed Eastern European country and journeys to Denmark. What a fascinating introduction to the Cinema world it was for me. Fast forward fifteen-plus years of consuming countless Movies and tv shows, I became too focused on the Industry that I eventually made some effort to be part of it. Me and my friends made skits and short movies in high school. Eventually, when I joined university, I practiced Software like Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects in hopes, it would become my doorway to the sector. After completing university, my passion for cinema and video content did land me on production jobs. I have been a cameraman, director, and motion graphics designer. Nowadays, I am very selective in the content I choose to watch. My perception and understanding have changed along the way which I, unfortunately, can’t say the same for the Ethiopian Film Industry in general.
Cinema is a beautiful lie presented in a way that triggers your senses. Film Industry has been a multi-billion-dollar business, take for instance The U.S. motion picture and video production and distribution industry whose estimated total revenue in 2018 amounted to 69.9 billion U.S. dollars. In this article, we take a look at why the Ethiopian film Industry didn’t go as far as it should have and what we as consumers ought to do.
Film making is a team effort and each footstep you take forward will depend on how you landed the previous one. It all begins with a good script. Our stories are usually repetitions of over-glorified love stories unable to reflect the real-life depiction of people on the streets of Ethiopia have. A cliché storyline with no relatability at all.
Makes you wonder if it’s the same person writing all the movie scripts in the country or whether the assumption the writers have is to stay in one lane as a rule of thumb? either way, it is frustrating for the audience to be treated with the same storyline but different actors each time you pay to see a movie. Predictability is not a good sign for a movie or tv show. In fact, you need the audience to be asking questions and wondering what is happening. The role of the writer is to imagine ways to surprise the audience with each turn and put in little hints of information to keep the audience guessing. Storytelling requires careful handling of setting, clever character development, interesting story arcs, and resolutions. I recommend our writers to experiment with different story structuring methods and touch on the several movie genres because surely, their old way of repeating the same story over and over won’t work in this day and age.
Let’s assume we fixed our stories somehow and are presented with an engaging and cleverly put-together script, although the steps do vary from one project to another, generally, the next step is pre-production. This is the phase where you would narrow down the options of production. It is where all the planning takes place before the camera rolls and sets the overall vision of the project. Pre-production also includes working out the shoot location and casting. The producer will now hire a Line Manager or Production Manager to create the schedule and budget for the film.
Casting in Ethiopia is not done professionally. I have friends who are Directors although it’s very questionable if they are really, who tell me the process of hiring actors. Commonly, how it’s done is the producer reads the script and decides who should play the role and the casting process is thrown out the window. Additionally, it’s a very common thing for one person to be the Director, Cinematographer, Cameraman, and sometimes even an Actor all at once. In Ethiopia you don’t need education or experience to be called Cinematographer or Director, it’s all a matter of what you think about yourself. For most, it is a mere title than it is a responsibility and a role. This culture has produced countless so-called professionals that have neither educational background nor proper experience for their role resulting in cliche movies with no real cinematic technique.
Most of the camera placements and movements are unintentional and there is no motivation involved. Simple as 1 plus 1 you are told to put Camera A in front of actor A and Camera B in front of Actor B. Blocking is rarely used and Movements of actors in relation to the camera are random and unmotivated, to say the least. Some movies have put the effort into incorporating visual effects, although I admire the effort, the execution has a long way to go.
The Industry has to be led by real professionals with experience. Film making is a very technical profession. It requires delicacy and a deep understanding of storytelling. I believe if everyone involved admit the challenges and work on building a better story and towards better pre-production and production, the industry might revive and finally enter the Global film industry.