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Ethiopia’s First Academy Award Submission

Ethiopia's First Academy Award Submission

This year for the first time in history, an Ethiopian film, The Athlete aka Atletu (ISA: Arrow), has been submitted to the Academy for consideration for the Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film. Over the years, the Best Foreign Language Film Award has been given almost exclusively to European films: out of the 62 awards handed out by the Academy since 1947 to foreign language films, fifty-one have gone to European films, five to Asian films, three to films from the Americas, and three to African films (1969 Z from Algeria directed by Costa Gavras who is French, 1976 Black and White in Color directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud who is French, and in 2005 Tsotsi by Gavin Hood who is South African). Nominated in 1983 was Le Bal from Algeria directed by Ettore Scola, 1995 nomination was Rachid Bouchareb’s Dust of Life from Algeria and in 2006 again Rachid Bouchareb received a nomination for Days of Glory. His Hors de loi is in this year’s submissions as well. In 2004 Darrell Roodt’s South African film Yesterday was nominated. As you see, even the African films rarely had an actual African director (Gavin Hood, Bouchareb and Darrell Roodt).

This rare occurence could mean a tremendous amount to all Africa already a focal point of attention by European film institutes and to a lesser degree by U.S. This will be the subject of another blog.

Just as the story of the Olympic Champion Runner during the Rome Olympics in 1960 who was from Ethiopia and won in his bare feet took hold of all Africa and the world, so the actual nomination of this film will be a landmark. Abebe Bikila became a sports legend. A hero in his own country and to the continent, Bikila was the first black African to win a gold medal. Four years later and just five weeks after an operation for appendicitis, Abebe successfully defended his Rome gold at the ’64 Tokyo Olympiad, winning by the widest margin in history and becoming the first person to win consecutive Olympic marathons. This soldier and quiet son of a shepherd is considered by many the greatest long-distance runner in history. But that was just the beginning of his life’s adventure. When an accident ruined his running career, he still planned a comeback at the Munich Games in four years, meanwhile competing in archery and in dogsled races.

Made jointly by Ethiopian and American filmmakers, Rasselas Lakew (who also stars) and Davey Frankel, the movie was shot on 35mm film from the Arctic Circle to the Equator, by a crew representing 10 nations. Having raised initial funding and with a crew of just five, Frankel and Lakew began shooting in Beitostolen, Norway. Following the success of the Nordic experience, the team was able to raise additional funding and organized the next piece of the production. In an even more ambitious undertaking than Norway, Lakew and Frankel brought only a skeleton crew to Ethiopia to shoot the next portion of the script. The crew built a production and production services from the ground-up, established a formal casting process, developed its own craft-service company and, in a garage in Addis Ababa, even built its own process trailer (a specialized car-trailer used in driving shoots). This unique Ethio-American collaboration successfully captured the essence of the film’s main character and his world of ancient serenity and majestic landscapes.

Atletu (The Athlete) premiered at the 2009 Edinburgh Film Festival to sold-out audiences and was chosen “Best of Fest.” The film went on to show at the Montreal World Film Festival where it received a glowing, full-page review in the Montreal Gazette, and received a strong recommendation from Time Out Chicago at the Chicago International Film Festival while U.S. premiering in conjunction with the Chicago marathon.

The film went on to win the “Lions Award” at the 2010 International Film Festival Rotterdam, It was named “Best Film” at the CinemaAfrica Festival in Stockholm, won the “Special Jury Prize” at the Nashville Film Festival, “Best of Fest” at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, and Audience Awards at the Berkshire International Film Festival, Africa World Documentary Film Festival and at the Festival de Cine Africano de Tarifa, Spain.

About the filmmakers
Davey Frankel is a NYC filmmaker and aural-visual artist based in Berlin. His work in film and with music has been shown in museums and numerous film festivals worldwide. Davey has created visual pieces for Academy Award winners, Ang Lee, Tan Dun and Howard Shore. He has performed these aural-visual creations with symphony orchestras and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, all around the globe and in the world’s greatest concert halls: Carnegie Hall, the Royal Albert Hall and the Sydney Opera House among them.
Also the film’s editor, Atletu (The Athlete) is Frankel’s debut feature film.

Rasselas Lakew, an Ethiopian-American born and raised in Addis Ababa – Ethiopia, attended Montana State University Film School where he made his first short film called, “En Route to Darkness.” Rasselas works between Addis Ababa and New York City.
Also starring in the film’s main role, “Atletu(The Athlete)” is Lakew’s debut feature film.

For those interested in more Ethiopian updates read for Daily Ethiopian News, Ethiopian Discussion Forum, Ethio Chat.

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