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Africa Film Today: Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Durban

Africa Film Today: Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Durban

These days there is much going on in African filmmaking.  Variety seems to be the only trade which covers the continent in a fairly consistent way.   If Ron Burkle succeeds in buying it, there will be more good news coming from the near moribund trade paper.  But read this article from August 6-12 on the ongoing activities of these African nations; it’s heartening. It includes Tom Twyker’s efforts in Nairobi, the Berlin Talent Campus in Durban, American Lee Isaac Chung’s Almond Tree in Rwanda (where its Film Festival is currently taking place), Mira Nair’s Maisha Film Lab in Kampala, Focus’ ongoing shorts production program Africa First.

Locarno Film Festival just awarded cash through its Open Door Film Lab to six west African features out of 12 chosen films from the French speaking sub-Saharan former colonies.

Not covered in the article is The International Emerging Film Talent Association (IEFTA) and the Ethiopian Film Initiative (EFI). Three talented young Ethiopian Filmmakers Henok Mebratu, Olisarali Olibui and Yidnekachew Shumete had a once-in a–lifetime experience when they spent a week in Monte Carlo and at the Cannes Film Festival, attending film screenings and premieres, participating in meetings, workshops, and seminars, and being feted at dinners and parties, and presenting their own work. Participants of an educational program sponsored by chosen after a rigorous competition among fellow Ethiopian filmmakers, the trio had the opportunity for the filmmakers to meet a range of influential distributors, sales agents, producers, directors and international film commissioners at the festival, and also for them to be given one-on-one sessions with film institutions, consultants, established producing & co-producing entities, and international distribution companies.  I was happy giving them an in-depth tour of the market where we were able to spot the sales agents with interest in African films and to talk with several of them.

Ambassador Tadelech Haile-Michael, a founding member of the EFI in Ethiopia, welcomed the news, calling it a chance to raise the international profile of Ethiopian films. “This is a great opportunity for Ethiopian filmmakers to establish themselves in the international marketplace,” she said. “I am also delighted they will be able to present some images of our beautiful Ethiopian landscapes and culture, and show the rest of the world what an attractive location Ethiopia can be for international filmmakers.”

The filmmakers were selected from a significant group of applicants emerging from Ethiopia’s nascent film community. The criteria for participation mandates that the filmmaker be an Ethiopian national living and working in Ethiopia at least 6 months of the year and have produced or directed one fiction or documentary short or feature film.   Prior to the filmmakers’ arrival in Cannes, they stopped in Monte Carlo – the home of the IEFTA – for preparation meetings as well as a benefit event, on May 19th, where their films were screened.

“This is the second time the IEFTA has brought filmmakers from Ethiopia to Cannes, and we are extremely excited about the caliber of this year’s finalists,” says Marco Orsini, current President of the IEFTA. “It demonstrates that there is a growing film market and community in Ethiopia that should be taken seriously. We are also very pleased in the partnership we have had with the Ethiopian Film Initiative which provides on the ground training in Addis Ababa and are looking forward to expanding our programs into other parts of the developing world.”

Henok Mebratuis an experienced filmmaker and a well-known figure among the Ethiopian creative community. His talents include directing documentaries and teaching media skills. In Cannes he will present a new movie drama he is working on. It tells the story of Kidist and Dawit, who were both raised abroad and whose lives are completely transformed by returning to Ethiopia to say farewell to their dying father.

Olisarali Olibui Tongolu co-produced an award-winning film, “Shooting with the Mursi”, which gives an intriguing insider’s view of his own tribe. In Cannes he will pitch his next project proposal “My Enemy, My Brother”. Filming has already started on this project, which will focus on issues facing neighboring tribes of the Mursi. The themes to be covered include uncontrolled tourism, climate change and land rights.

Yidnekachew Shumete Desalegn is a widely respected film director in Addis Ababa, as well as a cameraman, editor, teacher and scriptwriter. He has worked extensively in both fiction and documentary films. His first feature film “Siryet” (2007), achieved widespread popularity.  In Cannes he will pitch his upcoming film “Nishan” or Medal of Honour. It tells the story of Nishan, a young girl, who receives the rare opportunity of a visa to go abroad and change her life for the better. However, perplexing problems soon beset her.

“We’re very proud of our 2012 Ethiopian Film Initiative finalists,” states Mitch Levine, IEFTA Executive Consultant. “These filmmakers have demonstrated a passion for their art, excellence in filmmaking and a commitment to the advancement of Ethiopia’s – and Africa’s – filmmaking community. We are thrilled to host them for a week of education, workshops and screenings at the Cannes Film Festival and at the IEFTA’s base in Monaco.”

The IEFTA and EFI form an international / Ethiopian partnership committed to raising the professional standards of the Ethiopian film industry. The EFI provides capacity building support for Ethiopian documentary and feature film producers and directors as well as encouraging and training local and international entities to use local filmmakers.

The IEFTA – through its Global Film Expression and programs like the Ethiopian Film Initative – is dedicated to the discovery, nurture and promotion of filmmakers throughout the developing world.  The IEFTA has been supporting Emerging talent since 2006 and has been specifically supporting Ethiopian film since 2008. 

The VIP fund-raising event was held at a beautiful Belle Époque villa in the heart of Monte Carlo which was covered in an Architectural Digest feature on the Villa Nocturne mansion.  

Their experience began in Monte Carlo, the home base of the IEFTA, when they attended a Benefit Dinner in their honor at the beautiful Villa Nocturne hosted by IEFTA President Marco Orsini.  Funders and supporters of the IEFTA and EFI program were on hand as well as members of the international press and film industry who came in from Cannes for the event and to meet the filmmakers.   Actor Billy Zane (“Titanic”) flew in from the U.S. to support the event and to serve as mentor for the filmmakers. Marco Orsini, President of the IEFTA announced that Mr. Zane has joined the organization’s Advisory Board.  He also announced that in addition to the focus on Ethiopia (begun in 2008) and its filmmaking community, the IEFTA would also be broadening its educational outreach and support to include young emerging talent from other African nations beginning in Sierra Leone.
The next day was spent in workshops, and meetings preparing the three for theirtrip to the Festival in Cannes where they were to meet the industry.  Veteran Producer Mitch Levine guided them through discussions, trial pitching sessions and filmmaking workshops.  That evening at CREM in Monte Carlo, the filmmakers screened their short films, to the public, program supporters, and local Monaco media.  Following the screenings Billy Zane led the three in a discussion of their work, their filmmaking vision and the passion for their art, and commitment to the advancement of Ethiopia’s – and Africa’s – filmmaking community.
On to Cannes and the 65th Cannes Film Festival where the three were immersed in the industry.  From morning to night they traversed the Festival, guided by Mitch Levine.
I gave a tour of the market to Henok, Olisarali and Yidney in which we discussed the lack of people of African descent as well as of women in the festival offerings.  Olisari belongs to one of many, many tribes in Ethiopia and has traveled extensively in groups making films about aborigines.  His next film is My Brother, My Enemy.  Yidney has made a film about a young woman.  Their representing the unrepresented makes me an enthusiastic supporter of them, the IEFTA and of Marco for carrying on his work.
They met and spoke with industry professionals such as Co-Director of the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival Cameron Bailey and his team of programmers specializing in Africa; Film Fund representatives from France and Norway whose funding programs specifically benefit the filmmakers’ region; Film Commissioners and Film Festival directors and programmers from Scandinavia, Europe, India, Canada, U.S. and elsewhere to speak about co-production opportunities as well as presenting their work to the public; distributors and acquisition executives who explained what they were looking for from the global marketplace to bring to their countries and audiences; public relations and marketing executives, as well as journalists and many many others.  They had numerous opportunities of networking and attending receptions  – where the real work of the festival is done – and talked, met and mingled with the world’s film industry.
“As a filmmaker from a developing country, I used to wonder how things worked in the developed world,” says Yidnekachew Shumete, “and this trip gave me the inside look and on how industry professionals operate and how I can best use this new knowledge in my career. It was magnificent!  It will be interesting to see if things will be the same when I get back home?”
“I can simply say that these were the most efficient six days for my career,” says Henok Mebratu. “The experience has completely raised my confidence in the contexts of developing my work and pitching, selling, marketing and showing my films.  Now, better knowing how the film industry works, I can upgrade my products to meet international standards.”
“This trip to Monaco and Cannes was very impressive,” states Olisarali Olibui.  “I have travelled to a lot of festivals, but I have never seen this type of program with all the workshops, seminars, and meetings for a filmmaker.  I have learned a lot about distribution, co-productions, etc.  As an indigenous person – I can now be instrumental in helping other indigenous filmmakers.  It was so amazing.  I appreciate the EFI and IEFTA efforts – and for selecting my projects and me!!  It was very strong work, and was much more than just an organized visit  – but provided me with education, training and important contacts. I am looking forward to what the future will bring for this program and for me.”
Ambassador Tadelech Haile-Michael, a founding member of the EFI in Ethiopia, says, “I want to underline the unique opportunities brought to the Ethiopian filmmakers and the EFI by the Monaco and Cannes visit and that it is now up to them to pursue their contacts. This was a special new experience both for the filmmakers and myself and we all benefited.  Billy Zane’s participation and the commitment and kindness of the people working with IEFTA was so touching it has inspired me to work more to strengthen our common dream of the EFI.  Meeting heads ofinstitutions, film commissions, fund providers, film school directors and instructors and other different role players that can become EFI partners and help support in the creation of a film fund and/or a film school to benefit our emerging filmmakers was incredibly valuable.”

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