"We are 90% the same in the world. The 10% difference is based on where we live. The culture, political issues, or religions can separate us. When we make a film or write a script, whatever the language, we have to say something for everyone. We have to go everywhere, and that's why I'm here at Cannes to share my story and sell my film." - Hermon Hailay, Ethiopia
The Ethiopian Film Initiative (EFI), the International Emerging Film Talent Association (IEFTA), along with new partner the Better World Film Festival (BWFF) sponsored “From Addis To Cannes”, a unique program that sent five young Ethiopian filmmakers – four women and one man –on a week-long visit to Monaco and Cannes, during the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, for workshops, programs and events, including a Gala Benefit Dinner/Party in Monaco’s fabulous Villa Nocturne.
The filmmakers - Adanech Admassu, Hiwot Admasu Getaneh, Hermon Hailay, Yamrot Nigussie, and Daniel Negatu - were chosen from a significant group of applicants from Ethiopia’s promising film community through a targeted search focusing on emerging and mid-career filmmakers looking to further their careers and create international partnerships.
I had the honor of interviewing these empowered and fresh storytellers at the Mouton Cadet Wine Bar during one of my last days at Cannes. It was a refreshing experience, especially as it was my first time at Cannes. Before going to the festival, I didn't know what to expect and was concerned that it would be too "Hollywood" for me. I'm not one for pretention and star chasing at parties where people just go to be seen. Fortunately, these filmmakers (along with countless others) showed me that there's so much more to Cannes then the shallow side of Hollywood culture. These filmmakers represent the majority of festival attendees: true creatives from all around the world that go to observe, find new inspiration and friendships, and to share their stories with the greater international film community.
Aside from their stories and drive, they shared that there is no proper distribution for their films in Ethiopia. Local filmmakers have to distribute their films on their own and pitch them to the local cinemas. They'll show a film for three to four months if a filmmaker is lucky enough to get picked up.
The momentum of Ethiopian
film distribution has been building over the past eight to ten years; the
government and private sector is investing in new cinemas, and there's also the
Ethiopian diasporas in parts of Europe and the United States (especially in Los
Angeles, New York City and Washington DC) that prefer Ethiopian films over
Hollywood and European cinema.
Here's what they had to share about their projects and inspiration:
It's inspiring to be here at Cannes with many great filmmakers, producers, and the buyers and sellers of film. It has revitalized my spirit. Now I feel like I have all the energy to get my films out there in the world.
I'm mostly inspired by Ethiopian stories. There is not a fair representation of my country in global cinema, and I feel the responsibility as a young filmmaker to balance that out. If you Google Ethiopia, you see more bad news than good, and I choose to do my part in representing the good stories that I learned from my family while growing up. I want to share Ethiopia's culture and history. Filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard and Fellini have also touched me. It's not easy to access these films where I live, but I find them on the Internet or by DVDs brought to Ethiopia by travelers from abroad.
One of my films that I'm proud about is called Fighting With Father, about a teenager who blamed his dad for the death of his mom due to HIV. The son had deep hatred for his dad, and I used the film as a tool to help him understand his dad better. The two actually found reconciliation. It screened at Rotterdam and the Harvard Film Archive purchased it.
My new project is Desert Rain. It's a work in progress. It's a story about an Ethiopian who went to Saudi Arabia as a housemaid, and how she processes the unexpected brutality of this work situation.
My country inspires me to write stories. Most of the time, I'm interested in the social issues of Ethiopia. I focus on them in my films and TV dramas to open the conversations of healing and justice for the people of my country.
I'm inspired by the stories of girls and women, and have received two awards for my first film about the underage marriage of girls.
I came to Cannes with a documentary project about a Maasai woman who I met in Kenya. She had female genital mutilation at the age of nine, and she was her to marry as a fifth wife at the age of ten. She was clever enough to run away to the Catholic Church where she was taken into boarding school. When she finished school, she returned to her original village and built a kindergarten and primary school with the support of Nike. She also built a widows' village. She's an inspiration for Africans, but for all the women of the world.
Hermon Hailay's current project in production is about an Addis Ababa taxi driver who finds himself stuck in a relationship with a prostitute, making him confront his past and discover what is the ultimate price of love. This is what she had to say about why she is at Cannes:
We are 90% the same in the
world. The 10% difference is based on where we live. The culture, political
issues, or religions can separate us. When we make a film or write a script,
whatever the language, we have to say something for everyone. We have to go
everywhere, and that's why I'm here at Cannes to share my story and sell my
Hiwot Admasu Getaneh:
I'm working on two projects, one short film and one feature. The short is a coming of age story about a thirteen-year-old girl who lives in rural Ethiopia. She battles with her sexuality that clashes with her conservative society. It's about self-discovery and accepting her womanhood.
My feature is about a friendship between two teenagers: one from an Eritrean family and one from an Ethiopian family during the war between the two countries.
I'm inspired to share my
personal stories and the traditional stories that my grandmother told me as a
More about these filmmakers:
Adanech Admassu, one of Ethiopia’s most experienced female documentary film directors, has worked in some of the most remote areas of the country. She specializes in making films that give voice to the marginalized in the country. Adanech's own story reads much like her films: born to a poor family and growing up in the streets of Mercato, she left school at 16 and was destined to be a kolo (an Ethiopian form of popcorn) seller, when she was recruited to take part in GEM TV, one of the country's first community film schools. She will be pitching a story on female genital mutilation set in Kenya, about at the extraordinary life of the Maasai woman Hellen Nkuraiya, exploring together how attitudes are changing within the Maasai culture.
Daniel Negatu is a young experimental award-winning filmmaker with a strong humanitarian engagement. He will be pitching a story about a young Ethiopian man who is forced to come back to his home country after so long. He steps out in the streets of Addis Ababa for the first time in decades with only a backpack and a few hundred dollars in his pocket. He does not have the strength to call his parents nor the will to face his past.
Hiwot Admasu Getaneh, who learned the art of storytelling from her grandmother's traditional stories, often takes an experimental approach to her filmmaking. She prefers directing her own scripts and will be pitching a story about a thirteen-year old girl, Selam, discovering her sexuality against the backdrop of a very conservative society.
Hermon Hailay, one of Ethiopia’s leading female film writer/directors, with several critically and commercially successful films to her name, is currently in production of her third feature film. It tells the story of a young Addis Ababa taxi driver who gets caught up in the dark side of love, causing his taxi to be stolen. He finds himself stuck in a relationship with a prostitute, making him confront his past and discover what is the ultimate price of love.
Yamrot Nigussie, whose work stretches from directing documentary and television dramas to acting, is presenting a docu-drama story about the many challenges facing a 22-year-old Ethiopian house-maid returning from a harsh working environment in Saudi Arabia, and how she confronts them.