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Monday, July 12, 2010

Ethiopian films and the space challenge



By Alemayehu Seife-Selassie

Ever since the dawn of the new era of screening DVD films in cinema halls kicked off a few years back, the art of filmmaking has started to feel its heydays coming.

With Ethiopian-made films released almost every week, it looks like the filmmaking art is galloping on the highway of growing into an industry very soon. Yet, to the dismay of many filmmakers, the challenges of making a film are still pausing threats to the prospect of their blossoming. From among the challenges, one that would stand out is the space challenge. With no studio (venue) specifically built for making films, no standard editing rooms, and a very few number of cinema halls in Addis Ababa, filmmakers are facing a huge challenge when it comes to space.

Speaking of the challenges of finding space to make their films, makers are often heard complaining: “My film was a period film so the biggest challenge was finding a nearby countryside with no electric wires in sight. The ancient houses, having not been preserved and having been at times modified with new constructions on the side, have made it hard to film some scenes”, says Paulos Regassa the maker of Ashenge film. Ashenge shows the chemical massacre during the Italian invasion in the 1930s at the behest of the then punished "Chemical Mussolini". And the film is one of the few that showed an air raid. Paulos had to do digital retouches to cover the electrical wires which were non-existent in the intended timeframe.

“Most films are made in private residences and it would have been really great if proper settings were built for them,” says Paulos. But more than just the challenges of space the whole orientation and education of filmmaking is something he says will mitigate the problem. “When the films we are producing are not up to standard, they do not tend to tempt investors to build cinema halls,” he explains.

The space challenge in making films is not however limited to the production of films but to the post-production as well. The president of Alatinos Filmmakers Association, Yared Shumete explains the challenges their association faced over its four years of existence. “We used to gather around at the garden by the statue in front of Black Lion Hospital to conduct our meetings. Later we had got sponsorship from the Buna Best Dir Foundation, where we used their venue for two years. But as the management was changed we were told to pay for the hall,” he said. For the Alatinos Filmmakers Association, which has over 600 members, paying per meeting was too much. The association held three different meetings every week and was told to pay up 400 birr per meeting. Understanding that the task of promoting art belongs to the government, the association went and got itself a meeting hall from the Ministry of Youth and Sport. “We were given the venue of the Youth and Sport meeting hall. But there were frequent times where other meetings will be held and we will be told that the hall was being used for another purpose and we had to disperse the attendees,” Yared said. The inconsistency of the hall has driven some of the members away from the association and the organizers decided to get back to the garden. Today, the association is having a weekly meeting at the Pushkin Russian Cultural Center after the new director gave its permission to use it free of charge every Thursday of the week.

The three space challenges that filmmakers face are in the pre-production, production and post-production. As most filmmakers are heard complaining of the post-production screening challenges, very few talk about the pre-production. The one area that many would not even consider as a problem is the lack of venue for casting and rehearsals. Often filmmakers have to depend on the actors’ prior performances while casting them for their films. Thus, the chance of new and gifted actors being selected is slim.

Preventing filmmakers from taking long shots in the narrow rooms; the production rooms are often narrow. The lack of proper light or outlets that can support over 4,000 watts, which is a required power is the reason behind the poor lightings in most Ethiopian films. “There are some locations which are not allowed to be blocked while shooting. We were given the freedom of doing that in Bahir Dar for Abay vs Vegas. But here [in Addis Ababa] there are not that many alternative roads. So you would not be permitted to block a side of the road for a film shooting”, Yared said.

According to the filmmaker, the time that most filmmakers in Ethiopia choose to shoot their scenes is in the wee hours of the morning so as to avoid what is known as the panda eye effect [a shadow of the eye covering the eye]. That is mainly attributed to the lack of proper lights. The situation is even worse while shooting in narrow small houses. He explains that such problems have pushed the filmmakers to choose lavish scenes which are not a true representation of the reality in Ethiopia.
The one unique Ethiopian film that has dared to build 90 percent of its setting inside a warehouse is Siryet. The director of the film, Yidnekachew Shumete, explains that if there was a hall that was built for producing films, it would have made things much easier for them. “If you are making an independent film, like most of the world does, you will have to ask for friends’ house or you may have to rent some house. But if your budget is big, you will have the freedom to build the studio. Such studio helps you get the depth of field.” The filmmaker also explains that using the green background effect helps solve the space challenge. But the lack of experiment on the technique has prevented many filmmakers from using it.

The commonly addressed issue that many filmmakers complain of however is the lack of adequate cinema halls. Currently, there are over 40 Ethiopian films queuing up at cinema screens. Yidnekachew explains that the number of cinema halls is not met with the production quantity. “At times you have to wait for over a year to screen your film and that is a very somnolent thing. And the privately owned cinema halls do not have the capacity to accommodate a large crowd. Plus the time you might get to screen your films might be during odd hours.” But Ahenge’s director does not agree. “If you make a film that is irresistible you will get the venue for it. So it is up to us to enhance our skills and make quality films,” he says.

When it comes to the cinema halls, the one thing that is obvious is however, for a city like Addis Ababa which stretches in a wide diameter, most of the cinema halls being clustered in a certain area make them a bit hard to get to.

As each director is immersed in their own filmmaking, there are little times where they meet up and decide what they all need. The lack of filmmakers associations which has the financial backings to conduct some constructions is also another aspect that is still missing. The trend of the day for most small-scale businesspersons is forming share companies. Maybe when it comes to solving its problems; that is what the filmmakers might consider to form.

Source: EthiopianReporter

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