Encouraging Film to Flourish in Ethiopia
In the past, the small, struggling film industry in Ethiopia has been hampered by a lack of funding and formal instruction. Sarah Pollak-Hoffman reports on efforts by U.S. based media education group, Sharing International and The Sandscribe Foundation to offer support. In May the two organisations offered a 10-day film workshop in Addis Ababa.
A three person team from the United States went to Addis Ababa to train more than 35 young, aspiring Ethiopian filmmakers. Some were complete novices and others already producing for TV and film. The students were incredibly bright, enthusiastic, and hungry to learn.
"I had the privilege to work with passionate young media professionals in the spirit of the African ‘griot’, the story-teller entrusted with the history and culture of their people," said instructor, Dr. Chuck Pollak. Pollak is a visiting professor at Queens College in North Carolina and the President of Sharing International as well as a member of the Institute’s Council.
After several days of intense classroom instruction, the students were broken in to field production groups to work on three short 8-10 minute films. Each script focused on principles held dear in the Oromo culture; family, honour, reciprocity, and the triumph of the human spirit. “Even though the workshop was so intense and the production schedule was a bit ambitious, helping the students to produce three short films in such a short time was an amazing success,” Dhaba Wayessa, President of The Sandscribe Foundation, said.
“It was probably the hardest, most challenging international experience I’ve had in my life, but one of the most rewarding professionally,” said another workshop instructor, Dr. Vic Costello of Elon University. “I’ve never done anything like this before in the USA or abroad. But this was incredibly gratifying for me.”
I was the third instructor during the workshop. While my expertise is mainly in journalism, effective storytelling is something I have been doing for years. It was so wonderful to help these brilliant young film makers tell the stories that matter most to them. One of the films produced by the students was chosen to be featured at a film festival at the University of Maryland on 29 July.
Costello is currently producing a documentary called “Young Filmmakers of Ethiopia” that chronicles the ten day film workshop experience and discusses the unique challenges faced by cinematographers in Ethiopia. It is expected to be released in December 2017. Plans are underway for another film workshop in May 2018.