Abraham Gezahegn is a prominent Ethiopian film maker. In addition to the immense popularity he enjoys domestically, Abraham has won various international film awards. With strong script writing and directing skills, he represents a rare quality in Ethiopia’s weak film sector. Ethiopian films have been attracting a very small amount of viewers over the past few years. Distribution, screening and copy-right related issues have also weighed down on Ethiopia’s already struggling craft. Abraham seems to have found a way around the problem by venturing outside of the country. Kiya Ali profiles the talented film maker.
Anteneh, a well-known author who used the pen name Ezera Ejigu, is surrounded by a number of problems. Although he used to be a cheerful guy before his wife passed away a year ago, he has now become a worrier as he has a number of issues to think about. Financial problems are at the top of his problems. He could not pay the school fee for his child; neither could he settle the rent. He is having a hard time making ends meet. But he keeps pretending and looks happy in front of his only child – Leul. What makes the situation more difficult for him is the injustice around him. The distributor of his book has not been willing to pay him, despite the sales success the book has proved to be. Despite his high scores that would merit a scholarship, Leul’s school expelled him because the tuition fee was not settled in time. The bigger problems were still ahead as a speedy driver hit Leul on his birthday during the night and disappeared instead of helping him out. As a result, Ezera’s child died. Then Ezera vowed to avenge his son’s death, though he had no clue who the culprit was. So begins ‘Yegir Esat’, a drama series broadcasted on EBS television channel every Wednesday.
Yegir Esat is one of the works of script writer and director Abraham Gezahegn. In Yegir Esat, Abraham criticizes the injustice in society. “I believe there are numerous accounts of injustice in our community that can be seen in our day to day activities. They can range from minor things to the most difficult ones,” remarked Abraham. He pointed out that talking behind someone, condemning instead of trying to understand people, cheating, denying the truth out of fear and self-gain, belated sympathy and generosity, using people as stepping stones and taking justice up on oneself through revenge are some of the manifestations of injustice in the society. Abraham uses movies and Television drama to denounce these manifestations.
Growing up around Bole, Abraham attended his primary and secondary education at Bole community primary school and Bole high school respectively. Upon completing his high school education, he went to Addis Ababa University Sidist kilo campus and studied theatrical arts. Although Abraham’s childhood dream was to become a politician, he ended up being a script writer and director.
Abraham started reading books since his childhood. He says that Steve covey’s book, the seven habits of highly effective people, has helped him set his life goals, purposes and his true passion. “As an adult, the seven habits of highly effective people may not be among my favorite types of books. However, being exposed to such a book at an early age has helped me figure out what I really wanted to be. That is why I dropped the idea of becoming a politician and decided to join the theatrical arts department at the university,” he explained. Abraham got the inspiration to write a movie script from a movie called ‘Athletu’ (the Athlete), a story about the internationally renowned Ethiopian Athlete Abebe Bikila.
Lomi Shita is Abraham’s first movie. Lomi Shita is an adaptation of Adam Reta’s book of the same title. The story is about a lawyer who witnessed at young age the injustice committed by the society on his mother. The movie went on to win more than 10 awards in local and international film festivals including Guma, Ethiopian Film Festival and the East African film festival. The number of people who watched it while it was on screen was, however, very few. “By the time Lomi Shita was on screen, cinema owners prioritized comedy films. As a result, it was difficult to find cinemas to show it. This was one of the factors that contributed to the reduced number of viewers,” Abraham stated.
One of the main obstacles that hinder the growth of the Ethiopian film industry is the unnecessary involvement of cinema owners. Abraham noted that the fact that they share half of the income generated from showing films discourages producers. “Such action discourages producers from investing more on their movie and forces them focus on minimizing cost. 20 to 30pct should be enough and it would help the sector flourish. When the film industry grows, they can grow by expanding their business,” stated Abraham. As a result of the focus of cinema owners on comedy, producers who focus on other genres are either forced to refrain from producing a movie or reduce their frequency of production. The short sighted focus on one genre has come around to bite cinema owners as viewers got fed up and decided not to go to the movies; some cinema owners have gone out of business as a result.
Tax is another challenge Abraham raised. “Producers are obliged to pay 25pct of their income to the government in the form of tax. This is hurting the film industry as a whole and those who are involved in the sector in particular. If the government gives tax incentives instead of levying higher taxes on producers, it can collect more tax as many people will join the sector and start to produce more movies,” he said. Despite the tremendous challenges in the Ethiopian film sector, Abraham managed to produce his second movie called Yenegen Alweldem. Just like his first film Lomi Shita, the idea and story was adapted from a book called Sport and politics. The movie featured the famous Ethiopian journalist Birhanu Degafe in an acting role. “Abraham is the one who created me as an actor.
He has the ability to instill new skills and strengthen existing ones in actors and actresses,” Birhanu gave his testimony. Abraham disagrees. “Directors can only help actors and actresses perform in the best way possible and strength their skills. That is what I did for Birhanu. If he didn’t have the skills in the first place, where could I have brought them from?” Abraham inquired. In addition to Yenegen Alweldem, Birhanu participated in Yegir Esat as a leading actor and earned positive feedback from the audience.
“On Wednesdays and Sundays, I’m overwhelmed with calls and texts from Yegir Esat viewers. It has been widely accepted,” he proudly stated. The success of Yegir Esat is related with Abraham’s analysis before broadcasting the drama. “Before I started writing the script, I collected data and conducted a research on my target audience. This has helped me know the interest of my target audience and convey my messages accordingly,” he said.
Currently Abraham is working on another project that will be financed by foreigners and filmed in another country. “As the Ethiopian film industry is not attractive, it is an obligation to look for other alternatives to survive. If more artists are discouraged and start looking for work abroad, Ethiopia will cost a lot since all the income goes to other countries though the script is done by Ethiopians. To prevent such a problem from happening, the government and all other stakeholders should promote the Ethiopian film industry, provide incentives for various professionals involved in the sector; the artists themselves should also be creative and bring innovative solutions for the problems they face,” Abraham concludes.EBR