Adaptations Adding Flavor to Ethiopian Cinema

The popularity of book-to-film adaptations is rising. Popular books are frequently adapted into movies and television shows because studios want to capitalise on a successful idea that already has a following, bringing it to a larger audience. Georges Melies, a pioneer who paved the path for numerous film methods, is credited with creating the first known footage of a book-to-film adaptation. In 1899, he produced two adaptations: Cinderella, based on the Brothers Grimm tale, and King John, the first film known to be based on Shakespeare. His other work is based on the English author H. Rider Haggard’s adventure tale, Her. The practice is also being adapted into Ethiopian cinema, writes EBR’s Trualem Asmare.

Ethiopia’s rich literary history spans millennia, filled with folktales, stories, and poems that have been handed down through generations. Ethiopian literature is currently developing and expanding, with a number of well-known authors writing in Amharic and English, as well as a broad range  of new genres like fantasy, science fiction, and romance.

One piece of literature that has always been presented as a testimonial to this rich literary history is Fikir Eske Mekabir, loosely  translated to “Love until the End”. Written by the late Haddis Alemayehu, this epic romance drama is remembered fondly by Ethiopians aged 35 years and older.

For those young people who may have missed this monumental literature piece, they might still have a chance to catch it in the form of a movie. Sewmehon Yismaw and his colleagues  are working with EBC, the national public service broadcaster, on a project worth roughly ETB 42 million to adapt Fikr Eske Mekabir into a movie. The author’s family is contesting the team of artist over rights, but if and when it happens, the adaptation will be one of a kind as a piece of art and as a practice in general.

Book-to-film adaptations are often based on books with wide popularity, well-liked by many readers and widely purchased. Making a movie out of a book also depends on the professional’s background, and their ability to modify the book and make it suitable for the screen.

Based on Adam Reta’s novel Etemete Yelomi Shita, Yelomi Shita is one of several books that have been made into films, directed by Abrham Gezahegn and other well known directors.      The protagonist is a lawyer who saw his mother being treated unfairly by society as a little child.

The film Yenegen Alwodim is also an adaptation of an Amharic book. The movie, which is based on a true story that took place in Addis Abeba in 1978, shows how young people managed their political engagements during the Red Terror campaign. It serves as a reminder of the brutal Bolshevik era and shows how they perceived the death of the real and ideological opponents of the Marxist Derg government cadres.

In more recent years, we see Zeresenay Berhane Mehari’s 2019 play Sweetness in the Belly, which is based on Camilla Gibb’s self-titled book. The story of religion, politics, and love alternates between Ethiopia and England, depicting England as departing from Ethiopia when the civil war breaks out. Ethiopia’s Harar is where the play “Sweetness in the belly” was produced. Yohanna Ephrem and Zeritu Kebede, two actresses from Ethiopia and Hollywood, are among the performers.

Fitsum Kibret, writer and director, who recently had a new film out entitled Lebana Leba, says adaptations have challenges. He explains how it might be a challenge to adapt Fikir Eske Mekabir as every reader imagined the characters’ strength, beauty and weakness      in their own way. He reflects: ‘The director should be able to create a character that reconciles with the imagination of all readers.’

  “When a book is adopted into a movie, people who have not read the book would get the chance to see the story.” Fitsum says. “The second is for the author as it gives satisfaction when he sees his creation in motion, allowing him to earn an additional source of income.’’

Many new television series and motion pictures nowadays are either closely or loosely based on their literary predecessors. At the UK Box Office, movie adaptations of books bring in 44Pct more money. According to research commissioned by the Publishers Association and produced by Frontier Economics, movies based on books often enhance sales and a full 53Pct more globally than movies from original screenplays.

According to studies, one of the main benefits of turning a book into a movie is watching the characters come to life and giving your imagination a sense of reality. When reading a book, many individuals struggle to imagine the characters and settings, but watching a movie makes it quite easy to do so. Finding and appealing to a larger audience is yet another fantastic justification for making books into movies. Hardly everyone enjoys reading books; in fact, many people find it difficult to do so; nonetheless, they almost universally find enjoyment in watching movies. What’s more, language might be a hurdle when it comes to books; a brilliant narrative might have been written in a tongue we don’t know.

Films that are based on books also offer a unique viewpoint since the directors often add      their own touches and take some creative liberties. This offers the audience a fresh perspective, especially for those who have already read the book. In addition, a movie lasts around two hours as opposed to hundreds or even thousands of pages in a book.

Adaptations have drawbacks as well. Compared to a fast-paced film, books are typically more descriptive, making it simpler for readers to identify with the feelings of a character. Even while the movie may be well-made on its own, there are many aspects that are lacking when you compare it to the book, including the omission of historical details that the book takes the reader through.

Many movie adaptations fall short of the richness that a book can provide. Audiences often expect the film to portray everything that is in the book, and frequently don’t appreciate the artistic license that a director takes with a novel. Similar to how individuals picture the characters they read about, casting decisions made by filmmakers are not always appropriate for the audience’s imagination. The audience does not enjoy such adaptations, preferring good books to be left alone and not turned into movies instead since they have a weak plot, mismatched characters, and inappropriate storytelling techniques.EBR

11th Year • March 2023 • No. 115

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