Movies in the Age of YouTube

In the burgeoning landscape of Ethiopian cinema, filmmakers like Haymanot Girmay and Moges Asrat are reshaping the industry’s narrative on YouTube. Girmay, a newcomer, invested her passion and resources into her debut film “Honelgn,” delving into societal issues with a personal touch. Meanwhile, Asrat, a seasoned figure, emphasizes the delicate balance between art and profit, learning from his early challenges. Yet, Ermias Hailemichael, a stalwart in the field, expresses concern over YouTube’s impact, citing potential quality compromises and profit-centric motives. As the debate unfolds, these filmmakers highlight the need for industry criteria, fair compensation, and more significant investment to elevate Ethiopian cinema on local and global platforms. The future, they assert, lies in fostering quality content and incentivizing long-term success over short-lived gains, writes Addisu Deresse.

In the era of producing and distributing films on YouTube, Haymanot Girmay has emerged as a newcomer. In 2023, she embarked on this journey with her debut film, “Honelgn,” for which she produced, directed, and wrote the script.

“Writing is a pleasure; it gives me peace of mind, and when it’s filmed, it’s like having a conversation with the audience directly, which was on my mind, that I wish for to address on something,” Haymanot told EBR.

Born in 1999 in Addis Ababa, Karakore, Haymanot pursued her education at Repi and Atlas Schools. In 2020, she graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communication from Mekelle University. Despite her academic achievements, her interest in the film industry has been a consistent part of her life, from her early years to her university experience. She has always harboured the ambition to pursue this interest using her financial resources, and she sees her current endeavour as just the beginning of a promising path.

While working as a journalist, Haymanot produced “Honelgn.” The film’s narrative revolves around a young girl who experiences physical abuse during her childhood, depicting her journey into adulthood, encompassing her love life, family dynamics, and, ultimately, her path to healing from psychological trauma through treatment. Haymanot dedicated a year to the entire process of bringing the film to fruition, from writing the script to filming, editing, and finally, bringing it to the market at approximately ETB 100,000.

For Haymanot, creating and distributing films on YouTube marks the initial phase of her ambitions in the film industry. She views filmmaking as more than a business. She envisions a future where Ethiopian cinema not only competes on a global scale but also establishes its own distinctive identity. Her aspirations extend beyond the national borders, as she aims to make a mark in the international film arena, guided by her unwavering faith and vision for the industry’s potential.

Moges Asrat, a senior figure in the film industry, has produced five movies and is known for his work as a producer, writer, and director. Born in Addis Ababa, around Abinet, Moges has been in the film industry for nine years. He has produced, written, and directed five films, with a Tom Film Making School certificate.

At 30, Asrat has significantly impacted the Ethiopian film scene.

Asrat’s career began when he started acting, directing, and writing stories for theatres at a young age. He wrote his first short movie script while working in a theatre, which luckily got broadcast on Nahoo Television’s Holiday program and featured in music videos. His first full-length movie, “Wed Alat,” was produced, written, and directed by him. Despite being passionate about the project and having a supportive team, the film was not profitable due to a lack of funding.

“Wed Alat” was produced with a budget of around ETB 30,000 but did not yield the desired profit. Moges explained that, as a beginner, he needed to learn how to make the film profitable. The film was later released on YouTube after being unable to sell to cinemas due to financial constraints.

After “Wed Alat,” Moges produced other YouTube movies. They were part of the production team for the cinema film “Kesut,” which was nominated in various categories at the Guma Film Award. Currently, Asrat is working on a cinema movie and a sitcom intended to be influential internationally. In addition to his ongoing projects, Asrat has a movie scheduled to be broadcast on YouTube in December. The film, titled “The Betrayal,” focuses on a girl who returns to her home country after living abroad and is betrayed by her loved ones. The movie was produced with a budget of around ETB 90,000, and Asrat hopes this new channel will profit more than usual.

Moges believes filmmakers should approach their work from both business and artistic perspectives. He emphasizes that focusing solely on profit can negatively impact the film industry, as it did for “Wed Alat.”

According to a study by Boris Tolga Ekinci from Beykent University, the phenomenon of “YouTuber Movies” has influenced the film industry. However, it is essential to balance artistic expression and financial success.

Both Haymanot and Moges highlight the dual nature of filmmaking as both an art form and a business. While the digital platform of YouTube provides opportunities for distribution, the success of a movie ultimately depends on how it is leveraged. As these filmmakers navigate the industry’s evolving landscape, they exemplify the potential and challenges associated with producing and selling movies for online platforms.

Ermias Hailemichael, a prominent figure in the Ethiopian film industry with around 30 movies to his name, has expressed concerns about the potential negative impact of YouTube movies on the local film industry. He is a producer, director, cinematographer, actor, and owner of Makbel Production. Ermias, who entered the industry 15 years ago, has faced many challenges. In an interview, Ermias cited the example of his 2010 film “Dubda,” which had a production budget of ETB 180,000

and earned only ETB 35,000 at the box office. Despite this, he persevered and found success with “Fikren Feraw” in 2013, which was well-received by audiences. He has since produced several films, with “Sisay New” nominated at the Guma Film Awards.

Ermias pointed out that the era of YouTube movies began during the COVID-19 epidemic when the cinema and theatre industry was unstable and the internet was accessible. He noted that YouTube movies are produced in a shorter period and with less money than traditional cinema, which can affect the quality of the films. Ermias emphasized that the primary focus of those involved in YouTube films is income, which, in his opinion, affects the industry as a whole. He also highlighted that the audience for YouTube movies is limited, with the highest views reaching only around 1 million, indicating a lack of significant interest. Despite the potential negative impact on the industry, Ermias felt compelled to produce YouTube movies due to a lack of alternatives.

Despite his reservations, Ermias recognizes YouTube’s potential as a film production platform. Ermias suggested that the buyers should set criteria and be willing to pay a fair price for a good film. He proposed that this approach would lead to the production of better movies. He also advocates for more significant investment in the industry, including from wealthy individuals, to support the production of more ambitious and impactful films.

Ermias is working on a new cinema movie, “Yaltenekach,” which will be released in the coming month. He urges fellow film professionals to prioritize creating quality content over short-term financial gains, whether for traditional cinema or online platforms like YouTube. He believes producing compelling and successful films across various mediums is possible with the proper support and incentives. EBR

12th Year • February 2024 • No. 126


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