Note: This series has an introduction and five sketches. A total of six postings. This is...
Sketch Five (final)
One of Eritrea's motto's for development is to have a qualified human resource. To that end, Eritrea conducts endless seminars, lectures, workshops, training sessions, etc., to develop its human resource capacity. During my stay in Eritrea, there was an ongoing two-months training session for film directors, script writers, actors and actresses, cinematographers, etc.
The Eritrean film industry roughly produces twenty films a year. What is the most important and encouraging aspect of these film products is that they are locally financed and locally produced. However, if Eritrean films are to compete in the world market, they need to improve in quality. Recognizing this fact, the Eritrean Film Rating Committee (EFRC) was set up in 2007 to assign stars depending on the quality of the film that is being produced (four being the highest star). Every film produced in Eritrea is submitted to EFRC for artistic rating, and the Committee uses six categories in its rating system: 1) Screenplay, 2) Acting, 3) Makeup, Costume and Set Design, 4) Cinematography, 4) Editing, and 6), Directing.
Logo of the Eritrean Film Rating Committee.
Logo art by Ermias Ekube
As a sign of coming of age of Eritrean films, Mesghun Zerai 's (aka Wedi Feradai, who is director of Audio Visual Institute of Eritrea) latest feature film, "Ablel ",will be screened in the African Film Festival of Yokahoma, Japan, on May 22, 2008. Through the efforts of Eritrea’s ambassador to Japan, Wedi Feradai’s film was selected for the prestigious film festival in Japan.
I was asked if I could give a lecture and share my experiences with the participants of the film workshop in Asmara. I gave the organizers two films ( Vittorio de Sica's "The Bicycle Thief" and Ginno Pontocorvo's "The Battle of Algiers") so that the participants could watch these movies ahead of the lecture.
The lecture/workshop started at 8:00 AM and ended at 6:00 PM. There were about 100 participants. I divided the lecture/workshop into two sessions. The first session, which lasted half a day dealt with the theory aspect of film making (pre-production, production , post-production, script writing, film aesthetics, persistence of vision, psychology closure, the story of movies, typeset, graphic art, the use of Ge'ez alphabet as a graphic element, etc.)
Some of the objective of the lecture/workshop were as follows:
- To open a dialog among film makers;
- To make individual and collective effort in helping improve the Eritrean film industry;
- To identify various forms used in film making and standardize the forms (have authors and experts in Ge'ez participate in formulating the forms);
- Improvement or change starts within oneself (examples are learning English, read books to learn or improve ones computer skills, etc.);
- Criticism is important in film making therefore a culture of criticism should be encouraged. Criticism should not be taken personally.
After lunch break, the second session solely dealt with discussion and critique of the two films that they had watched a day earlier. We discussed "The Bicycle Thief" for two hours. One of the consensus was that the film is a simple story and yet highly engaging. Gizienesh Menghis, the wife of the popular comedian actor Habte Geresus (Wedi Shawl) eloquently summarized the film when she said that, “ misti seb'ay neta bishkiletit’u kenedaleyo mel’eti Roma kenkola we’einlaya” (“We spent the whole day searching for the actor's bicycle with him throughout Rome”). The consensus confirmed my earlier argument that films don't necessarily need to have a complex plot structure. One of my criticisms of Eritrean film making is that a lot of Eritrean directors tend to make their stories unnecessarily complicated, thus creating a lot of unnecessary characters and sub plots.
Another major criticism that I have is that a lot of them tend to favor lengthy dialog. We need to remember that film is a visual medium. To support my argument, I gave them the simple fact that most of the classic films are simple stories. Simple stories, I argued, can be found out on the streets, in everyday life. I gave two examples from stories that I had just heard a day or two prior to the film workshop. Both deal with signs of the buses that travel from Asmara to rural areas in Eritrea. The names of two of these buses are “Mesob” and “Guale’bat” respectively. In order to attract more customers, the owner of “Guale’bat, Mes ob’s competition, put up this catchy slogan on his bus: ካብ ምስ መሶብና ጎሰስ ምስ ጓል’ባት መሰስ “kab mes Mesobna goses, mes Gual abat meses!” (“Be right on time with speedy Guale’bat, instead of delaying with the slow Mesob!”) This gives one a great visual image. First, Mesob isGuale’bat’s main competition. Second, to put down the competition, it elevates its speed. The ironic part of the story is that the supposedely fast bus, Guale’bat, always breaks down. This is a simple story, but with a lot of conflict, which is raw material for a good film. The second story is that when owners of the rural buses acquire them first, they name their respective buses, "Tiger", "Ambessa (lion)", Gazzele, Impala, etc., but once the buses start breaking down often, the names above were replaced by "St. Gabriel", "St. Michael, etc.
Finally, I donated three films so that the people who are involved in the production of Eritrean films can watch films regularly and discuss them. As a result, they have established a film club and have been watching different films every Friday for three months now. They are in need of a wide variety of international films; therefore, if Eritreans want to see Eritrean films of high quality, I challenge and encourage every Eritrean all over the world to send them DVDs so that Eritrean film makers could learn from world class directors. Therefore, you can contact them directly at : firstname.lastname@example.org or call them at +291-1-121758 (or you can contact me at email@example.com to start a project to collect and send books and DVDs to Eritrean film makers inside Eritrea).