In May 2021, five Ethiopian filmmakers were selected as the first recipients of the DW Akademie Film Development Fund. The aim of the fund is to support filmmakers from the Global South by giving them the resources they need to develop their creative film projects. The project is supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
The five beneficiaries were Beza Hailu Lemma, Hiwot Admasu Getaneh, Dirbdil Assefa Akirso, Henok Mebratu and Abraham Gezahagne Assefa. After being nominated, the filmmakers were each matched with a mentor who would accompany them for a year and through the development stage of their projects, the critical phase of filmmaking when a filmmaker develops an idea into a script, formulates plans of production and creates a budget.
The mentees were joined by accomplished veterans of the film industry, including Philippe Lacôte, Ivorian director (Beza), Hawa Essuman, filmmaker, screenwriter, director and producer (Hiwot), Heidi Fleisher, American documentary film producer and consultant based in Paris (Dirbdil), Amjad Abu Alaa, Sudanese director and producer (Henok), and Lorna Tee, pan-Asian producer and festival curator (Abraham).
The project also benefited greatly from the commitment of Tamara Dawit, a producer with many years of experience in the film industry in Ethiopia. For Dawit, development funding plays a vital role in supporting filmmakers so that content is stronger and therefore more competitive in the international market.
“Ethiopia’s domestic film and television industry is growing, but more needs to be done to help stabilize the system and ensure Ethiopian stories are shared globally,” Dawit said.
A difficult year
Due to the realities of the global coronavirus pandemic, some of the pairs were unable to meet in person and were limited to communicating via Zoom, email and messaging apps. According to participants, this made the initial step of getting to know each other difficult. However, the teams reported that they were able to overcome these challenges and all made significant progress in making their films a reality.
Among the highlights of the year, let us mention that the fellow Beza Hailu Lemma (with his mentor Philippe Lacôte) and his film “The last tears of the deceased” were selected to participate in the program of emerging filmmakers of the Cinéfondation Atelier at the International Festival of the Cannes film. “Mehal Sefari”, the film by beneficiary Abraham Gezahagne (mentor Lorna Tee) has been chosen for the coveted Berlinale co-production market.
The DW Akademie film industry team is pleased with the success of the first round of funding and looks forward to staying in touch with the fellows.
“We certainly hope that we will soon see their projects on the big screen,” said Nadja Lischewski, project manager of the DW Akademie. The Film Fund also has ongoing projects in Tanzania and Uganda. We spoke to two filmmakers and two mentors about the mentorship process, the relationships that have formed over the year, and how their films – and their directing – have been affected.
Dirbdil Assefa (mentee)
I think other Ethiopian filmmakers would benefit from participating in the Film Fund. First, the fund gives them the financial freedom to focus on their project. Second, it creates the opportunity to develop their projects under the mentorship of industry professionals who often have quite diverse networks, which further benefits the project at different stages.
Most film projects in Ethiopia are privately funded, with commercial success being their primary goal. This has, in a way, created a homogeneity on the content and limited the diversity of the films. So having funding like the DW Akademie Film fund as an alternative will empower the filmmaker to work on whatever subject matters to them.
Working with a mentor helped my project be more refined and have universal appeal. As a documentary, people often need contextual clarity on the subject to better understand the story. In this regard, working with a mentor revealed this gap to me and how to best address it.
Hiwot Admasu (mentee)
Even though working with a mentor on a screenplay was nothing new for me, this time it greatly affected the way I work. The first reason is that my mentors from other places were neither writers nor directors, which Hawa [Essuman, mentor] is. Hawa understands my struggles and victories from her direct experiences as a writer-director and that made the process easier. It gave me the chance to feel understood and, in turn, I was able to be honest about my challenges.
Second, most of the time my script mentors were temporary. They were either attached to a workshop or a film festival program. There are great things that come out of these short-term mentorships, but there is also the potential for feeling lost after the mentorship ends. Having a longer mentorship allowed me to stick with certain decisions and test my new ideas for plots and characters over the long haul.
Finally, the fact that I have no other obligation to Hawa (eg she is not my producer or does not pay me, etc.) made it easier for me. Our relationship is the story, I don’t have to make her happy or I can’t disappoint her personally, this setup is perfect for my character.
Heidi Fleisher (mentor)
The major challenge I faced was directly due to COVID. When starting a mentor-mentee relationship, it’s important to take time to get to know each other, have long conversations about the film, and build trust, which is so much harder when we can’t meet in person. We also had some initial technical difficulties with the video connections, which made conversation difficult. But we were able to overcome all of that and establish a good working relationship and a real connection early on. I can’t wait to finally meet him in person in a few months!
By amplifying the voices of the Global South and giving filmmakers access they may not have had before to funding, networking, mentoring and promotion, film funds can help empower the community. world cinema. But going further, these programs can hopefully help break down barriers related to historical inequities in the film industry, encourage systemic change at the decision-maker level, and hold gatekeepers accountable in their decision-making process by ensuring that the filmmakers of the Global South are the ones telling their stories.
Lorna Tee (mentor)
For me personally, not having much prior information about the Ethiopian film industry/community seemed counterproductive. But in hindsight, working as a newcomer to the film crew, asking the questions most people would need to know about the country, helped the film crew better understand how to position the film project. in the international market.
The DW Akademie Film Fund allows filmmakers the opportunity to develop projects of a more personal and artistic nature or perhaps more politically charged stories that may not be well positioned for local funding. Once there are a good number of films from the Global South that will reach a wider audience beyond the region, the international audience and market will expand to accommodate more films and stories that also need to be seen and heard in a media landscape dominated by Western stories. and voices.
DW Akademie supports world cinema
The film industries team of the DW Akademie supports and implements projects that aim to strengthen the economic systems of the film industries in the countries of the South and contribute to freedom of expression. Funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the DW Akademie professionalizes and qualifies filmmakers in the creation, production and distribution of films and series. In this context, DW Akademie has been working and working with various partners for more than ten years, such as STEPS, LADIMA Film Academy, Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin (DFFB) and One Fine Day Films.
DW Akademie is Deutsche Welle’s center for international media development, journalistic training and knowledge transfer. DW Akademie strengthens the human right to freedom of expression and, together with its partners, plays a leading role in developing free media systems, creating access to information and setting standards for education and independent journalism.