Photos: Actor Robera, Shiwangizaw, Belgnesh, and Actress Lidya; Director Aida
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, April 7, 2009 (Ezega.com) -- Film Producer, Director, and Editor Aida Ashenafi has been in the film business for the past 15 years. She has been working in New York, United States, for 6 years, and here in Addis Ababa for 9 years. She is a graduate of Ithaca collage with a degree in Film, photography and visual Arts.
She began her career by working for a music business at Jive Records in New York City, overseeing music videos for big artists. Later, she co-founded Sauce Entertainment, a New York-based production and post-production company. She has produced various TV commercials for companies such as Nike, Panasonic, Coca-cola, Dark and lovely, and Toys ‘R’ Us – companies located in the USA and in Ethiopia. She supervised music videos for R Kelly, Back Street Boys, Tribe called Quest, Joe, and many others. Aida also produced various feature films and the romantic comedies “I THINK I DO” and “MEDIA NOCHE”.
She was executive producer for “The Naked Man”, an Oscar Nominee script, and the Oscar winner “Ethan Coen”, which was released by Universal Pictures.
Aida returned to her homeland in 2000, and joined Cactus Marketing and Advertising Company. She made a big difference in the productions of the company as creative director and operations manger for three years.
She left Cactus and founded Mango Production in 2003 with her business partner Feleke Deneke. Mango Productions is a communication company which aims for a better and qualified television, radio, and corporate communication, create print communications and film production. She is currently Mango Production’s Managing Director.
On March 8, 2009, Mango Production launched its first 138 minute feature documentary film, named "Guzow" (The Journey), directed, co-produced, and edited by Aida Ashenfi. The film cost around 1.2 million birr to produce.
The film revolved around two middle-class young Addis Ababa residents, Lidya and Robera, who went to a small village near Debre-Berhan called Tseda, and stayed there for 20 days at a house owned by Belgenesh and Shewangizaw. Lidya and Robera had to live the way the villagers lived. They did what Belgenesh and Shewangizaw did, ate what they ate, and coped up with every circumstance that arose during their stay.
The feature film showed the hardship as well as the fresh and natural day-to-day rural life of Tseda. It shows how Robera and Lidya coped with the new living in rural Ethiopia. “Guzow” or “The Journey” feature film has no dialogue to rehearse – the characters just lived their life for 20 days in Tseda. The film crew recorded the activities of the actor and actress and their ups and downs as they happen every day. The completed film is refreshing and has many funny and touchy moments.
Aida said she made the film for the Ethiopian audience living both here at home and abroad. “This story is something I feel all Ethiopians can relate to as everyone has relatives who live in rural Ethiopia. In shows urban and rural Ethiopia speaking to each other. I hope I have captured something of life here.”
I went to Aida’s place where she lives and works to conduct the following interview. I asked her about her new film and the film industry in general.
Ezega.com: Congratulations on your new feature film and also congratulations on your new baby.
Aida: Oh… Thank you for both. She is a baby girl, we named her “Ezabela”, meaning gift of God.
Ezega.com: I believe we are not used to feature films here. How did you come up with the idea of making feature films?
Aida: Most of what I do everyday for work are propaganda films for our clients, so I have to make-up stories on the spot. During the past 5-6 years, I got lots of practice making such things. If you spend time with anybody and asking the right questions, there are pretty interesting folks out there, especially here in Ethiopia. And our associate producer, Shewa, asked me imagining ourselves as homeless people somewhere to see what it feels like and how people treat us. So I wanted to do this film as a start for our future film. At the beginning we thought it would not be that difficult, but… it was ouuuu. I was very aware that making a 5 minute film of this type is draining, probably more than one hour film the other variety. But when we began making this film it was tiresome physically and mentally; it was way difficult. And I believe that I could not have made this film without my team. The credit should go to every member of our team who put every effort in this film.
Ezega.com: You did pretty well acknowledge the team at the launching of the film.
Aida: Yes, I wanted to stress that when a film comes out great, it is the work of everyone. But if the film goes wrong it is definitely the fault of the director.
Ezega.com: I saw the film during launch, and I loved how natural the film was. How does it feel like making such films?
Aida: It was very tough. We agreed to show a little part from every day in the film. Even if nothing has happened, we had to shoot a minimum of two scenes every day, and at least one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
Everyday, we ask them how they were doing, and we recorded it as it happened. The only day I cheated was on day 17 because a lot of things happened on that day. So, we took some of day 17 scenes to day 14. Oh… another cheat… It took us two days to get there (to Tseda) as the road was so bad, but we made it one day. Those were the only two cheats we made, the rest is exactly what happened in every one of the 20 days of our stay. We made this film withHigh Definition (HD) camera with 35mm lenses. I believe it the first time a local film was shot with this kind of camera, and it came out really good. The only thing I regret is the color of the movie. It is sad but it came out yellow.
Ezega.com: Weren’t you also somewhat disappointed with Robera’s voice? I could not understand what he was saying at times without reading the subtitle.
Aida: Yes, that was Robera’s natural voice. At first I thought that his voice was okay. It only noticed it later that something did not come out right. But he was great starting from the first screening. I knew he was the one that we have been looking for. He was “mama’s boy” and perfect for our film. Lidya passed the screening at the 4th round.
Ezega.com: I could feel the difficulties of rural life. I have never been there but I can see the hardship that Lidya and Robera faced in Tseda. Have you also encountered the same level of difficulties?
Aida: Not exactly. The only thing that saved me was that I am a good horse rider. Still, it was not easy. We rented two houses from the rich guys of the village; you know every village has some rich people. We took everything we needed with us (food, etc.). But Robera and Lidya had to eat what their hosts ate and do what they did. But Lidya was a good cook so she did not face as much difficulties. But Robera could not eat anything. But he had to survive all 20 days of shooting.
Ezega.com: Let me take you out of “Guzow” and into the reality of Ethiopian films. Do you personally believe that the Ethiopian film industry is improving regardless of financial resources?
Aida: I don’t think it requires lots of money to make a good film. I don’t want to be judgmental but if there were a film school, everybody would go into the school. People who are making films are very passionate and have the will, but they do not have the craft. And I wish everyone focused on the stories more. I believe we can learn a lot about writing from reading. So, we cannot excuse writing skill problems.
Ezega.com: You got the chance to study Films, Photography and Visual Arts and developed your potential in the advanced world. What is your plan to contribute to our infant film industry?
Aida: The best thing I can do is making good films, and I believe everybody will contribute something when they are ready. I took 20 youth who had no clue about making films, and for the past seven years, I have been training them in every aspect of film making that I know. Now, they are in a position where, if they have to leave Mango Production any time, they can stand on their own.
Ezega.com: What is a qualified film material for you?
Aida: I think it is best to have different department and specialties, one man cannot do everything and produce a one-man show. That does not produce a good film. It is important that every scene in the film happen for a reason. If you cannot go into a film school, you need to at least watch qualified films and learn a lot from them. The more you organize and spread jobs to different people, I think, the better the film will be.
Ezega.com: Finally, is there anything you would like to say to those who are working in the Ethiopian film industry?
Aida: When they make a film they need to listen to the critics from the beginning to end. Seek for viewers’ comments and put it in your account. One will learn a lot from comments. I collected comments from 540 ordinary viewers and found them very useful. Don’t just make a film because you think it’s good; I certainly don’t. After all, one makes a film for the public not for one’s ego. If the film comes out bad, don’t put it out. It is your name and your money that you stand to lose. I made my first film after 9 years of practice in Ethiopia directing films and 10 years of experience producing films in New York. Film making demands skill, passion and will.
Ezega.com: I thank you indeed for you time.
Aida: You are very welcome.
This article was written by Eden Habtamu reporting for Ezega.com from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She can be reached by email at News@Ezega.com. The article can be reprinted in full or in part elsewhere but only by giving full credit to Ezega.com. If reprinted on a website, we ask that you place this active link: Ezega Ethiopian News, pointing to http://www.Ezega.com.