Several factors influenced my decision to write about this subject. One of the most important questions is how and when we can make an Ethiopian film with its own philosophy and motto, given that I have been teaching film art at a higher education institution for some time.
This article provides a brief overview of folklore’s role in Teza Amharic films, its essence and significance to the film, as well as the power and potential of film art. Teza is a 140-minute film written, directed, and produced by Haile Garima (Prof.) that was released in 2008.
It is the director’s eleventh work, and it took fourteen years from the time the film was written to the time it was shown to the public.
Folklore and cinema
Both fields of expertise have been extensively researched and studied in terms of their various facets, and by bringing them together, a number of scholars in each field have paid attention and conducted research.
When it comes to folklore, one of our country’s few famous folklorists, Fekade Azeze (PhD), wrote a book called “Folklore’s Guidelines” that is more than just a teaching aid. Folklore is a combination of the words “folk” and “lore.” “Folk” refers to a group or groups of people, while “Lore” refers to that group’s knowledge and wisdom.
When put together, it refers to the collective knowledge or wisdom of a group or groups. Folklore divides the collective knowledge and arts of a group or community into different sections, namely: oral literature, material culture, customs and beliefs, and performance.
They have been created or customized by society to be governed collectively. Furthermore, it employs its knowledge and wisdom to solve all of its daily and permanent problems. Many scholars have stated that in the case of films, it is all about image and sound. I believe that more research is needed into the roles of images and sounds in films.
The art form was introduced late and has elements from various art forms. As a result, a film is referred to as a total work of art.
Paintings, sculptures, music, drama, poetry, novels, pantomimes, and dance are all used in film art. Film is an art form that is not limited in its presentation and has no limits in terms of subject matter or approach to that material.
Teza and folklore
The director used the title of the film as a riddle, which is classified as folklore.
According to the translation of the film’s title, Dew is presented in the form of questions and answers during a riddle puzzle game. The inquirer asks, “I found her when I left and lost her when I returned,” to which the answer is “dew.”
The director connected this to Anberber, the main character, and his idea that life is like dew. This made a significant contribution to the overall composition of the movie.
Anberber, who plays the lead role, is the main storyteller in the movie. He left the nation when Emperor Haile Selassie I was in power, and he later came back with his friends when the military took over as ruler.
But things did not go as he had anticipated.
With frequent threats and intimidation, the so-called revolutionary cadres were unable to allow him or his friends to work without restriction. To make matters worse, the military government murdered Tesfaye, a close friend in exile who was like a brother to him.
Finally, without ever seeing his long-lost mother, he is sent back to Germany for military training. He returns to his country after much hardship and misery, just as the Derg government is about to be deposed by the EPRDF.
However, his past life had made it difficult for him to live his life today. It is a story-driven film in which he struggles with identity, ideology, the economy, politics, philosophy, social life, religion, and so on.
Anberber says to his mother around the 41st minute mark: “I have no recollection of you. I don’t recall the entire village. It has become a different world for me.” The story is told in the style of a film script, and the main plot is based on the fact that Anberber lost everything when he went abroad.
The author selects a single piece of folklore to establish the story’s beginning, development, and conclusion, as well as to establish the overall structure of the story.
Now consider another single instance of folklore in the film, which is classified as a societal custom and belief. Four minutes into the film, Anberber’s mother is seen baking bread on a large stove. Azalu, who lives with Anberber’s mother, is seen making coffee, and their neighbor, Worku’s mother, is seen drinking it.
Anberber’s mother noticed the fire coming from under the pan and said, “A guest will be coming soon.” From this scene, it is clear that the folklore presented in the story demonstrates one of the beliefs and customs of a particular society and aids in our understanding of that society. It also demonstrates that film is one of the mediums through which folklore is written and documented.
According to the folklore presented in the story, if the flames go over the pan, it is a sign of an old guest arriving.
As much as the folklore aided the film, the film also aided the validation of the folklore. This allows the power and energy of film art to be captured.
Riddles exist in other parts of the world in some form or the other. I am sure there are many folkloric operations and meanings associated with fire throughout the rest of the world. But it takes no bravery to admit that the belief and custom that “a cold guest will arrive if the fire flames inside the pan” is unique to us.
As a country, we have many nationalities and ethnicities, and they are blessed with their own wisdom, making folklore unique to each community.
So, will we be able to make an Ethiopian film by incorporating our folklore?
35 minutes into the story, fighters are seen gathering local residents and questioning an elderly man about the oppression and abuse they endured under the rule of the King and the Derg. “He who sees a snake is better off,” the elder said, expressing his fear.
The old man and his friends stated succinctly that there is a problem that they have faced in previous regimes and are unsure that it will not happen again. We learn about the relationship between previous regimes’ rulers and subjects and a specific society.
The elders, around the 52-minute mark in the movie, gather according to community traditions and customs to ask Anberber to marry. He rejected their suggestions and left while they remained seated.
The community condemns the act of ignoring the elderly’s advice and suggestions. An old man who was offended by this action stated that Anberber’s family is decent, moral, and respectable, but Anberber’s actions do not define his family.
“Fire gave birth to ashes,” a saying with a lot of meaning but presented in a few short words.
The film, Teza, discusses a variety of folklore topics, including children’s play, the issue of tulsem, virginity, holy water, a vow, the dragon legend, the significance of dreams, the sun, occasions like weddings and funerals, curses, birth rituals, Lamebora tales, proverbs, and sayings.
By focusing solely on the material cultures of the society that are used to create the characters in the movie, it is possible to compile a sizable research paper.
The film’s use of folklore is priceless.
(Ephrem Lemma is a Lecturer at Addis Ababa University, Head of the Film and Media Studies Unit, CPVA, School of Theatre Arts. He can be reached at [email protected].
Contributed by Ephrem Lemma