Filmmaker’s top 10 picks of Ethiopian cinematic greats
The coming Ethiopian New Year is the perfect time to catch up on some of Ethiopia’s best films that didn’t receive as wide an audience as they deserved upon release.
While these thoughtful, nuanced movies have stood the test of time, revealing new layers with each viewing, they remained relatively unseen by Ethiopian moviegoers at the time.
However, the films’ scripts, production quality, ideas, and acting were exceptional, far beyond typical Ethiopian cinema. Titles like Yenegen alweldime, Lomi Shita, and Yetsehay Mewcha lijoch in particular deserve bigger platforms, as they have yet to be uploaded to YouTube for wider audiences to discover.
As you plan your Ethiopian New Year film marathon, be sure to include overlooked gems that are sure to provide perspective and spark discussion for years to come. Enjoy exploring Ethiopia’s rich cinematic history from the comfort of your own home this holiday season.
Here are 10 Amharic films made in Ethiopia worth rediscovering:
Yilugnta: a romantic comedy worth rediscovering
Written by renowned author Endalegeta Kebede and produced/directed by actor Michael Million, Yilugnta has a runtime of 1 hour and 38 minutes. This romantic comedy stars many popular Ethiopian actors, including Girum Ermias, Meron Getnet, Shiwaferau Dessalegn, and Emebet W/Gabriel.
Released eight years ago, the film with over 447 thousand YouTube views tells the story of shy Mulugeta (played by Girum Ermias). Mulugeta struggles under pressure from his family to get married. When a bold woman shows up at his home and refuses to leave, claiming they are now married, he is left bewildered by her actions.
She even goes so far as to introduce Mulugeta to her father as her husband. Meanwhile, Mulugeta is unknowingly preparing for his actual fiancée’s upcoming wedding date. Caught in this unexpected dilemma through no fault of his own, he must now find a way out of the stressful situation.
What follows is a comedy of errors, as Mulugeta damages control and is taken advantage of due to his gullible nature. The film uses his romantic plight and struggles with society’s expectations to deliver laughs throughout. Yilugnta proves a nuanced portrait of relationships and social pressures, all told through the deft directorial vision of Michael Million. For those seeking an overlooked gem, this 2008 romantic comedy deserves to be rediscovered.
Quragnaye: a journey for justice outside the courtroom
This historical drama offers a unique portrayal of Ethiopia’s past compared to other local films. Not available on YouTube due to copyright, viewers had to wait until the movie would be released to watch it. Written and directed by Moges Tafese, Quragnaye transports audiences back 100 years to the reign of Queen Zewditu. It tells the story of a knight and student embroiled in a dispute with a woman. When their local judge fails to resolve the case, the plaintiff and defendant embark on a 100km journey to plead their case directly to the Queen.
Though enemies, out of necessity the two set aside their conflict for the prolonged trip. The film follows their multi-day trek, during which they refrain from harming one another in faithful observance of ensuring justice is served. Quragnaye highlights the importance Ethiopians once placed on upholding one’s word, even towards adversaries.
More so, it illustrates how the failure to remedy wrongdoings troubled people more than physical challenges along the way. Through its historical setting and emphasis on dispute resolution outside modern courts, the drama offers unique cultural insights outside the norms of its era. For those seeking a refreshingly different Ethiopian period piece, this off-the-grid film deserves a watch.
Ene ena Bete: exposing the dark side of real estate
Released seven years ago in cinemas, Ene ena Bete shines a light on an important yet underrepresented issue in Ethiopian film. Produced by Barfoot Film Productions, this movie brought new acting talent like Girum Assefa, Selamawit Aweke, and the legendary Mekael Tamre to the spotlight.
Written by Girum Asefa and directed by Dirbdil Asefa, the film tells the story of a real estate scam based on true events that caused controversy in Ethiopia at the time. Uploaded to YouTube shortly after its theater run, it has garnered over 374,000 views to date.
Delving into the murky side of property dealings, Ene ena Bete broke new ground as the only Ethiopian movie thus far centered around the real estate sector. It exposed unscrupulous practices and their human impact through gripping drama.
While other local films often focus on romantic stories or historical epics, Ene ena Bete shone a necessary light on contemporary social issues. For those seeking a thought-provoking film outside the norms, this exposé of an industry plagued by lies and betrayal remains a touching reminder of the real lives impacted. Its themes of corruption and societal effects resonate to this day.
Yenegen Alweldim: adapting a beloved story to the screen
Directed by accomplished creative Birhanu Degafe, Yenegen Alweldim stood out as one of the few Ethiopian films adapted from a book. Based on Genene Mekuria’s celebrated novel Ehapana Sports (No. 1), the movie brought the beloved characters and story to life for new audiences.
Birhanu Degafe, known for his radio program Leza on Sheger Radio, translated the award-winning book to the screen as both the writer and starring actor. Under Director Abraham Gezahegn’s vision, the film provided a nuanced portrayal of youth struggling against oppression during the Dergue regime.
It depicted how underground football teams were used as a cover by members of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party fighting the authoritarian military government of the era. Through enthralling drama, Yenegen Alweldim conveyed the challenges faced while maintaining hope for democratic change.
Faithful to the original Source material yet introducing the story to new mediums, the movie earned awards and acclaim. It demonstrated the power of art to keep past struggles relevant and ensure histories of resistance are not forgotten. For those seeking an Ethiopian film that bridges page and screen through powerful storytelling, Yenegen Alweldim makes for an impactful watch.
Lomi Shita: exposing social dynamics beneath the surface
Director Abraham Gezahegn adapted another acclaimed novel to the screen with Lomi Shita. Based on Adam Reta’s book of the same name, widely credited as introducing post-modern writing techniques to Ethiopian literature, the film translated the impactful story to a new medium.
Starring Elisabeth Melaku and Moges Chekol in the lead roles, Lomi Shita transported viewers back to life under the Derg regime through its setting. However, rather than focus on overt politics, the movie used nuanced drama to examine interpersonal dynamics often ignored.
It centered on the destructive power of gossip spreading within a community without legal consequences. Abraham’s direction highlighted how seemingly small social issues, when left unchecked, can gradually disrupt and damage many lives.
Like Yenegen Alweldim, Lomi Shita demonstrated an ability to engage meaningful themes through faithful book-to-film adaptations. It probed beneath surface narratives to reveal societal undercurrents just as potent. For viewers seeking an Ethiopian drama that peels back layers of context, Lomi Shita offers an impactful lens on human connection amid turmoil.
Yetsehay Mewcha Lijoch: a pioneering ethiopian film you won’t want to miss
Written by Biniyam Worku and directed by Sewmehon Yismaw, Yetsehay Mewcha Lijoch was ahead of its time upon release as one of the first Amharic films to pioneer advanced production techniques.
Top actors of the era, including Girum Ermias, Solomon Bogale and Birtukan Befikadu, brought the impactful story to life as two men journey from Addis Ababa to Dire Dawa against steep challenges.
Under Sewmehon’s visionary direction, the film utilized new technical capabilities to immerse viewers like never before in Ethiopian cinema. Nuanced performances left an enduring mark.
While initial reach was limited, Yetsehay Mewcha Lijoch deserves wider appreciation for how it pushed boundaries and continues to inspire new generations. As one of Ethiopia’s most pioneering works, it is sure to spark discussion.
For any cinema enthusiast compiling their Ethiopian movie bucket list, this groundbreaking film that set the nation’s screen innovations in motion is a must-see. Discover what made it a landmark feature through its imaginative storytelling and creative flair still felt today. Yetsehay Mewcha Lijoch is one classic Ethiopian film watchers won’t want to miss.
Aleme: grappling with grief through fantasy
Actor Solomon Bogale stars in this one-hour, 34-minute drama written and directed by SewMehon Yismaw. Uploaded to YouTube earlier this year, Aleme has garnered over 80,000 views.
The film explores a husband struggling with unimaginable loss as he struggles to accept his wife and child’s death in an accident. Unable to cope with reality, he buys a doll resembling his loved ones and tries to live as a family again in a world of his own creation.
Through Solomon Bogale’s raw portrayal, viewers are given a window into the psyches of those broken by tragedy and grasping at any means to fill unbearable voids. While unconventional, his character’s fantasy reflects real human extremes of grief many face yet are seldom shown onscreen.
Aygebanim: exploring family bonds amid life’s challenges
Produced by Charda Film Productions, this 1 hour and 45 minute movie stars actors Michael Million and Misgana Atanafu in a thought-provoking sibling drama. With over 1.2 million YouTube views since uploading seven years ago, the adaptation of Misgana Atnafu and Yared Admasu’s story explores the complex bonds between brothers at different life stages.
Michael Million’s character urges his brother Misgana to focus on education versus distraction. However, Misgana’s past decisions lead to unplanned fatherhood complicating his future. Sensitively directed by Abdisa Mitku, the film uses comedy to examine responsibility and how family supports one another through life’s curveballs.
Qemis Yelebskulet: a woman’s journey of self-discovery
This 3 hour and 35 minute film produced by Gize Bet Pictures powerfully portrays the resiliency of the human spirit. Written by musician Zeritu Kebede and starring her in the lead role, it follows a strong woman navigating life’s ups and downs.
Over 1 million YouTube views since uploading five years ago prove this drama directed by Henok Ayele resonates widely. Kebede’s nuanced performance explores how one can grow from past mistakes and mistakes versus repeating them. Through its empathetic lens, Qemis Yelebskulet highlights humanity’s ability to persevere against struggles and find renewed dignity.
Yemechereshawa Kemis: facing fear through compassion
Released 7 years ago to 234,000 YouTube views, this 1 hour and 33 minute drama deals with difficult realities through a sensitive lens. Writer-director Feleke YeMaruha Abebe places viewers in an institution where children born with HIV live in fear of an early death believed to strike at age 21.
There, a new teacher played by Feleke strives to understand their experiences and bring comfort. The film shed light on an issue rarely addressed at the time, handling it with empathy that fostered awareness versus judgment. For its moving portrayal of finding hope amongst fear, Yemechereshawa Kemis left a mark.