The rising filmmaker
The acclaimed Ethiopian - American film, Guzo B’ Lambadina is to have its premier in Addis Ababa on Saturday, December 23 at Vamdas Theatre, around 22 area, and to wider audiences the day before. The film that is based loosely based on a true story has been touring festivals around the world and winning its director Messay Getahun recognition and audiences. Back in Ethiopia, Messay reflects with The Reporter’s Samuel Getachew on the film, discusses the underlining message of it and how he was able to manage to fund his own film without going through what has become a popular route for first time directors – crowd funding. Excerpts:
The Reporter: Lambadia is movie that was released awhile ago. Why did it take this long to bring it to Ethiopia?
Messay Getahun: We started doing private screening of it a year and half ago. The film was getting official selection at various film festivals; as a result we spent a full year touring different film festivals in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Once the film had its festival run, we showcased it in the US Cinema Market in selected cities.
We have always wanted to show the film in Ethiopia, but since the film first needed to finish its festival tour, we could not simultaneously release the film in Ethiopia.
The movie touches on a number of subjects – on love, relationship, politics, migration – share with me the highlights of the movie?
Yes, the film does touch on various human issues. I wanted to create a universal story that tells a journey of a boy who goes through various obstacles of life, yet faces them with resilience. Every one could identify a certain element of their personal life in this film. I think that is the reason the film had such a warm reception on both the African communities and abroad.
The issue of migration, family dispersion, loss of a first love, family betrayal is all human conditions are things we’ve either experienced personally, or know someone who has. I wanted to tell a human story that highlights a journey of life; I think the film has done that.
What was the underlining message you wanted to highlight in the film?
The underlining message of the film is that life is a journey. And that journey is often paved with many highs and many lows… and what defines us is not what we face but how we face them. Life is all about overcoming obstacles, I think the film encourages and empowers viewers to do the same.
When the film was first released to limited audience in Addis, what was the initial reaction like?
We did have a private screening of the film in Addis Ababa sponsored by the Embassy of the United States. The reception was incredible. We were really humbled by the amount of appreciation we received. The film also has been incredibly received by the Ethiopian community abroad. All the screenings held has been completely sold out and in many of the cities, we have to hold many screenings as a result of the demand.
The film is one that is based on real life, the experiences of many people, including your parents. Tell me about that?
A small part of the film is based on true events. The inspiration of the father and son element in the film came from my own personal life experience. I was disconnected from my father at an early age during the transition of power in Ethiopia. I remember the emotional rollercoaster I went through as a result and I wanted that emotion to be injected in the film. Both myself and my two younger brothers and anyone else who was born in that era relates to it. However, the remaining part of the film is fictional.
It must be hard making such a full production feature. We see many Ethiopian amateur directors soliciting donation on social media, especially on GoFundMe pages. But you did not do that. How did you manage to make it?
Absolutely! My intention wasn’t to make a film for the sake of doing a film. It took me years to develop the script. I even paid a few scriptwriters in Los Angeles, to review the script for me in a professional manner. Myself, Justin Dickson (Director of Photography), and Hermon Tecle (Audio Operator) gave it our everything in making sure we produced a film that was rich in content and high in quality.
I absolutely did not want to go through any means of crowd funding. As a first time filmmaker, I didn’t want to solicit people for financing my idea. I wanted to work my butt off and raise my own capital from my own labor and fund my own project.
One of the noted performances in the film was the actor who acted as your father. Who is the actor?
Michael Yimesgen, played my father in the film. Michael is a dear friend. He, like myself had so much emotional attachment to the film.
As a first time director, what were some of the difficulties you faced and what did you learn from it?
Overall we wanted to tell and Ethiopian/African story to the Western world. Much of the films that tend to come out of Africa and make it the mainstream market seem to always have a “white savior” message. In some form or fashion, they seem to elevate the need for the West to come and rescue “poor old” Africa. I was sick of that narrative. I wanted to tell a contemporary Ethiopia, African story that went against the grain.