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Dinner in Monte Carlo Celebrates Ethiopian Filmmakers

ethopian filmmakersNot everything in Cannes happens in Cannes.

Last weekend a dinner was held at Villa Nocturne in Monte Carlo, which had recently been featured in Architectural Digest. The villa is the home of host Marco Orsini, filmmaker and founder of the International Emerging Film Talent Association.

The dinner was a benefit for the IEFTA and the Ethiopian Film Initiative, which works closely with Orsini's organization.

Before dinner, Orsini introduced the three Ethiopian filmmakers who were chosen to come to Monaco and to attend the Cannes film fest, where they will network with producers, arts funders, sales agents and representatives of cultural organizations.

But first they'll spend a few days in Monaco to prepare for the Cannes meetings. This is the second time that Orsini's group has brought Ethiopian filmmakers to the festival.

On one of the few nights without rain, a group of about 40 guests (many with deep pockets who Orsini told numerous times he was going to ask them for money) were introduced to filmmakers Henok Mebratu, Olisarali Oilbui Tongolu and Yidnekachew Shumete Desalegn, each of whom has a film project to pitch.

The young men were selected from a group of applicants from Ethiopia's growing film community. He also introduced actor Billy Zane, who has been very supportive of the project.

I spoke with Shumete and Mebratu, who each gave me a bit of their own film background. Although the film initiative is for emerging artists, they do have to have some filmmaking work under their belt -- short films, screenplays, etc. -- before they can be considered for this program.

Desalegn has just finished production on his second feature and told me that luckily his first feature was produced by a friend with money. Standard budgets for first features in Ethiopia, he told me, run just to US $30,000.

Mebratu, a director and editor, has produced and edited a number of short documentaries, most with environmental or socially conscious themes. He is now working on a script for his first narrative feature.

Among the challenges to filmmaking in Ethiopia, he told me, are the fact that there are no film schools, nor is there any government support. In addition, film is considered a luxury, so ticket prices are taxed double the normal rate. Adding to that problem are the limited amount of cinemas in the country. For both of these filmmakers, the IEFTA/EFI project is very important.

Orsini talked about working with the Ethiopian Film Initiative to make programs like this happen: "We are also very pleased in the partnership we have had with the Ethiopian Film Initiative which provides on the ground training in Addis Ababa and are looking forward to expanding our program to other parts of the developing world."

And so they have: Orsini announced that evening that they will be bringing the IEFTA program to Sierra Leone next year.

To learn more about the Ethiopian Film Initiative, go to

[Marian Masone is Director, Festivals/Associate Program Director at the Film Society of Lincoln Center]

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