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Less than a year ago— at last year’s LAFF — filmmaker/producer/actress/ Salome Mulugeta and her team were biting their nails, trying to get Hollywood’s attention and a distribution deal for “Woven,” her first independent film. The feature’s a sweet, heart-felt family drama about a close-knit, New York-based Ethiopian family dealing with a family tragedy.
In that short time span, director Mulugeta’s film career has taken such gigantic leaps forward that her journey could turn out to be a real-life Cinderella story but one in which the princess saves herself.
Determination is described as “[a] firmness of purpose; resoluteness — [s]he advanced with an unflinching determination.” Using that definition, Mulugeta is the very picture of creative determination. To wit, it took her 17 years to get financing for “Woven.”
Mulugeta resume reads as such: born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, she left at an early age to attend a boarding school for girls in Bedford, England, where she won many prestigious acting competitions. She now contributes content for the US-based Africa Channel and has produced and directed shows for Muziki Ni: The African Restaurant Week. She currently directs and hosts a show called “A Day in the Life of…” In 2016, Mulugeta was awarded the Achievement and Perseverance Award by the Women’s Journey Foundation. She’s been featured in Vibe Magazine and mynewyorkeye.com.
It bears repeating that it took 17 long years for Mulugeta to get “Woven” completed and the film almost didn’t make the cut for 2016’s LAFF. It was the push of two, creative women, the Los Angeles Film Festival Director of Programming Roya Rastegar, and powerhouse film producer Stephanie Allain, who was the LAFF Director, that got the fest to make room for the intimate family drama. At that time (she resigned the post in 2016), Allain saw something in the film, story and Mulugeta.
Asked why she fought to get “Woven” into LAFF, this is what LAFF’s Rastegar said: “‘Woven’ is an emotionally compelling directorial debut from first time directors Salome Mulugeta and Nagwa Ibrahim and we selected the film because the vision, energy, and voice of the film stood out amongst the thousands of feature film submissions we received.
“I had never before seen an Ethiopian-American woman on screen navigating both cultures, and the story’s arc about forgiveness and redemption, even in the face of great tragedy, continues to resonate for me. Plus, Salome is also the star of the film! Talk about ambitious! Starring in your own film, which you also wrote and directed. I see immense talent in her, and I look forward to all the work she will make in the future.”
Love it. Loathe it. Ignore it. Embrace it. The fact is, when someone of power, a respected player in the game, stands up for you — everything changes in an instant. Shares producer Allain, “I met Salome after her film was selected for the LA Film Festival in 2016. We were looking for films from an authentic point of view and she brought her Ethiopian, female sensibilities to the story of survival despite life’s obstacles. Her poise and passion to tell stories close to her heart was palpable. We immediately connected as spiritual sisters unbeknownst to me, my producing partner Mel Jones, had her own meeting with Salome and when we compared notes, we knew we wanted to keep an eye out for what she would do next.”
What’s next is a big deal. Producer Allain was so impressed by Mulugeta’s storytelling abilities that she introduced her to Amy Tofte, a Nicholl Fellowship winner for Screenwriting (a fellowship program founded to aid screenwriters and administered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts) in order for to write “Addis Abeka.” Tofte and Salome clicked. “Addis Abeka” tells the journey a young Ethiopian boy who loses his family and must navigate the world on his own for 10 years until he can be reunited with his brother.
Helping shape a director’s career takes a “village” and Mulugeta was one of the six young filmmakers chosen to participate in Film Independent’s 2017 Directing Lab where she worked on “Addis Abeka.” Mulugeta will direct and executive produce with Allain and Jones producing for Homegrown Pictures. “Addis Abeka” is set to go into production this fall — with “Woven” DP Pedro Gomez Millan stepping behind the camera. The film will be shot entirely in Ethiopia.
Money is power in Hollywood. For indie filmmakers that simple fact is very challenging as they are often seek financing from non-industry sources. The funding for “Addis Abeka” was secured by Mulugeta’s efforts, a natural producer. It’s a rare and sought-after talent, and once Hollywood really wakes up, she might be the very thing that makes her a wealthy woman and a power broker in the Hollywood game.
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