Home > Cinema > The 11th Hour and and The Newest Amharic Movies

The 11th Hour and and The Newest Amharic Movies

The last two years seemed promising for Ethiopian cinema. Despite the lack of training, resources and rampant piracy, cinemas have found fertile ground and are coming with large number. The arrival of digital has brought financial and technical freedom to the bold and daring independent filmmakers. We are still far from having anything called, Hollywood, Bollywood, or even Nollywood but with so much demand and big money to make, filmmakers are recognizing the need for a dependable flow of new films. scan0028.jpg  
     The 11th Hour, which was premiered at Sheraton Addis on May 18, 2006, is a case in point. Though it never lives up to the huge publicity and hype it has made, it is one of the most interesting and poignant movies to come out in the recent years.

One of the people who have attended the inauguration ceremony was President Girma Woldegirigis and on the occasion it was said that it is one of the first big budget film to have been produced here.

While the material forming the basis for the 11th Hour can’t make any claims of originality, the film gives every reason to think serious material could be handled here. Contrary to sentimental love recurrent in most Amharic films, the 11th Hour chose to depict the love and sacrifice of a father for his daughter, a risky thing to do in terms of financial gain.

The opening scene takes us to Hamar, one of the country’s tourist attractions, where the principal actor (Solomon Boggle), a young photographer is hunting down Hamar girls to take pictures. He manages to find one but also a pretty and nice-looking girl from Addis (Danawit G/egzabher) who were there on a visit. And that becomes an encounter that later leads to marital affair.

The image of Hamar with nude women and erected breast leaves you exhilarated but also with wonder on what importance it would have to the story, until we see the gruesome murder that the photographer took picture.

 For the next thirty minutes, the production has overreached itself trying to depict diverse issues as a pleasant-but-uninspired marital romance, promotion of beautiful fashion and automotive disaster at Zebra crossing.

It only starts to make sense when the principal actor’s young daughter is diagnosed with heart problem and the doctor said that she needed an operation available only abroad. Though the main character makes a good living by Ethiopian standard, getting 300,000 Birr is an impossible task. He makes every effort to raise money.

The struggle in the story is an experience for many Ethiopians, where 500,000 children are born annually with heart disease. And the only alternative is to send these children where such services are available. This is where thee film looks a dramatic advertisement for the Children Heart Fund of Ethiopia whose cardiac hospital construction is still left in limbo.

 All the same, the central theme of the film – that people will do whatever is necessary to protect what is dear to them- is conveyed in a moving and singularly effective manner.

With regard to camera technique, sound effect and light, The 11th Hour could set standard. The acting is excellent; especially the young Bersabeh Melaku delivered a wonderful performance. She is natural and believable.

 So, can we dare to say this is one of the films that proves Ethiopian cinema is finding its own voice and style? For those who follow Ethiopian cinemas closely, this could be one example among those arrays of aesthetically and thematically diverse films to come out in the recent years.

 As is the case with the 11th Hour, the new young filmmakers are finding new ways of depicting the socio-political aspects of the time, traditional versus western influence, the dichotomy between urban and rural life, unemployment, the position of women in a male dominated society, the cohabitation of poverty and wealth with cinematic dexterity. 

 Another film that came out last year, Journey to Lasta, with an American resident writer-director, had more American touch and standard presentation, with its theme on members of Ethiopian Lasta Sound Band trying to eke out a living in L.A while pursuing their reggae passions.

Tatek Tadesse’s now classic 2003 “Gudifecha“, had a deeper exploration of social issues, targeting at the sinister and corrosive effects of marital infidelity, bigamy, incest and the widely held Ethiopian practices of keeping family secrets. It is the story of a young child from poor peasant family adopted by a middleclass family and his adoptive sister. Their seemingly a brother-and sister relationship into a love affair is both clandestine and exciting, when they realize that they are not biologically related. 

   Some say that the recent Amharic movies films are not necessarily reflective of the whle Ethiopia. Most of their charters are drawn from middle class people than the common man. They tend to portray the most Westernized Ethiopians, those who boast of Western ideologies and have perceivable ignorance about their Ethiopian heritage. Lahra smith, an American Researcher who reviewed the film Gudifecha for The Ethiopian Review of Books wrote that the wealth, education and social position makes them worlds away from the average Ethiopians.   But the other serous issue in which the new Amharic films generate quite a bit of ambivalence is the question of originality, with constant allegations of adaptation from American movies. The 11th Hour has much resemblance the Hollywood movie John Q, in which Denzel Washington plays a devoted father, whose son needs an emergency heart transplant operation that he can’t afford and his insurance won’t cover. Both films have the same articulation of subject matter and theme, the same development of character to the extent that showed some motivation and a resolution of conflict. In both stories, the characters use a permissible and impermissible ways to keep their kids alive. 

 There was another recent film whose originality could be put into test that was released a little earlier, in February 8, 2006, Sara. It is a story of young girl who loses her mother to heart failure and has to live with immoral middle-aged stepfather who has sexual affair with her, a gain similar story to the famous film Lolita, based on Vladmir Nobokov’s novel. It is about a divorced professor who marries a widowed landlady in order that he might pursue the woman’s 14-year-old daughter. In both films, the stepfathers make desperate attempts to keep the affairs in the dark. In both films, it is their teachers who managed to realize that there is something going wrong in the private life of the girls. Towards the end of the movie, both girls got married to young men who came out of nowhere. The glaring similarities in the two films don’t seem to be accident.

There should be nothing wrong in adapting big American film to suit our local needs. But once Ethiopian movie producers fail to acknowledge the source from which the movies are adapted, they lose trust and lose empathy that we otherwise would have extended to a blossoming industry.  Directors have to make it a point mentions the works that are influenced them or they get inspiration from.  

 Otherwise, the 11th Hour and the newest Amharic movies though made with a shoestring budget give hope to the new Ethiopian cinema that aspires to seriousness and higher level, and will find a willing audience.






Categories: Cinema
  1. bk
    June 6, 2006 at 10:53 am

    i was very interested to read about ethiopian cinema
    on your blog, on wich i drifted by chance.
    i’ve never been to ethiopia and i am fascinated by
    your country and it’s richness. i know that it has
    some of the most beautifull treasures of mankind, and
    i would like to know if there was a cinema industry
    before the coup in the 70’s, and also if
    great/important movies have been made by your
    compatriots, and also, what is the situation now, how
    are films produced?
    good bye,

  2. June 6, 2006 at 11:20 am

    Hi, I’m glad you’ve taken a look at my blog. Please, keep on reading. I appreciate your kind words about my country, too.I don’t think there was a cinema industry before the coup though there were two Amharic movies that came out around then. One was Aster, made by Solomon Bekele, one of the pioneers of Ethiopian cinema. Ethiopia’s newest movies that are made on home-based directors are not known outside.
    Of course, most of Ethiopian films are not making it to international market, except those few made abroad.
    Haile Gerima, Ethiopia’s most famous English speaking filmmaker who is based in the United States has made seven films including, Sankofa, a film about slavery (1993) and Adwa (2000), the Ethiopian defeat of the Italians at Adwa. The Hollywood produced Endurance; a biography of the famous athlete Haile Gebresilasie was released in 1998. It was well received. there are two films that relateaboutthe two decades of Ethiopian experiences with the dying feudal monarchy and repressive military dictatorship, Yemane Demissie’s Girigir (Tumult) (1996) and Selam Mekuria’s Yemaebel Wonzoch (Deluge) (1996) ,poular abroad than at home.The latter, Salem Mekuriya is Assocate Proffesor of Art in Wellesly College.
    In 1999, Theo Eshetu’s Il Sangue Non e’Acqua Fresca successfully represented Ethiopia on the world ‘s festival circuit. At the Zanzibar Film Festival 2001, the short film The Father directed by Ermias Woldeamlack won the silver show. More recent is Tariq Shah’s film ‘In Search of King Solomon’s Mines’ released in 2003.For more information, look at the Google.

  3. bk
    June 7, 2006 at 10:09 am

    thank you very much for your overview. i had been
    looking unsuccesfully – maybe incompetently – on the
    internet for this kind of insight.
    there is a rather large ethiopian community here in
    geneva, maybe i can find a couple of the movies you
    speak about – otherwise i’ll simply wait for the
    moment i set a foot in your country (as unconscious
    doesn’t know time and as i feel my life would be
    incomplete whitout a physical move to ethiopia. to go
    there, it’s a dream i have, it mainly started in
    university a couple years ago when i did a paper in
    history of religions about the french writer michel
    leiris who spent about a year in ethiopia in 1931,
    living with a zar pretress and falling in love with
    his daughter, after that i
    read and learned a lot about ethiopia, and when 2
    years ago i listened to the records of a small
    paris-based record company that had unburried
    treasures of the ethiopian music, it was a new shock
    for me – by the way some of this unveiled music
    constitutes the sound tracks of jarmusch’s “broken
    flowers”, bringing these jewels to millions of new
    well, that’s part of my personal tale.
    i read al your blog, particularly liked you personal
    tales and views.

  4. Tseday
    June 7, 2006 at 3:45 pm

    I saw this movie ,too.A huge dissaipontment.It seems this people have no respect gor the public.

  5. Gadol
    June 7, 2006 at 3:53 pm

    For the improvements of the film industry in Africa, the government should reduce the ticket and rental taxes and the investor’s support for the filmmaker needs boosting.

  6. Selam
    June 8, 2006 at 9:10 am

    I saw the 11th hour and to be honest it has some great qualities but the ACTING and the script is so not good. Has anyone seen Yifiker Ngr for me it is alright the acting and the script is very good it has some problem with sound and some of the picture quality is not that great but it is such an engaging, funny and entertaining movie.

  7. arefe
    June 8, 2006 at 2:42 pm

    Hi, selam.Thanks for youe comments.I haven’t seen Yefir Neger but I’d like to
    soon.But if you want to write your reactions about this film , you are welcome.Chaw.

  8. sami
    June 9, 2006 at 7:29 am

    I am surprised you didn’t say a word on Kezkaza wolefen.It is a breakthroug in Amharic movies.

  9. Selam
    June 9, 2006 at 10:45 am

    I saw yefiker Nger on sunday at Alem ciema and i was surprised to find myself actually enjoying an Amharic movie. The actors did not seem like they were acting, they seemed real. and I have fallen in love with Mahare (one of the characters) . And shewaferahu is so funny.

  10. Janbo
    June 10, 2006 at 3:05 pm

    Do you know the 11th Hour is also a title of the 1995 David Wheele’rs movie where
    there is similar case of trying to save someone in danger ?

  11. Samri
    June 12, 2006 at 4:50 pm

    I’d like to propose a name for Ethipian films – Bole Wood.I think Ye Bole lidgoth would be happy.

  12. sofi
    June 12, 2006 at 5:07 pm

    There are similar topics in all movies, like love .What you did was a wrong acusations.They are not adapted , just there are similarites everywhere .

  13. kest
    October 31, 2006 at 12:17 am

    omg i reallu really love kezkaza wolafen but i cried badly couz of the woman when she dead by AIDS and i like gudifecha too

  14. hana
    July 15, 2007 at 10:18 pm

    i relly relly like agapa cause thats great i cried a lot cause of the girl who kill her self i was so scared in that time cause i don’t want her 2died and she is so beautiful and i like yabrado zamen

  15. Annabelle
    November 19, 2007 at 8:55 am

    Dear Arefe,

    I found your blog while googling Ethiopian films/documentaries. I am organising the ‘2nd Addis International Film Festival on Movies move Africa’. It will take place March 2008 in Addis. I am currently selecting the films and researching on the documentary scene in Ethiopia.
    If you have any recommendations on the latest developments in the Ethiopian film scene, please let me know.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

  16. cali
    June 10, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    hey does any body knows any thing about the ethiopian movie bussiness if so can u send info on how to start making my movie i have an idea of an ethiopian movie and i need some one to tell me how i shoud start or what i should know

  17. Bethlehem
    August 22, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    Does anyone know when wessane is coming out you know the movie with fikadu t/mariam as a preist the mother and father dies the kids get adopted the sad sad one that was recently in ethiopian cinema and maybe still is because it didn’t come out on dvd yet.

  18. February 19, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    i love most of your movies

  19. September 20, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    iwish iwant to meet who is doing this film
    cos i have adream i will make a good film just like 11 hour .
    i hope u wil . this is my e-mail amiykonjon@yahoo.com

  20. muluken
    December 8, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    i wish all the best for ethiopian film industry.one day i will be……………..

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