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Overview of the current FILM INDUSTRY IN ETHIOPIA

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By Yirgashewa Teshome

What type of development is the Ethiopian film industry?

The Ethiopian movie industry operates outside the established channels of screen financing, production and distribution. Since the 1990s, low-budget movie production has boomed in Ethiopia, creating a vibrant screen culture that attracts a passionate audience throughout the country. Every year over hundred titles, from true story to fiction movies, are shot and released. Nobody knows precisely how many, but their massive popularity with audiences around the country is universally acknowledged.

The model of production and distribution is informal, yet it is also becoming increasingly professionalized. Films are scripted and shot quickly, often in a matter of months, then distributed on videodisc (VCD) through a network of small stores, markets and itinerant traders; movies are watched at cinema, home or in makeshift video clubs, markets, etc. This informality has both advantages and disadvantages. It means that Ethiopian movie has no official institutional presence outside Ethiopia, and its existence is not even acknowledged in many surveys of international cinema production. Because it is disengaged from the international festival and sales circuit, its products are difficult to acquire outside Ethiopia (although digital streaming via YouTube and pay-per-view sites is growing).

Ethiopian film industry’s informal structure makes it possible for films to be made quickly, cheaply and with minimal red tape, but it also results in instability and a fly-by-night mentality among producers. Weak intellectual property enforcement in the early years led to widespread piracy but also to deep audience penetration. Research suggests that the industry’s informal financing practices – in which production capital from one film is used to finance the next one, with no bank involvement – has worked well for smaller productions, but is increasingly a problem for more ambitious producers wishing to scale up their movie-making and attract audiences among the diaspora and internationally. At the same time, elements of the industry are increasingly organized. A complex system of guilds and professional associations exists, along with a highly developed star system and reviewing infrastructure.

The sector that faces to struggle 

The Ethiopia Film industry face numerous barriers to domestic and global market participation including lack of production facilities, poor market organization, inadequate rules and regulation, limited understanding of global markets, the problem of language, and lack of bargaining power and commercial relationships. Hence majority of local film maker and producers are isolated in marginal economic areas such as micro and informal enterprises. While they face these challenges their problems are magnified by lack of access to the networks that can help them compete in global film business. There is lack of coordination mechanisms between government policy makers, private sectors and civil society.

Challenges faced by film Industry in Ethiopia.

Lack of infrastructure/ Lack of enough capital has been a big problem that hinder the development of film industry in Ethiopia, film production requires proper equipments no matter it’s a low budget or big budget production and the cost of acquiring the equipments is high, that most of Ethiopia film makers/producers does not afford. Also the capital has been hindering media and production houses to own proper and developed equipments for productions.

The Ethiopia Government policy has not been fully support film sector; it does not create market for Ethiopian films although film in one way or another it portray the culture and tradition of Ethiopia globally. The use of Government statues, flag, logos, buildings etc has been very difficult even though the production companies pays taxes and film shooting permits.

Fake/Pirated Tapes, DVD’s & VCD’s, becomes a big challenge to film industry in Ethiopia, films are being pirated by the small local studios on the streets and they sale them at a cheap price twice less than what the original copy price. Its hard finding these studios because most of them are inside the houses or just one person with the computer which burns the DVD/VCD can just decide to make copies for selling. Bad thing is, there is no clear law about the pirates/fake products.

Copyright in Ethiopia is something you can dream of, though there is Patent Right Office and Copy Right Association which takes a role in copyrights law for music and film in Ethiopia but there is no any developed movements made for this issue, people can use other people’s ideas, or even copy them and nothing can be done against them.

Education, knowledge, professionalism about the film itself and the whole industry, it is a night mare to many of the film makers in Ethiopia. The industry has been of a talent rather than a professional job. “Anything without knowledge does not have a life in this century”. If there is an increase in the number of the film makers it’s a good thing but not everybody can be director, in Ethiopia it has become a behavior for many actors/actresses to start producing films and call themselves Directors, Cameraman etc while they are just actors/actresses. The films produced from them are of low quality and they do not meet the standards of good films. Since everybody with a hand cam, small DV Cam can start shooting film and bring them to the market and the availability of the buyers in Video Stores and others who do not care about the quality of the film,  all they care about is the story and the how famous the casts are.

Distribution and Market, The market and distribution of Ethiopian films doesn’t improve fast cross the borders as the Ethiopia music does, though some of Ethiopian films/movies have started being sold in US  and Middle East but still isn’t fast enough for the Ethiopian film industry. This is because there are no good plans for distribution and market for Ethiopian films/movies to the global market.

Effect of Hollywood and foreign films to Ethiopia film industry, Ethiopia has become a very good market for Hollywood films/movies, which is good for them but it has reduced the market for our domestic films/movies and it made Ethiopia film makers to copy the style and the way of presenting the stories in the films as American. Films from the other countries are also additional side effects to the local film industry as Televisions in Ethiopia are giving airtime to foreign contents,(news, program, film..) more than domestic products, this create more market for foreigners than domestic. Especially the emerging satellite televisions are the main among others creating influence on the film professionals and viewers. With the mass foreign contents provided every day they managed to divert the attention of local viewers from local to the foreign products and to get the local filmmakers either out of the market or adapted more the film making style of foreigners rather than their own way of storytelling. 

In the stated basic factors the industry is in bad situation going to nowhere. This is the time for stakeholders to think about the challenges that the industry faces and put ways forward.