Ethiopian journalist hopes for win at FESPACO

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A short film entitled Gerreta by DW’s Mantegaftot Sileshi, is competing for a prize at this year’s desert film festival, FESPACO. The event in Burkina Fasa puts African cinema in the spotlight.

The film opens with a man running down an alleyway, chased by a furious mob. His fast breathing reflects his deep panic. As he runs, he fears for his life. He has been accused of stealing and the machete, stick and rock-wielding crowd are seeking revenge.

The eight-minute-long feature film is entitled Gerreta which means ‘mob’ in the Ethiopian lingua franca Amharic. But Gerreta also means confusion. The film’s title suggests that filmmaker Mantegaftot Sileshi Siyoum wants to convey more than just a simple story.

“The title of the film is just the first layer of the concept,” said Mantegaftot or Mante, as he likes to be called.

Through Gerreta, Mante puts the spotlight on mob justice and its effects in Ethiopia, a country where even a small-time pickpocket can face the death penalty, carried out by an angry crowd.

But aside from the phenomenon of mob justice, the Ethiopian filmmaker also turns the mirror to the world of the thief and the reasons that drive many like him to become burglars.

“When you go deep into the story, it isn’t just about a man stealing and trying to feed his daughter and then being chased away by a mob. I wanted to express a much deeper concept,” he said.

Nothing that happens in the film, happens by coincidence. Mante has infused every piece of scenery, every prop, with a deeper meaning.

On one level, the story may be fiction but it also portrays the daily lives of many people in poorer neighborhoods of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

Telling this story was a time-consuming and complicated undertaking for the filmmaker, who also works for Deutsche Welle’s  Amharic service. “It was difficult shooting the film, not because of the craft but because of internal things,” Mante said.

“My daily bread comes from journalism. But I made this film without any external funding. The next difficulty was time. I spend all day being a journalist, so I had to use my spare time to make the film,” he explained.

The FESPACO film festival site (picture-alliance/dpa)The film festival takes place from February 25 to March 04, 2017

Before the 37-year-old Ethiopian journalist moved to Germany in 2007, he had worked as a film director in his home country. His wish to study at a German university brought him to the western German city of Bonn, where DW is also located.

Ten years later, the Rhineland region has become Mante’s second home, where he lives with his wife and two daughters. After completing his master’s degree, Mante joined DW’s Amharic service, where he hosts a radio program in his native Amharic language. Filmmaking is now just a hobby, but he still keeps his audience deep in his heart.

“My audience has a priority. I think it should be the same for everyone. If your audience is not your priority, then you can’t fulfil what they want,” he said.

Mante’s goal of satisfying his audience was boosted after a recent screening of Gerreta at DW’s headquarters in Bonn reminded him why he should continue to make films.

“This guy came up to me and said, ‘Hey, this is my story! Where did you get it from? It is in my heart, I felt like I was there.’

I am from East Africa, Ethiopia, and he is from West Africa and he said ‘this is a story about me.’ I felt elated.” Mante said.

The same man suggested that Mante should apply to show his film at the pan-African film festival FESPACO in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Mante did just that.

Known also as ‘the desert film festival,’ FESPACO puts African cinema in the spotlight and gives African filmmakers an opportunity to showcase their talents in front of an international audience. Gerreta was selected from a list of thousands of submissions.

The film has already been awarded  ‘Best International Short Film’ at the River Film Festival in Padua, Italy, in 2015.

When a FESPACO jury announces the winning films on Saturday (04.03.2017), Mante hopes he’ll be able to return home to Bonn with another accolade for Gerreta.

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