By Arefaynie Fantahun

The Daily Monitor (Addis Ababa)
Sept 25 2006

As many will agree, the cinema industry in Ethiopia is still in its
infant stage. In recent times, the country is seeing a good number
of new generations of filmmakers, in their majority amateurs, who
are making films that are enjoying a good run in various cinema houses.

On a not brighter note, however, the contemporary films "are not up
to the standard," many in the industry admit. There just is much to
be desired as far as the development of films is concerned, they say.

But, ironically, cinema was introduced to this country only three
years after the world's first film ever was projected in Paris in
December 28, 1895 by the Louis Lumière brothers. To get a sense of
how far this industry has come and why it failed to make the progress
it should, read on the following article by our regular contributor,
Arefaynie Fantahun.

In an article appeared in 'Annales d'Ethiopie '(2003), a French
journal on Ethiopia, Dr. Berhanou Abebe, a renowned historian who has
published extensively on aspects of Ethiopian history and culture,
wrote that in 1898, a Frenchman from Algeria brought one of the first
cinematic artifacts to Ethiopia, and sold it to the Italian minister
Ciccodicola, who presented it to Emperor Menilek of Ethiopia as a gift.

It so happened that, Minilik, had heard about the invention and was
keen to get the cinematograph. It was said that he watched several
films after he owned the projector.

According to Dr. Berhanou, there was a film house called 'Pate'
owned by MM. Baicovich Frères in 1909 -1910. People were stunned
by this magical invention for the first months but soon they turned
indifferent. A French historian, Merab, in his 'Impressions d'Ethiopie
(1922), quoted by Dr. Berhanou, said, 'people apparently didn't like
to entertain themselves.' Dr. Richard Pankhurst, a distinguished
historian with several publications and books to his credit, in his
widely-acclaimed book 'Economic History of Ethiopia' (1968) wrote
about another attempt made in 1909-10 by some Armenians, but the
project attracted only temporary interest, and was soon abandoned.

But despite such indifference, the newly established Addis Ababa was
undergoing changes and was on its way to becoming the center of the
country's political and cultural life.

It was at this time the first European oriented school, staffed largely
by the French, was opened in Addis Ababa, and with these were imported
teachers who would promote western-style dramas, the theatres, and
films in the years to come.

According to, Encyclopedia Aethiopica, Vol. I (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz
Verlag, 2003), in the early days cinema, cinema houses were called
'Ye Seytan Bet', (House of Satan), a definition which well suited
the technological "devilry" of cinematographically combined images
and movement.

The first film known to be produced in Ethiopia was a short 16mm
black-and-white film, produced by a certain Tedla on the occasion of
Empress Zewditu's coronation day in 1917.

To be continued.

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