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“Work on Progress” Eritrean Film Workshop

One of the most dominant forms of communication, since the twentieth century, has been film. Film has allowed the art of visual and motion pictures to evolve in being a real form of science and a massive industry.

It is fair to say that film became a form of art that comprises several fields of study ranging from the disciplines of sound, to the areas of research, history, social studies, engineering, geometry and the ever mystifying domain of dreams, thoughts and tastes; the subconscious. This is what film is.

Throughout the years, filmmakers’ bizarre imaginations and endless efforts to give sense to their peculiar fantasies gave birth to countless techniques and innovations in the making of cinema. As a result, they harbored a language, a method of communication, which best fits the people involved in the making of films. We refer to it as cinematic language. This language broke all the linguistic barriers worldwide. It is indeed a language that can be spoken and understood worldwide. That is where the greatest importance of film is. Film breaks borders, cultural walls and racial differences. Film is language of the mind that gloriously delivers its essence to the conscious cognizance of all peoples. And, as such, it is a field that is shared by persons worldwide. It is a field that bestows a vast platform for a myriad of talents to be generated and manifested without out any limits.

In a country like Eritrea where there is a rich history that needs to be told, film would be one of the best media to showcase Eritrea’s chronicles to the rest of the world that knows so little about Eritrea.

On such account, the Cultural Affairs of PFDJ and stakeholders are investing notable attention to Eritrean filmmakers’ trough ongoing trainings.

The film workshop “Work on Progress” has now been going on for three consecutive years. The one-month long workshop takes palace in summer. That is when Eritrean volunteer professionals come to Eritrea and train artists in film production. Artists come together twice a week, through the year, to follow-up the workshop. They watch recommended films and analyze the cinematic language of the films they watch together. In the long run this particular activity became an exercise for the mind and a reminder of the trainings offered in the workshop.

Assistant professor at the Howard University in Washington DC, Ambessa Jir Berhe, and Isseyas Tesfamariam are the main instructors of the summer workshop. Ambessa Jer normally takes on the technical instructions of film making, while Isseyas Tesfamariam focuses on the historical part of the art. He also refers to hundreds of historical episodes worldwide.

The workshop’s aim goes beyond ‘just’ filmmaking. The overall objective is to make film that best represents Eritrea and Africa to the world. Based on shared conviction Eritrean artists, Eritrean volunteer instructors, Cultural Affairs of PFDJ, sponsors and stakeholders embarked on this mission in the summer of 2016 with eighty-six artists. The following year the number of participants reached one hundred three and this time around, ninety six people joined the workshop. This year was different in terms of participants as for the first time in three years the organization office of the workshop invited journalists and TV program producers.

Generally, the workshop participants are divided in two sections; the beginners and advanced. The program is prepared accordingly for the two sections. As it is multidisciplinary, several Eritrean professionals collaborate and join hands in sharing their knowledge. Last year, Mahlet Habte, an Eritrean sound engineer and film maker, based in London was one of the visiting instructors. Her stay was a memorable one as she made music out of various native cultural vocal sounds and hums. This year, Sara Tracy Meretab brought authentic and constructive criticism as the young Eritrean-American film maker is a novice to Eritrea’s film production prototypes.

Clearly the schedule extended throughout the month is packed. Morning shifts are reserved for section one, the beginners, and the afternoon for section two, advanced artists and journalist, who’ve participated in film or documentary making. Moreover, the evening is booked for film viewing at Cinema Asmara. Everyone gathers to watch movies followed by a group discussion late at night. The movies selected for the film viewing are analyzed before screening in order to have the workshop program and film composition match for better understanding of the theories explained in class. However, not only are they analyzed for their technical composition but also for their historical relevance. The story of Lucia in three stages of Cuba: 1885, in the war versus Spain, 1932 the introduction of Socialism, and, 1960, amidst the Cuban revolution, is an emotional journey that to some extent can be linked to that of countless Eritrean female freedom fighters. ‘Teza’ a multi awards Ethiopian film was also in the list followed by a film of Ousmane Sembène.

The multi-disciplinary intense workshop takes into consideration general production, storytelling and its relevance to history and national, regional and continental factual events that are worth mentioning, cultural gems and way of how to produce film that remain true to the Eritrean and African Identity rather than making films that copy others like,for instance, Hollywood. Besides, we can all agree that imitating Hollywood or any other giant film makers would be impossible when speaking in terms of local capacities and, more importantly, when asking who’s responsible for telling Eritrean and African stories. Thus, expanding expertise in cinematic language to be able to eventually formulate an etymology for African narratives is the ultimate goal and vision of the workshop.

This particular message of staying true to your identity and determination topped by hard work for self-development, was highlighted in the speech Mr. Zemhiret Yohannes delivered in the closing ceremony of the workshop held at the premises of the iconic architectural beauty Cinema Asmara. Mr. Zemhiret Yohannes quoted renowned Italian film maker Fellini who compares the language of film to that of dreams. Mr. Zemhiret Yohannes praised Ambessa Jir Berhane, IsseyasTesfmariam and Sara Meretab for their devotion towards a shared dream. He also gave much praise to the artists and their work so far after recalling the paramount importance of further dedication of everyone involved. The celebratory closing ceremony night was made colorful by short films produced by participants of the workshop.

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