"A masterful work of sensory ethnography... Like the construction site it depicts, the film provides infinite raw materials in which to project a broad message of urbanization." - The Film Stage
"The filmmaker’s eloquent new documentary explores the subject of urban development and Westernisation in Ethiopia through the eyes of one captivating ten-year-old boy." - Sight & Sound
- Berlin International Film Festival
- Durban International Film Festival
- Hot Docs International Film Festival
- International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam
This observational portrait of a young boy living on the margins of Ethiopia's tantalizing narrative of growth captures the struggles beneath the headlines to offer a multi-layered reflection on inequality and loss in a time of rapid modernization and change.
With Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's rise to power in 2018, followed by a historic peace treaty with neighboring Eritrea, Ethiopia is positioned as an emerging regional leader in the Horn of Africa. In forming strategic alliances and alleviating decades-long frictions, Abiy has set the conditions for Africa’s second-most populous country to accelerate its sweeping economic and political liberalization. Ethiopia has been Africa's best performing economy over the past 15 years, and its rate of change continues to be dramatic. Increased privatization, an influx of foreign investment, and widespread development projects have accompanied a sentiment of prosperity.
Yet for much of Ethiopia’s ethnically diverse society that has seen its share of historical insecurity, this great economic transformation has become more of a formidable threat. Traditional livelihoods are increasingly being eclipsed. Poverty is deepening within disenfranchised minority groups and tribal societies. Many who are unable or unwilling to adapt quickly to industrialization are facing existential uncertainty, forsaken by an imperfect process biased toward a typical international definition of progress.
Life around a massive, stark condo development in a formally rural district outside Addis Ababa is emblematic of these dynamics. Unfinished and largely unoccupied, the new concrete village appears to have risen from the arid farmlands overnight, creating a unbreachable divide between new occupants and the local farmers they displaced. Gentrified from their home, Asalif (10) and his single mother have been forced to squat temporarily in a makeshift hut without electricity or running water. Now living in the divide between an ancient world and the new one, they are reminded constantly that their government's promise of progress has failed to include them.
When developers come knocking with a threat, Asalif, a highly sensitive and perceptive boy, soaks in his mother’s anxiety of further displacement. Roaming the pathways of the semi-derelict complex alone, he befriends a boy from one of the condos who offers him a glance of the fancy life inside. Increasingly pushed aside by the changes around him, Asalif’s pastime shifts away from the concrete labyrinth and towards the surrounding fields, where he begins to imagine a new identity as a mythical lion protecting his community from the ferocious hyenas in the hills, and perhaps the developers who his mother warns are even worse. His nocturnal wanderings into a dreamlike story of heroism seem a captivating retreat that helps him endure the ongoing hardships that continue to usurp his family and challenge his incipient sense of pride.
An observational work of riveting effect, Anbessa (Amharic for "Lion") explores the emotional topography of its subject to offer an urgent exposé of contemporary life and cultural loss in Ethiopia hidden beneath an optimistic narrative of progress.
86 Minutes. Amharic with English subtitles.Directed by Mo Scarpelli
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