By Tadias Staff
Updated: Monday, June 11, 2012
New York (TADIAS) – As a young boy growing up in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia where his mother worked at the local movie theater, Tamirat Mekonen Teklu, 31, — the director and cinematographer of Teddy Afro’s latest music video Tikur Sew — dreamed of one day becoming a filmmaker. And judging from early reactions to his newest gig, Tamirat’s directorial debut, only three years after receiving a scholarship to study at New York Film Academy, appears to be a smashing success.
TADIAS caught up with Tamirat shortly after he returned to his home in Washington, D.C., following the launch of the music video in Ethiopia last week.
“For 75 days, we worked 18-19 hours a day, non-stop,” he told us. “This was my first project after graduating from film school, so I was working under a lot of pressure.” He added: “My whole Ethiopian filmmaking family had great expectations about this project. At the end of the day, it was a great experience for the whole team.”
Tikur Sew (Amharic for black person), is Teddy Afro’s tribute to the legacy of Menelik II, the emperor who led Ethiopia during the world-famous Battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896. Scoring a decisive military victory against the invading Italian forces Adwa was an event that changed the course of history not only for Ethiopians, but also for the colonial ambitions of a major European power, forcing Italy to recognize the sovereignty of an African nation.
“I really wanted to make the audience to feel and experience the six-hour historical battle,” Tamirat said. “Honestly, though, I did not expect that people would have such a positive and emotional reaction to the music video.” He added: “There were two main messages, which are found in the Amharic quote at the end of the film: ‘In order to define yourself now, you have to look at your past,’” he said. “If those who fought in the battle did not sacrifice their lives for us, we would have lost our culture and identity. We would not be who we are today.”
Tamirat continued: “There was a price that was paid for us to be the only non-colonized African nation. The last scene I created in color was a fantasy scene of the young people of our generation honoring and acknowledging what Emperor Menelik and Empress Taytu Betul accomplished.”
The behind the screens making of Tikur Sew Music Video Tamirat with the actor playing Emperor Menelik II. (photo by Sabisa Films Production)
Tamirat Mekonen with Tesfaye Wondmagegn and production crew in the making of Tikur Sew music video. (photo by Sabisa Films Production)
According to Tamirat, there were 420 actors who took part in the music video, most hailing from the theatrical arts department at Addis Ababa University. “We shot the film in four days and spent two months in post-production,” he told TADIAS. “We worked in four locations all around Addis, including Teddy Afro’s house.”
How did he get involved in the project? “The previous distributor of Tikur Sew before Adika, saw my work and introduced me to Teddy Afro’s former manager Addis Gessese, and then to Teddy Afro, himself,” he said. “After I met him, Teddy let me listen to all of the music that would be on his new CD.” He added: “Teddy and Adika were anticipating producing a DVD with a selection of four music videos from the Tikur Sew album, and I chose the title song Tikur Sew.”
“I grew up watching cinema because my mother was working in the only cinema theater in Bahir Dar.” Tamirat shared. “Every weekend she would let me sit and watch movies. Because of this, I dreamt of one day becoming a filmmaker.”
Tamirat later attended a one year certificate program in filmmaking in Addis Ababa. “I saved the money to pay for the program on my own by walking long hours in order not to have to pay for transportation and sometimes skipping lunch,” he said. “I worked on many films, including: Red Mistake, Ashenge, Albo, and the award winning Siryet. In 2009, he was awarded a Brett Ratner scholarship to attend the New York Film Academy, in New York City, where he studied cinematography. “I was also assisted by my future father-in-law Matt Andrea, who sponsored me to come to the United States,” he said.
Does he have any upcoming projects? “I am working as the director of photography on a feature film entitled Lovers’ Paradise,” he said. “We hope to start shooting around the end of September. Additionally, my company Sabisa Production is set to debut a new feature film, Sons of Sunrise, in the next two months.”
Watch: Tikur Sew – Teddy Afro – HD English version – Ethiopia Music (2012)
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