Anbessa

A curious boy living at the very edge of the modern world seeks his place within it, exposing the hope, tension and a hidden fear of ‘progress’ engulfing his country.
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Director: Mo Scarpelli

Presented by: Mo Scarpelli

Starring: Asalif Tewold, Alem Sebisibe Ayitenfsu

 

2019, Ethiopia, Italy, USA, 85 minutes, Digital, NR

Language: Amharic with English Subtitles

Filmmaker Q&A: Mo Scarpelli

Mo Scarpelli is a Director and Cinematographer of non-fiction cinema. Her work explores human identity and the forces that inform, conflict, or construe it. Mo’s debut feature-length documentary Frame By Frame had its World Premiere at SXSW Film Festival 2015 before screening at Hot Docs (Top Ten Audience Favourites), AFI DOCS, Camden International Film Festival (Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary), and 100+ others around the world.

Mo’s cinematography, short documentaries, photojournalism and writing has been published with The New Yorker, the BBC, CNN’s Great Big Story, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and Africa Review. She is the founder of Rake Films.

Program Notes

Outside Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the border where one of Africa’s largest condominium developments abuts farmlands over a thousand years old, the ever-inventive Asalif dwells in an earthen‑walled tool shed with his mother. Observing him through the perceptive lens of documentarian Mo Scarpelli (MdFF 2015’s Frame by Frame), who began her lasting relationship with the ten‑year‑old when the identical complexes were still new and uninhabited, we discover a boy with unwavering curiosity and imagination. Adorning a costume mane, he transforms into Anbessa (“lion” in Amharic) and searches for ways to fend off the march of “progress” that threatens to displace him and his mother, again.

 

On most days, Asalif sports a pointy blue hoodie and splits his time between the refuse piles at the neighboring condos and the hyena-filled mountains opposite. Venturing between the two locales, Asalif stops occasionally for conversations with birds, to eavesdrop on bar chatter, or to get to know children from the condominiums on one side and the farms on the other. What quickly becomes apparent, is the significance of his status between. Among the new and old, Asalif utilizes his engineering skills to resurrect and repurpose discarded tech—stunning inventions from the grounds of ancient tradition, but minor ones in the shadow of globalism’s manufactured offerings. As modern development encroaches, he must shed the mane of Anbessa and confront the world as Asalif.

 

It is MdFF’s immense honor to present the U.S. Premiere of this stunning coming-of-age documentary, which vibrantly mirrors its subject’s imagination with a creative approach to non-fiction filmmaking. With Anbessa, Scarpelli has crafted an urgent and caring portrait of those cast aside by the processes of modernization. (Mitchell Goodrich)


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