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Aida Ashenafi Tessema

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Key Achievements:  

15 year career in filmmaking in the US and Ethiopia; founded Mango Productions, a communications company, along with a partner, and at Mango, produced Guzo, a film about young people from the city transplanted to rural Ethiopia, which won first prize in the 3rd Annual Addis International Film Festival; in the US, executive produced The Naked Man from script by Oscar winner Ethan Coen; pioneering Ethiopian music video producer nominated for awards for two Johnny Ragga videos; currently, a producing partner of the new Yegna radio series targeted to girls in Ethiopia

Current Position: Managing Director, Mango Production PLC

Birth Place: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Birth Date:  1971

Current Home: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Primary School  

Sandford English School, Addis Ababa; Cono School, Iowa, USA  

Secondary School  

Northfield Mount Hermon, Massachusetts, USA  

University  

B A, Film, Photography and Visual Arts, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY, USA  

Primary Work Area  

Filmmaking, Business Management

Life Story  

Aida Ashenafi has been in the film business for more than 15 years, with a wide-ranging track record in producing music videos for major artists, producing commercials and producing and directing feature films. Returning from the United States in the midst of a successful film production career, she has brought creativity and vitality to the world of Ethiopian film and communications as the founder and Managing Director of Mango Production PLC.

Aida grew up in Addis with her two brothers. Both of her parents worked and taught their children the values of both working hard and having fun. After attending Sandford English School for a few years, Aida was sent along with her brother to boarding school in the US. She says the good schools she went to were instrumental in her growth stressing that a good education is the best gift parents can give their children.

In her junior year in high school, she participated in making video for the school’s seniors. It was this experience that opened her eyes to the world of filmmaking and led her to pursue a triple major in Film, Photography and Visual Arts at Ithaca University in Ithaca, New York, graduating in 1999. Although filmmaking was not a well-accepted profession among Ethiopians, her parents were very supportive of her chosen field, paying for all the movies she made in college and going to see them.

Her career started when she spent a year interning (for free) on the movie I Like it Like That right after graduating from college. By the end of the year, Aida had become assistant to the producer. She went on to work for Jive Records in New York City, overseeing music videos for major artists. After a year, she co-founded Sauce Entertainment, a New York-based production and post-production company. She has produced TV commercials for companies such as Nike, Panasonic, Coca-Cola, Dark and Lovely, and Toys ‘R’ Us – companies located in the USA and in Ethiopia. She supervised music videos for R Kelly, Back Street Boys, A Tribe called Quest, Britney Spears, Joe, and many others. The big break in her career came when she produced her first big movie Naked Man, a script by Oscar winner Ethan Coen, after being introduced to the Coen brothers by her mentor, producer Ben Barenholtz; Naked Man was released by Universal Pictures. Aida has produced several feature films, the romantic comedy I Think I Do and the documentary Media Noche.

Aida returned to Ethiopia in 2000 to be near her terminally ill father; after he died, she joined Cactus Marketing and Advertising Company, as creative director and operations manager, helping to get the company up and running.

Leaving Cactus, after some time off, she founded Mango Productions in 2003 with her business partner Feleke Deneke. Mango Productions is a comprehensive corporate communications company working for a select number of clients whose culture and people they like, including major businesses as well as non-profit organizations.  They service all of the communications needs of their clients, ranging from films to commercials to radio programs in addition to media strategies, advertising, print communications, and branded products. She is currently Mango Production’s Managing Director. On March 8, 2009, Mango Production launched its first 138-minute documentary film Guzo (The Journey), directed, co-produced, and edited by Aida. The film cost around 1.2 million birr to produce.  The film tells the story of a journey by urban youth to the Ethiopian countryside where they learn at first hand the hardships of rural life as well as the shared humanity and wisdom of all people; the film won several awards including First Prize in the Third Annual International Addis Film Festival in 2009.

Aida Ashenafi is a pioneer in the evolution of the Ethiopian music video industry. She has played a leading role in the production of the two Johnny Ragga music videos, \\\'Habeshawi\\\' and \\\'Kulfun Sichign\\\', both of which have been nominated for Best Music Video in the Reggae Category in Africa and East Africa respectively.  She says that these days her company works on music videos for fun.

Working as a woman filmmaker in Ethiopia, Aida has had to face a lot of skepticism. But once people get a sense of her confidence and strength, they are impressed by her strength and confidence and are more than enthusiastic about working with her. She says the biggest obstacle in her career has been handling her employees here in Ethiopia because of the poor work ethic. She says that this problem is not insurmountable and that you can help your employees work efficiently if you treat them with respect and offer them the right incentives.  Mango Productions offers bonuses for longevity, medical expenses, a clothing allowance, and profit-sharing on large successful  projects, and they trust their employees, giving them leeway to use the phones and the internet.  These extra benefits and privileges cost the company about 8% a year, money Aida considers well-spent.  Most of the team has been together for the last eight years.  

Aida’s dream is for Mango Production to be more corporate and systematized. She hopes to work on feature films again and is looking for a timeless story to tell. She hopes to continue to work in diverse areas expanding her horizons even further.

Her advice to young women: Education is important, but experience is just as important. Get the exposure that is very essential for your future after showing your parents and others that you are worthy of trust. One option is to do internships, offering to work for free which will give you a chance to interact in a professional environment. You need  constant access to new things. Do not keep yourself from experiencing different things, that way you will develop very good people skills, which are important to your survival.