Having successfully premiered “Lamb” in the director’s home city of Addis Ababa earlier this month, the filmmakers have turned their attention to their next important release: in France on September 30.
Earlier this year, “Lamb” became the first Ethiopian film selected for the Cannes Film Festival. It tells the story of a young boy, Ephraim, who is sent by his father to live with his extended family far from home. Ephraim’s only friend is a lamb called Chuni, but his uncle wants to slaughter it for a forthcoming religious festival, setting the clock ticking for this unlikely cinematic pairing.
Scene from 'Lamb'
From the earliest days of scriptwriting to the final days of post-production, this thoroughly Ethiopian cinematic rendition has overcome numerous challenges – thanks to the French film industry.
“When I first read ‘Lamb’ it was obvious to me there was an audience for such a film in France,” said Ghanaian producer Ama Ampadu, who lives in Paris and studied in France. “French audiences have developed a taste for African cinema through the works of African directors like Abderrahmane Sissako, director of ‘Timbuktu’. And when you delve into how these films came about, you will find a French component – it could be the financing, the crew, the world sales agent [or the] producers.”
“It’s not a commercial film, which I like,” said 33-year-old filmgoer Daniel Meles after the Addis Ababa premiere. “For my generation, it’s the first film to take us into the countryside, beyond Addis Ababa.”
“Lamb” began as a 20-page master’s thesis while director Yared Zeleke was a student at New York University film school. A professor later encouraged him to turn it into a feature-length version.
The script won a development fund award in 2012 from the Amiens Film Festival, leading to opportunities for a potential film, said Zeleke, 37.
Meanwhile, Zeleke and Ampadu began working with French producer Laurent Lavolé of France-based Gloria Films Production.
Yared Zeleke, director of “Lamb”, stood outside the Ethiopian National Theatre in Addis Ababa before his film’s premiere.
“When we pitched for funding, it was difficult convincing people to back a film with children and animals, and which we wanted to do in the mountains of Ethiopia,” Ampadu said. “But being based in France, I understand the industry and knew a lot could be obtained here.”
The script gained further funding from CNC Aide aux cinémas du monde. Then in early 2013 the film secured help from French distributor Haut et Court and French international sales agent Films Distribution.
Some of the film’s cast: (left to right) Rahel Teshome, Rediat Amare, Kidist Siyum
“This showed potential funders there was a market for the film, and that once made, the film would get to audiences worldwide, including France,” Ampadu said.
Eventually the film secured its goal of a €1.5 million budget, primarily through European film organizations – half of them French – and through the EU-funded Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Cultural Sector program. In January of 2014 casting began in Addis Ababa.