ADDIS ABABA—Lamb, the first ever Ethiopian film screened at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival as an official selection, makes it debut in Ethiopian theaters Thursday. The feature film explores life’s struggles through the eyes of a young Ethiopian boy.
The story’s main character is a nine-year old boy who loses his mother due to drought and is sent to live with relatives. His closest friend is a sheep that he tries to protect from his uncle who wants to slaughter the animal for an upcoming holiday.
Lamb is the first feature film for Ethiopian-American cinematographer Yared Zeleke, 37. He says his intention was to portray universal themes from an Ethiopian perspective.
“I grew up during a very difficult time and I didn’t grow up necessarily privileged. But it was full of love and color and humor, and I try to evoke that,” said Yared. “And I think we need to see more of those positive, human, complex and beautiful images of ourselves here in the Horn of Africa.”
Yared says he can relate to the character of the boy. He says he always felt homesick after being sent to America as a child during the military rule of Mengistu Hailemariam.
Loss, hunger, poverty
Dealing with loss is one of the major themes of the film, but so is hunger and poverty. They are subjects that are commonly associated with Ethiopia, but which the country is trying to overcome. Yared says he used such clichés to portray Ethiopia differently.
“A lot of the narrative is driven by food. The boy loves to cook, he’s obsessed with cooking,” explained Yared. “And so I play with the cliché (of Ethiopian famine and poverty) by depicting the green, rich landscape that is Ethiopia, and also depicting the rich culinary culture that we have by way of the food.”
The children who are the lead characters were selected through mass auditions in Ethiopian schools. Kidist Siyim, 16, is one of them. Kidist had never acted in her life. Now she wants to do more acting after playing the strong-willed and intelligent teenager named Tsion.
She says she really enjoyed playing the character Tsion because it had depth and also because Tsion is someone that she aspires to be in the future.
Being selected for the Cannes film festival has been overwhelming for the director and his crew. The film has already been sold in 15 countries – including France, Germany, Australia, Mexico and Turkey.