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| 1 From Yeseytan Bet— Devil’s House to 7D Mapping Cinema’s Multidimensional Manifestations in Ethiopia from Its Inception to Contemporary Developments Michael W. Thomas R oughly115yearsfromthetimewhenthefijirstattemptwasmadetoestablish a cinema in Ethiopia, in 2012 a seven-dimensional movie show simulator opened in the capital city, Addis Ababa (billed as the fijirst 7D cinema in Africa).1 The time in between the establishment of these fantastical exhibition spaces has borne witness to a long and complex history of cinema in the country. Indeed, Ethiopia has been a site for multiple and diverse experiences of cinema, barely touched upon by scholarship but deserving of as much attention as other signifijicant global cinematic contexts enjoy. Despite much recent scholarship lauding the success of the Nigerian and Ghanaian video fijilm industries, there has been no systemic research on the recent growth of the fijilm industry in Ethiopia. Ethiopiapresentsacasethatdeservesattention,notonlyduetotherapidlygrowing size of its potential internal market but also because, unlike the rest of Africa, European languages are not widely spoken in Ethiopia. This has meant that while Nollywood profijits internationally from the global power and status of English (Adejunmobi 2002), Ethiopia remains relatively untouched by the Nollywood phenomenon.Instead,thelocalAmharic-languagefijilmindustryhasrecentlygrown to fijill the gap in demand for a locally produced and locally comprehensible fijilm industry that has proliferated primarily within Addis Ababa. 2 | Michael W. Thomas Intermsof fijilmculture,Ethiopiaofffersanalternativecasestudycomparedwith other African countries that have favored a “straight to VCD” distribution model.2 CinemasinEthiopiastillplayacentralroleinsocietywiththecommercialAmharic fijilms favoring theatrical releases in the fijifty-odd cinemas that populate Addis Ababa and other urban centers throughout the country.3 Larkin’s influential study on cinema and cinemagoing in Kano (northern Nigeria) and other recent studies highlight the need to broaden the parameters of fijilm studies in order to properly understand the social and cultural impacts and meanings of cinema, moving beyond assumptions of cinema as a “universal language,” to explorations of cinema asahybridizedsiteof distinctglobalandlocalexchangesandmeanings(Doveyand Impey 2010; Garritano 2013; Jancovich, Faire, and Stubbings 2003; Jedlowski 2012; Larkin 2008). At a time, then, when scholars note the demise of cinema across the globe due to the onset of the digital revolution in the new “information age,” it is important to ask why it is that cinema building, movie making, and cinemagoing are enjoying a local renaissance in urban Ethiopia. Cinema is understood here as an inherently modern phenomenon wherein the spectacle of the movie, traversing space and time, constitutes a social event in a translocal space (a space in which global exchanges in goods, ideas, and people occur). Cinema is imbued with intrinsic features of modern society (for example the commodifijication of leisure time). Cinema in Ethiopia began life being vehemently opposed by antimodernizing sectors in a largely conservative society while remaining an important trend setter and facilitator between global cultures andforward-thinkingEthiopians.Withtheadventof localproductionsdominating the big screens in the early 2000s, the position of cinema within society shifted dramatically, shedding its risqué status in order to speak specifijically to the growing urban populations in the country. After licensing stipulations that prevented the screening of DVDs and VHS tapes in Ethiopian cinemas were lifted in 2002, local digital fijilm productions in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia, proliferated exponentially. This popular, low-budget, and commercially led cultural phenomenonhasradicallychangedthemeaningof cinemainthecountry,usurpingtheonce ubiquitous foreign (mainly Hollywood and Bollywood) movies. The popularity of local productions has inspired increased numbers of cinemagoers, which has in turn fueled the construction of cinemas in the country at a rate not seen since the Italians sought to use cinema as a tool of conquest and subjugation during their brief fijive-year occupation of Ethiopia from 1936 to 1941.4 Mapping Cinema’s Manifestations in Ethiopia | 3 The extensive research focused on other media industries in Ethiopia—such as Meseret Chekol Reta’s TheQuestforPressFreedom:OneHundredYearsof History of the Media in Ethiopia (2013) and studies by Gagliardone (2011, 2014) and Gartley (1997)—omit cinema and fijilm from their focus on mass media. As will become evident, there is little work published on cinema in Ethiopia that is based on systematic, academic study.The following historical overview of cinemagoing and fijilm production, framed as a modernizing moment in Ethiopian history, brings together what little scholarship there is on the subject in an attempt at curating scattered writings and mapping a more coherent history.The various works of historians Richard Pankhurst (1968, 1998) and Paulos Ñoño (1992) have been crucial in explainingtheintroductionof...


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