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| 93 Whether to Laugh or to Cry? Explorations of Genre in Amharic Fiction Feature Films Michael W. Thomas F ocusing on the distinctive nature of popular fijilm culture in Ethiopia compared to other contexts, this chapter explores the complex expressions of fijilm genre in Ethiopia. This investigation is conducted through the prism of genre as it manifests itself in varying forms and meanings throughout the production, distribution, exhibition, and reception of fijilms in the Amharic Ethiopian fijilmic landscape. The rise of cinemas and cinephiles dedicated to Amharic fijiction fijilm is a phenomenon that has paved the way for the creation of a commerciallyviablefijilmindustryinEthiopiawithlocalyethybridizedgenres.These genresdonotonlyactasmediatorsbetweenproducersandconsumers.Importantly, their defijinitions are constantly in flux as they act as markers by which fijilms are understood in many parts of production, marketing, exhibition, and consumption, both reflecting and inflecting history and society. Recent scholarship on cinematic genres (Altman 1999; Grant 2007; Langford 2005; Moine 2008; Neale 2000) call for studies that move away from dogmatic formalist and structuralist categorization and theorization of genre toward a “concept of genre [that] derives its meaning and operative value from the complex play of interactions between fijilms and their contexts of production and reception” (Moine 2008, xvii). In this way, this chapter aims to contribute to global genre theory in fijilm studies as well as contributing to 94 | Michael W. Thomas the small but growing strand in African fijilm studies that take genre as a focal point, particularly influenced by Jonathan Haynes’s seminal Nollywood: The Creation of Nigerian Film Genres (2016). Richard Jameson describes the idea of genre as “second nature to the movies and our awareness of them. Movies belong to genres much the way people belong to families or ethnic groups” (1994, ix).This notion is similarly echoed in screening schedules throughout cinemas in Ethiopia; often second only to the name of the movie is the fijilm’s genre or type (in Amharic: yefijilmu aynet, “the fijilm type”). The genre type of a movie also appears in movie trailers, on posters, and even on video CD (VCD) jackets. The prominence of genre appellations indicates the role they playintheEthiopiancontextandraisesquestionssurroundingthespecifijicimpacts of genre on the production, distribution, exhibition, and consumption of Amharic fijilms. My emphasis on the role of genre in Ethiopian productions is based on the sense that Ethiopian fijilms, like their counterparts in Nigeria, are “essentially generic” due to market considerations (Haynes 2011, 67). Since genre fijilms are often associated with low art, because of their formulaic structure and repetitive elements, as opposed to the novelty of art house/festival fijilms, the critical lens that genre theory provides enables a productive and generative way of considering all types of fijilms. This will importantly contribute to the signifijicant current focus on how fijilm scholars can analyze both global art house (festival) fijilms and popular fijilms from localized commercial fijilm industries around the globe, and how we can fijind ways of approaching the diffferences and similarities between what is assumed to be high and low art. This chapter explores, in particular, the two most prolifijic genres in Amharic fijilms, yefijiker fijilm (love fijilm) and assikiñ yefijiker fijilm (humorous love fijilm), which have come to dominate cinemas across Ethiopia since the flourishing of the fijilm industry in the early 2000s. The analysis of the yefijiker fijilm and assikiñ yefijiker fijilm genres will show how genres in Ethiopia are inflected by both foreign (Bollywood melodramaandHollywoodromanticcomedies)andlocalinfluences.Furthermore, the prolifijic use of the term fijiker (love) in the names of genres will receive particular attention in conjunction with the analysis of fijilms, interpreting the concept of fijiker as a culturally and historically specifijic rendering of an Ethiopian “melodramatic imagination” (Brooks 1976). Melodrama is a key concept with Grant and Kuhn stating, “it is melodrama, or rather the melodramatic imagination, that emerges as the most pervasive, and the most thoroughly scrutinized, of generic modalities across world cinemas” (2006, 6). The term “melodramatic imagination” will be Genre in Amharic Fiction Feature Films | 95 discussed in more depth later in the chapter, offfering more abstract thoughts after the discussion of fijilms, their genres, and their fluctuating popularity in Ethiopia. The approach of this chapter aims to galvanize scholarship in melodrama and genre studies by arguing for cinema genres...


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