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| 249 Debebe Eshetu Interviewed by Aboneh Ashagrie Addis Ababa, May 1, 2016 Aboneh Ashagrie: The name Debebe Eshetu is closely linked with Ethiopian fijilm. Could you please explain your life experiences that led to your journey in fijilm? Debebe Eshetu: I was born in 1943 in Addis Ababa and attended elementary and secondary school at theTeferi Mekonnen School from 1948 to 1957. I then spent two years in the Ethiopian Air Force from 1958 to 1960 before I enrolled in the Debre Birhan Teacher Training School in 1960. After attending a tutorial in theater arts at the Creative Arts Center, Haile Selassie I University in 1963, I got the chance to study theater and fijilm at Eötvös Loránd University’s School of Arts in Budapest, Hungary, in 1965. On my return to Ethiopia I worked as a freelance journalist with Ethiopian Radio and Television Services and then participated in the Pan-African Cultural Festival in Algeria as a member of the Ethiopian delegation in 1969. Not long after this I was involved in my fijirst fijilm experience. AA: Which fijilm was it? DE: TheSailorfromGibraltar, produced by United Artists Film.The story was about 250 | Debebe Eshetu Interview a sailor from Gibraltar who had a romantic attachment with a French lady and the adventures they had together. AA: How did your casting in this fijilm come about? Was it through an audition? DE: Not through auditioning. I was approached by an Ethiopian professional photographercalledYohannisHaile ,thebrotherof thethenministerof informationDr. Minasse Haile. He had already been contracted to the fijilm, and as they had wanted twoEnglish-speakingEthiopianactorstheyinformedmyself andWegayehuNigatu, my professional twin and close friend with whom I attended both courses at the Creative Arts and in Budapest. Yohannis introduced us to the casting director, and then the British director Tony Richardson talked to us and assigned us two small roles as bartenders. AA: What was your impression then? DE: ForbothWegayehuandIthiswasaGod-givenopportunityasthecastconsisted of great world famous actors like Hugh Grifffijith, Jean Morreau, and being directed by the world-renowned director Tony Richardson. For us, though the role was small, the fact that we were lined up with this world famous cast and crew was a big opportunity. AA: Was there fijinancial reward? DE: We never discussed fijinancial issues. But fijinally we were both granted money we never expected to get and were happy. AA: How was your interaction with the production team? DE: The director and the rest of the crew were full of admiration as they never expected us to react to the camera and the director’s direction. This was an eyeopener for me in the ways of the international fijilm industry. It paved the way for us to get involved in another international fijilm a year after. AA: Which international fijilm? Debebe Eshetu Interview | 251 DE: Una stagione all’inferno/A Season in Hell directed by Nelo Risi in 1970, and was shot in France and Ethiopia. The producer was the then owner of the Asmara brewed Melotti Beer, an Italian, in collaboration with French and Italian fijilm production offfijices. An open tryout had been announced, but I was approached by the casting director. He informed me that he had heard of Wegayehu and me from the casting director of The Sailor from Gibraltar and wanted me to try out for the role of Emperor Menelik. I was given the roll of Emperor Menelik whileWegayehu tried for the part of Ras Mekonnen and got the role. AA: This time women had taken roles as actresses. DE: Yes. The famous radio and TV announcer Elleni Mekuria played the role of an Ethiopian lady. The leading lady role was planned to be cast in Ethiopia, but it was unfortunate that none of the experienced professional stage actresses spoke English, and Florinda Bolkan, a Black Brazilian actress was cast. AA: That was a unique cinematic experience in Ethiopia, for involving women and for treating an issue related to the country’s history. DE: Yes. That was why, during the fijilming, all the necessary support was given to the fijilm company. It was also believed that it would open an opportunity for other fijilm companies to come and work in Ethiopia. AA: So it was based on a true story? DE: It was based on the true story of [Arthur] Rimbaud, a French poet who could not manage life by writing poetry in...


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