Wagner faculty collaborate with Ethiopian film and media

Wagner faculty collaborate with Ethiopian film and media

Berhanu & Thomas

In December, Ethiopian Herald reporter Berhanu Gemechu (left) sat down with Wagner College English professor Steven Thomas for an interview in Addis Ababa.

The recent visit to Ethiopia by Wagner College English professor Steven Thomas and Wagner’s director of film and media initiatives, Stephen Greenwald, was featured in a story by Ethiopian journalist Berhanu Gemechu, “Apt Step to Making Use of Showbiz Potential,” that was published earlier this month in the Ethiopian Herald, the country’s oldest English-language newspaper.

“The Steves” travelled to Ethiopia last December with two companions: journalist, playwright, novelist and aspiring filmmaker Dhaba Wayessa, and documentary filmmaker Jennifer Dworkin.

Together, they hoped to explore opportunities for collaboration between Wagner College and Ethiopian filmmakers, explore joint film education and training programs, and learn about the challenges of building a film industry in a developing country as the basis for future academic courses and programs.

Steven Thomas and Stephen Greenwald achieved much on their short trip. In collaboration with Sandscribe Communications, an Ethiopian film and media organization, and Rift Valley University College, they put on a symposium about the future of Ethiopia’s film industry. In the audience were Ethiopian students, media professionals, government officials and businessmen and women.

They organized a short workshop for Sandscribe Communications students on documentary filmmaking, led by Jennifer Dworkin, director of the critically acclaimed documentary film, “Love and Diane.”

During their trip, they also began conducting some preliminary investigations into the film industry in Ethiopia and met with several filmmakers there. Dworkin brought the students from her workshop to the studio of one of those filmmakers, Paulos Regassa. Thomas and Greenwald also met with some media professionals, government officials, businessmen and non-governmental organizations. One of these NGOs was Slow Food International, which was featured in a Wagner Newsroom interview last year. In addition, looking ahead to possible educational opportunities for international exchange, they met with faculty from Addis Ababa University, Rift Valley University College and Wollega University.

Some of the professionals and journalists they met had actually participated via the Internet in a class on “movies, media and globalization” taught at Wagner College by Steven Thomas in the spring of 2013. This class was a collaboration between Sandscribe Communications in Ethiopia and Wagner College and succeeded in creating a “virtual bridge” between students in both countries.

Thomas’s relationship to Sandscribe began in 2008, when he was giving a presentation at an Oromo Studies Association conference in Minnesota. The Oromo are one of the largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia, though largely unknown to Americans. Thomas became involved with Oromo intellectuals who immigrated to America through his wife Maya, who is Oromo. In his presentation, Thomas discussed a short film, “Fallen Beats,” directed by Dhaba Wayessa. Dhaba, an Oromo-language journalist at the Voice of America in Washington, D.C., earned his master’s degree in film from Howard University. Coincidentally, Dhaba was in the Minnesota conference audience and later approached Thomas; together, they began to work to foster the film industry in Ethiopia and nurture young Oromo men and women interested in expressing themselves through this medium.

Stephen Greenwald brings considerable experience in the film industry to this discussion. Among his long list of credentials, he served as the president and CEO of the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group and later co-authored the book, “This Business of Film: A Practical Guide to Achieving Success in the Film Industry.”

Steven Thomas has published scholarly articles on globalization and American literature. He also kept a blog of his trip to Ethiopia while he was there.