On Thursday, November 7, 2019, as part of Wagner College’s annual international film festival, organized by film professors Philip Cartelli and Nelson Kim, the English department hosted Ethiopian filmmaker Solomon Bekele Weya. Solomon is a prominent member of the founding generation of Ethiopian cinema. His most famous work is the film Aster, which first exhibited in theaters in Ethiopia and Europe in 1992. According to the scholarly book Cine-Ethiopia: The History and Politics of Film in the Horn of Africa, “Aster is often noted as being the first truly Ethiopian-made fictional feature film as the cast and crew were all Ethiopian nationals.” Solomon also played an important role in developing Ethiopia’s media industry as a judge at international festivals across Europe and Africa and as a teacher at home in Ethiopia.Pictured from left to right: Steven Thomas, Solomon Bekele Weya, Lee Manchester, Nelson Kim, Philip Cartelli, and Holly Van Buren
Solomon first showed us a short film that he and his students made together in 2013 as part of a workshop. Entitled “Invisible Pollution” about a man who is desperately searching from a quiet place to escape from constant noise pollution, the short film experiments with the interplay of image and sound. One of the unfortunate circumstances of Ethiopia’s cinema history is that revolutionary changes in government and government ownership of the original prints of the film mean that there is no distribution or access to most of Solomon’s work. What we were able to see instead was a short documentary by one of Solomon’s students Mekonnen Tesfaye about Solomon’s legacy as a photographer, filmmaker, and teacher, which includes some candid behind-the-scenes shots of him making his seminal movie Aster. It was a treat for the students who generally have little exposure or access to contemporary Ethiopian culture. After screening the two movies, Dr. Steven Thomas facilitated a discussion between Solomon and the audience that touched on both the artistry and the history of Ethiopian cinema.
In addition to Solomon’s visit, the visual arts department and modern languages department hosted three other movies for the festival during that first week of November, including Summer Pasture by Lynn True and Nelson Walker on Monday, Fin de Siglo by Lucio Castro on Tuesday, and Havana Motor Club by Bent-Jorgen Permutt on Wednesday.