Thursday, November 8, 2012

GemTV "Making films that make a difference" The young, independent, Ethiopian filmmakers

Coming up from the streets of the Mercato slum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, this video production company refuses to desert its local focus.

Facing suffocating media restrictions, one Addis Ababa-based video production company is finding innovative ways to tell the stories of its community.

Adanech Admassu and the team at Gem TV have just finished shooting a 25-minute drama that revolves around an HIV-positive boy and his friends' reaction to his illness.

Instead of ostracising him, his peers embrace him so much that he is forced to withdraw from their suffocating attention.

This story of reverse discrimination is typical of Gem TV's off-beat approach to the everyday concerns of the community its staff live in and work with.

In May this year, it won the One World Media Special Award, presented annually to an outstanding media organisation working on the ground in a developing country.

In 1995, 12 young people from disadvantaged families in the Mercato slum of Addis and others living on the streets started a five-year training programme with tuition from British media professionals.

Four of the alumni went on to form Gem TV. "We are from the community, and we work for our community," says Adanech.

Gem TV is just one of thousands of civil society and media organisations struggling to adapt to laws that restrict the freedom of journalists.

In July, an Ethiopian journalist was convicted of conspiring with rebels to overthrow the government, and in 2011 two Swedish journalists were sentenced to 11 years in prison, though they have now been released.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 10 journalists have been charged under an Ethiopian anti-terrorism law.

The laws have made Gem TV careful about the commissions it accepts.

Earlier this year the company was approached by an international news organisation to provide stories.

In a country in which the state controls all broadcast media and operates only one television station, high quality and independent TV news is rare.

But it turned down this opportunity, preferring to maintain its community focus.

The government's hold on local-language television means that Gem TV's output does not have the reach that it would like.

But it is determined to continue its work and has ambitions to move into children's television, animation and feature films.

A possible collaboration with Brazilian filmmaker Henrique Goldman on the story of Ethiopian jazz, is currently under discussion.