Through a coming-of-age story, ANBESSA captures one boy taking on modernization on his own terms, revealing a unique and magical perspective on the myth of “progress” that entraps us all.
Ten-year-old Asalif and his mother have been displaced from their farmland on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by the construction of a condominium. As they watch the buildings take shape, they are reminded in small and big ways that their country’s dream of “progress” is not for them.
To fight back against those casting him out and those threatening his mother’s safety, Asalif taps into a fantasy of becoming his hero: the lion (“anbessa” in Amharic). Asalif uses his imagination to battle forces beyond his control. His newfound power and fantasy take him to places he never imagined inside and out of the condo until finally, Asalif must find the strength that resides in him as a boy, and shed the lion persona, in order to deal with the tides of change and violence that are usurping a community, a country, and his own identity.
SCREENINGS & AWARDS
2019 World and International Premiere: Berlinale International Film Festival – Generation KPlus (Competition) * Crystal Bear Nominee* Glashütte Documentary Prize Nominee
2019 IDFA – Kids & Docs Competition Selection
2019 Durban International Film Festival
2019 MountainFilm Telluride
2019 Olympia Intl Film Festival for Children & Youth
2019 RiverRun Intl Film Festival
2019 Thessaloniki Documentary Festival
2019 Human Rights Watch Film Festival London
2019 Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival
2019 Rooftop Films
2019 DOC NYC
2019 Rome Independent Film Festival * National Film Competition Selection
2020 Festival Internacional de Cine de Cartagena de Indias (FICCI)
2020 Docudays Ukraine
2020 Sole Luna Doc Fest
Copenhagen Architecture Festival, Stockfish Film Festival, This Human World Film Festival, London Migration Film Festival , Busan International Children & Youth Festival, UNICEF Innocenti Film Festival – Italy, Ljubljana International Film Festival , Heartland Film Festival , Cleveland International Film Festival, Cucalorus Film Festival, Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, Mammoth Lakes Film Festival, Berkshire International Film Festival , San Francisco DocFest, Pripovedovalski Festival – Slovenia, Take One Action Film Festival – Scotland, FlyWay Film Festival, New Hampshire Film Festival, Tumbleweed Film Festival, DC Environmental Film Festival, Ashland Independent Film Festival , Woods Hole Film Festival, Port Townsend Film Festival, Gimli Film Festival, FREEP Detroit Film Festival, Addis International Film Festival..
Other Cinema series – London
FilmScene – Iowa City, USA
Art of Buna – Cologne, Germany
Doctober at the Pickford Film Centre – Seattle, USA
UCLA Luskin School & African Studies Center
CineCulture at Fresno State University
Olafur Eliasson Studios *Special screening for the artist’s studio in Berlin
- Jury Special Mention for Best Documentary at Durban International Film Festival
- El Mirador Award for Best Documentary Feature at MiradasDoc
- Best Cinematography at Sole Luna Doc Fest
- MountainFilm Telluride
* Best Director Award
* Honorable Mention for Best Documentary Feature
- Nominated for Glashütte Documentary Award Berlin IFF
- ECFA Award for Best Documentary at Olympia Intl Film Festival for Children & Youth
- Jury Honorary Mention for Best Documentary Feature at RiverRun Intl Film Festival
- SIMA – Social Impact Awards 2020 for the Best Cinematography
Reviews: Beatz Of All Nationz, OkayAfrica, UK Film Review, Screen Daily, Hollywood Reporter, BFI’s Sight &Sound magazine, Filmmaker Magazine – 50 Most Anticipated American Films of 2019, Convenzionali, Interview by Gabriele Ottaviani, Reuters, Goombastomp, Variety – Berlin Films Revealed
Mo Scarpelli: “We film your dreams in a documentary way”
Interview with Mo Scarpeli by Diego Brodersen for Página12.ar , 28th of August 2020 (Spanish)
Part ethnographic essay, part intimate portrait of the daily life of an Ethiopian boy who seems about to leave his childhood behind, Anbessa finds in the boy a witness to the changes taking place in his environment, without ever leaving his point of sight.
“Anbessa”: visions of the past and the future
The film’s review by Luciano Monteagudo for Página12.ar, 28th of August (Spanish)
Filmed on the outskirts of the Ethiopian capital, everything that in “Anbessa” can be inferred from the tensions between tradition and progress, culture and modernity, politics and real estate interests is expressed only from the protagonist child and his environment.
“Visually arresting… incredibly fascinating and absolutely worth watching.” — Film Threat
“Eloquent… a tender portrait” — Sight & Sound
“ANBESSA does not play tricks… beautiful, humorous and thought-provoking.” — Little Village
“Hope and despair intermingle in a profoundly cinematic mix.” — Hammer To Nail
DIRECTORS’S BIOGRAPHY & FILMOGRAPHY
Mo Scarpelli is an Italian-American director and cinematographer of nonfiction cinema. Her first solo-directed documentary feature, ANBESSA, premiered at the Berlinale 2019 in Generations KPlus competition, and was nominated for the Glashütt Documentary Award. Her feature documentary FRAME BY FRAME (codirected with Alexandria Bombach) screened at SXSW 2015, Hot Docs (Audience Top Ten Films), BFI London Film Festival and 100+ other festivals, garnering 15+ jury and audience awards as well as a Cinema Eye Honors nomination. Mo is a selection of Berlinale Talents 2018, twice a recipient of Catapult Film Fund support, and has received the Speranza Female Filmmaker Award. Her documentary short work includes directing EL HARA (NYJFF 2018) and SURVIVING KENSINGTON (Vimeo Staff Pick 2017), and serving as cinematographer on films including SPEAKING IS DIFFICULT (Sundance 2016). Mo’s current film, shot in Venezuela, is in early post production.
DIRECTOR + DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
EL FATHER PLAYS HIMSELF – Venezuela / United Kingdom / Italy – 105 minutes – 2020
ANBESSA – Ethiopia / Italy / USA – 86 minutes – 2019
EL HARA – Tunisia / France / USA – 16 minutes – 2018
FRAME BY FRAME – Afghanistan / USA – 86 minutes – 2015
SURVIVING KENSINGTON – USA – 16 minutes – 2014
ALDO – dir by Lorenzo Signoretti – Italy – documentary feature – in development
GROOMED – dir by Gwen van de Pas – Netherlands / USA – documentary feature – in post production
GRAMMA & GINGA – dir by Jennifer Steinman Sternin – USA – documentary feature – in post production
FLAVIO-SHIRÓ – dir by Margaux Fitoussi & Adam Tanaka – Brazil / France – 21 min – 2019
Summer’s Evening – dir by Eva Ellingsworth – Netherlands / USA – music video – 4 min – 2017
MEET A FIGHTER WITHOUT GLOVES – dir by Zack Canepari – USA – 9 min – 2017
SPEAKING IS DIFFICULT – dir by AJ Schnack – USA – 12 min – 2016
SHOPPER – dir by Zack Canepari – USA – 7 min – 2016
MAi: Life is Not Honey – dir by Gelila Bekele – Ethiopia, USA – 22 min – 2015
Director Mo Scarpelli
Executive Producers Danielle Perissi, Gelila Bekele
Producers Caitlin Mae Burke, Mo Scarpelli
Field Producer Misgan Assefa Lulie
Co-Producer D.D. Wigley
Associate Producer Pierce Varous
Director of Photography Mo Scarpelli
Editors Nico Leunen, Thomas Pooters
Music by Erik K. Skodvin
Sound Design Tijn Hazen
Re-Recording Mixer Tijn Hazen, Gustavo A. Gonzalez
Translators Misgan Assefa Lulie, Jessica Beshir, Menbi Seyoum, Ambay Tessema, Adey Hailu, Harya Tarekegn
Asalif Tewold, Alem Sebisibe Ayitenfsu, Kuckuyay, Kuba, Abinet, Biruk Aderi, Getnet, Ato Silesh, Meseret Dechasa, Birtukan (Mule) Biruk Aderi, Aster Biruk Aderi, Fikadu Biruk Aderi, Tigist Biruk Aderi, Tsehay Biruk Aderi, Teshome Seifu, Eshetu Zewdie Soloman Girma, Fikrab Gebeyehu Silesh, Misgan Assefa Lulie
PRODUCER’S BIOGRAPHY & FILMOGRAPHY
Caitlin Mae Burke is an Emmy award-winning producer of documentary films and nonfiction television,
Caitlin Mae Burke produced the features NUTS! (dir. Penny Lane), which received a Special Jury Prize at Sundance in
2016, and OBIT. (dir. Vanessa Gould), which premiered at Tribeca in 2016 and was named one of Entertainment
Weekly’s “Ten Best Movies of 2017.” Burke’s other acclaimed productions include FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY (directed by
Jeff Reichert, Farihah Zaman, and Michael Koresky) which was one of Film Comment’s “Best Undistributed Films of
2018”, WE COULD BE KING (2015 Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Documentary), SEX AND BROADCASTING (dir.
Tim K. Smith) distributed by Factory 25, and APPROACHING THE ELEPHANT (dir. Amanda Rose Wilder), a nominee at
the Gotham Awards, Cinema Eye Honors, and Independent Spirit Awards. Her short film work includes ADVERSARY (dir.
Scott Cummings) for Field of Vision, awarded Best Documentary Short at Dallas International Film Festival, and ODE
TO JOY (dir. Michael Koshkin). Burke has produced and directed television and web series for CNBC, Destination
America, DirecTV, Discovery Networks, ESPN, OWN, TLC, Sundance Channel, and YouTube Red. In 2018, she was
selected for the prestigious Berlinale Talents, an annual summit and networking platform, and DOC NYC’s inaugural 40
UNDER 40 list
WE COULD BE KING (dir. Judd Ehrlich, 2014) documentary feature, 80 min.
APPROACHING THE ELEPHANT (dir. Amanda Rose Wilder, 2014) documentary feature, 90 min
SEX AND BROADCASTING (dir. Tim K. Smith, 2015) documentary feature, 78 min.
NUTS! (dir. Penny Lane, 2016) documentary feature, 78 min.
OBIT. (dir. Vanessa Gould, 2016) documentary feature, 95 min
ADVERSARY (dir. Scott Cummings, 2017) documentary short, 17 min
ODE TO JOY (dir. Michael Koshkin, 2018) documentary short, 11 min
FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY (dir. Jeff Reichert, Michael Koresky, Farihah Zaman, 2018) hybrid feature, 84 min
RAKE FILMS produces non-fiction cinema.
We observe the world, seek poetry in it, make movies out of it.
In 2015, I started wandering around an unfinished condominium complex on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. I was curious for perspective on how a rapid development scheme was playing out on an individual level, especially in a country and culture so historically resistant to outside influence.
On the edge this swath of unfinished buildings, I met a boy who was – in his own ways – confronting “progress” as it steam-rolled his world. Pushed from his previous farmland by the construction, he and his mom were squatting in a makeshift house eclipsed by what turned into one of the biggest condominium complexes in East African history. Living between two realities – the old and the new – he was actively trying to find his place in a world that seemed to constantly remind him that the promises of modernity are not meant for him.
There is a quiet violence which modernization is impressing on all of us. We are expected to straddle the divide between what is sacred to us — our family, our traditions, our history — and what is promising for our future — technology, individualism, and a life centered on raising capital. We live in a neurosis because that future world only estranges us from the old. We live in a lie because the shiny promises of “progress” do not exist for all. Asalif’s solution is to create a reality for himself. I made this film because I needed to inhabit the realms he does, where humans may become lions in order to survive. Asalif’s dreams and fantasy are not simply an escape mechanism; they are a fortification necessary to cope with the annals of modernization, to face forces which threaten the existence of all of us.