In the Ethiopian context, the advent of cinema can be traced to Emperor Menelik II’s reign; on the 1st of Miyazia, 1889 E.C. (April 9,1897), where a film that recounts the life of Jesus Christ was showcased at the great hall of Menelik’s palace; this motion picture depicted Jesus walking on water, and that subsequently provoked the ministers to pay homage to the images by bowing in veneration. This phenomenon managed to open the door for the introduction of film in Ethiopia.
From there on, till the early years of Haile Selassie’s reign, exhibition of film was done explicitly by foreigners and the films that were showcased were films from abroad, catering mostly to the taste of the foreigners based in Ethiopia; and as for the production side, local Ethiopian filmmakers at that time were virtually non-existent, and the only productions made were travelling documentaries shot by foreigners in Ethiopia but shown in Europe or elsewhere.
After the invasion perpetrated against Ethiopia, to serve their own socio-politico-economic fascist cause, the Italians tried to build some cinema houses.
After the withdrawal of Italians, though few cinema houses were built and some Ethiopian dramatists got the opportunity to study film and theatre abroad, owing to the expensive nature of the cinema medium and the dire lack of technical knowledge, only a handful films – like HIRUT ABATWA MAN NEW? (1957 E.C.) and GUMMA (1966 E.C.) – could only be produced, and these dramatic features were the sole resultant of private endeavors. Acknowledging the power that cinema wields as a medium in influencing its viewership, and the countless problems the country faced in making indigenous films that recounts its own stories and reflects its own experiences, all these factors rendered it to exhibit films from foreign lands, and this dismal reality subsequently played its fair share in the adulteration and vitiation of its culture, moral and values. One notable development during this time was the launching of the Ethiopian Television that started broadcasting in 1957 E.C. (1965 G.C.)
To this very day, with the exception of the Derg’s regime who had a tight-grip approach on the censorship of content and provided the entire funding for a handful documentary and dramatic productions, the sector in Ethiopia remains to be the sole concern of the private sector, lacking critical state support.
Film and Television’s production are the combination of both art and science. However, in Ethiopia, the common understanding for this art and discipline is more or less skewed and its growth is discouraged and inhibited. Therefore, to change this misperception; it was necessary to launch a program in the field of film production, and rightly so, a program in masters level was officially launched in the 2007 E.C. academic year at Addis Ababa University’s Ale School of Fine Arts and Design. The purpose of this program was to create awareness and help the profession cope-up with professional and industry standards that is accepted worldwide.
University of Gondar took the commendable lead by opening the first ever Film and Television Production department at the under graduate level in Ethiopia; and the undergraduate program started in the year 2010 E.C. academic year, with 4 lecturers, and 9 students. Currently, the Film and Television Production department is one of the departments found under the College of Social Sciences and the Humanities,
The need for skilled artists in the field had increased more than ever, and the country demands well-informed artists for sustainable development in the country’s cultural and artistic spheres. To that end, the establishment of these departments, both the master and under-graduate programs, is one of the noteworthy multi-faceted concreted efforts dedicated to address the need of various stakeholders and academicians to produce a qualified artistic works that can in due time support the overall development of the Film Industry of the country.