Thoughts On: Ety Hitsan - Eritrean Cinema?


Ety Hitsan - Eritrean Cinema?

Thoughts On: Ety Hitsan (The Child, 2016)

Made by Nahom Abraham, this is the Eritrean film of the series.

Whilst African cinema is often completely overlooked by self-proclaiming cinefiles, film lovers, etc, there are numerous prolific industries and significant filmmakers that come from the continent. The complication that comes with African cinema is, of course, Africa's history as a continent divided and shaped by colonialism. Without taking a deep dive into this huge subject, it has taken quite a long time for cinemas to begin flourishing throughout Africa. In Northern, Arab countries, national film history is often quite long and dense. Across the rest of the continent, there are a plethora of examples of filmmaking dating back to the 30s and earlier. However, to suggest this kind of filmmaking was apart of an industry of production would be very naive. Not until Africa began to gain its independence around the mid-20th century did films made by Africans begin to emerge in greater, more consistent numbers and did industries start to form.

One of the most famous national African cinemas would be that of Nigeria: Nollywood. Expanding upon this, one of the most prolific and prestigious regions of film production would be West Africa in general. It is then countries such as Senegal, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, etc that come to represent African cinema to many people with North African filmmaking sometimes being clumped in with Middle Eastern filmmaking and the rest of Africa being overshadowed by the West. This is most true with East Africa as Southern and Central African cinemas have gained much notoriety over the past few decades.

East African cinema is largely represented by Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda - which we will no doubt come across in the world cinema series. But, when we come to our country for today, Eritrea, one of the Eastern-most countries on the coast, there is almost no formal representation of its film production. If you then Google "Eritrean cinema", "Eritrean film", "Eritrean movie", etc, you will find - outside of an empty Wikipedia page - absolutely no articles, papers, blog posts, question pages about filmmaking or an industry. The paradox of this, however, is that you will find countless pages of Eritrean films on YouTube or sites such as What's more, many of these films have hundreds-of-thousands of views. So, not only is there a strong production of Eritrean cinema, but it is widely consumed.

Nonetheless, the most I could find out about Eritrean cinema is where a few of the country's cinemas actually are. There seems to be about 4 cinemas, three in Asmara and one in Keren. These are, uncoincidentally, the country's two largest cities with Asmara being the capital. Considering Eritrea's history and its colonial possession by Italy, we can infer that these cinemas were founded by and for Italian settlers. And this is, in fact, certainly true of at least one of the cinemas: Impero, founded in 1937 by the colonial authorities. What this suggests about filmmaking in Eritrea is minimal, however, it does imply that the many movies constantly being produced go straight to T.V, home video/DVD or the internet. This would mimic the manner in which the Nigerian film industry functions with movies being produced as quickly as possible, often with shoe string budgets, and then thrown onto local markets as soon as can be managed before the pirating system sweeps away all film profits.

However, without being able to collect any substantial information about Eritrean filmmaking, we'll have to stop this inference short and conclude by just consuming Eritean cinema as it presents itself with our selection today and a short review.

Ety Hitsan, or The Child, is a movie with a clear amateur aesthetic, but a surprisingly affecting story. This is a melodrama of sorts that has elements of the crime thriller that, to a degree, ground its narrative in more realist emotions and conflicts. In such, this follows a man whose family life is shaken to its core when his maid falls pregnant and claims that the child is his. His wife, son and friends are all pulled into his personal maelstrom as he not only faces the possibility of losing all he has, but also coming to harm at the hands of a man who stalks him.

The structure of Ety Hitsan masks answers and incites questions at a brisk pace whilst the cinematic language remains distantly elusive or intimately contemplative so that there is a strong relationship between plot and character. This then builds a narrative around, presumably, local social topics concerning adultery - which is illegal, and punishable with a fine or a 1-6 month prison sentence in Eritrea - and fertility.

Competently constructed and quite articulate, Ety Hitsan, if you have come this far in the post, is certainly worth giving a go. But, before I provide links to see this film, what are our thoughts on today's subject matter? And do you know anything about Eritrean cinema? Here are links to part 1 and part 2, or you can watch the film here...

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