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Ethiopian Student is Finalist in L.A. Live Score Film Festival

Yesmalem Yeshaw, a senior at Columbia College Hollywood, was one of 10 finalists in the Los Angeles Live Score Film Festival, which was held at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre in Los Angeles.  The Festival, which attracted over 100 entries from film schools across the region, paired filmmakers with composers who created original scores that were performed live-to-picture by the Helix Collective classical ensemble.

“It was a wonderful experience to see my short silent film There She Was presented in a totally fresh, new, and creative way at the L.A. Live Score Film Festival,” says Yeshaw, who wrote and directed the film.  “There aren’t many events that bring filmmakers and composers together, and I’m grateful to have had my entry selected for inclusion.”

Yeshaw grew up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and graduated from Magic Carpet High School in 2012, where his interest in filmmaking was kindled.  He gained production experience at the Blue Nile Film and Television Academy, also in Addis Ababa.  In 2015, he and a group of fellow filmmakers (and friends) formed Shemane Films, a small production company that produced features and documentary projects.

In 2016, he decided to pursue a degree in filmmaking in the U.S.  After reviewing the program offerings at USC, UCLA, New York Film Academy, and Vancouver Film School, he chose to enroll at Columbia College Hollywood.

“I selected CCH because it had everything that I was looking for in a film school:  small classes, access to experienced faculty, and the opportunity to work with equipment in your first year,” says Yeshaw.  “Another big benefit of CCH is the culture of teamwork and creating partnerships. Because filmmaking is such a collaborative process, learning how to navigate group dynamics so you can build a strong creative team has been incredibly important.  It will help me, as well as all of my fellow students, to be very successful when we bring our skills to the marketplace.”

Yeshaw is on track to graduate from Columbia College Hollywood with a BFA in Cinema and Television.  After graduation, he aims to continue gaining valuable production experience in Los Angeles.  He’ll then return to Ethiopia to produce films that present “good, untold stories about Ethiopia and Africa to the rest of the world.”

We had the opportunity to ask him a few question.

DEMAND AFRICA: Tell us about your experience and expectations coming from Ethiopia to CCH to study Cinema and TV?

Yesmalem Yeshaw: When I first moved to D.C., the first thing I did was look for internships. Lucky for me I found one in a TV station called EBS Ethiopian Broadcasting Service… I ended up getting hired as a camera man and editor. I was responsible for 4 shows that aired weekly to over 20 million viewers across Africa and Europe. I started school on the side in The Art Institute of Washington. After going there for a year I got accepted to CCH and moved to California on September of 2016.

Before moving I thought Hollywood was unreachable and I felt that my stories and perspectives are not needed (or felt that I had a lot of competition) and felt that I had a disadvantage of some sorts ‘cause I was not born [in America]. But I found all that to be not true. Film and art in general is a different language. It’s not the matter of where you wore born; its your stories, your visions that matter. Everyone is equal when it comes to film and visual arts, and after that I realized nothing is to far everything we see in the world is meant to be conquered. We just need patience and discipline. Anything can be achieved.

DA: What was the best thing you’ve found about your study so far?

YY: Technically, everything. I came from a country where there is not enough professionals in the field. We still don’t have film departments in our universities, so coming from that background and having access to all the resources and gear that all mainstream productions use is just mind blowing. I get to learn new things every day. I get to crack every puzzle/question I had in my mind since I started watching films, and that is just a blessing.

DA: Does your Ethiopian heritage impact/influence your work in film and film study?

YY: Yes. First of all, I believe I am very fortunate to be an Ethiopian filmmaker. Ethiopia has been around for a long time we have a very rich culture, diversity, and history. We had never been colonized. We were one of a few nations to have our name inside the Quran and Bible more than 50 times. Ethiopia has been around for a long time and helped to create the Africa we now know and love. But unfortunately we as Ethiopians and Africans are not perceived that way.

Some unfortunate incidents casted a huge shadow over us and still today those times are more remembered than our achievements, and I feel like us relying on to the mainstream media to give us a better coverage is not working. I believe is time to take matters into our own hands tell our own stories make our kids play with African action figures. Our stories are endless. And finally let me tell you what Haile Gerima (the first internationally acclaimed Ethiopian writer and director [and] a person I truly admire ) told me, he said, “In order to be a good filmmaker, always write what you know because no one can tell your story better than you.”

DA: What does it mean to you to be selected as a finalist?

YY: It gives me great hope. This showed me that there is always an audience for your work. We usually tend to judge our works from the reaction of those who are close to us, and that is a good thing. But if our immediate audiences didn’t like what we made we wont have the courage to show it to other people, and that kills a lot of good stories. I say there are always a few individuals who would love to see our creation. There are more than 7 billion people out there; we should give every story a chance.

DA: What plans do you have for your future in film or in regards to Ethiopia or Addis Ababa?

YY: With God by my side, my main focus right now is to Graduate. I have a year left. After that, I want to go to grad school… to go to USC. After that, I want to gain some experience and go back home try to bring those untold stories to the world. I want to create an African TV series in one of the networks and streaming platforms that has full African control so that nothing is altered or change to the west needs.

About Columbia College Hollywood

Founded in 1952, Columbia College Hollywood is a nonprofit, regionally accredited liberal arts college with a focus on creative media.

Columbia College Hollywood educates students in the art and science of communications and the diverse media of contemporary storytelling within an exploration of the liberal arts.

Columbia College Hollywood is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) to offer Bachelor of Fine Arts and Associate of Fine Arts degree programs in Cinema with an emphasis in acting, cinematography, directing, editing and visual effects, new media, producing, sound, and writing.