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Directed by Mo Scarpelli

  • USA, Italy 2019; 85 min
  • Original version: Amharic
  • Genre: Documentary


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.

Director's Statement

I began filming with Asalif and we started creating a fairytale out of his experience. Fairytales offer us ways to face the complex forces that affect us, ones too large or complicated to comprehend as they unfold. This is what this ten-year-old protagonist does in his daily life: he spins elaborate stories in order to deal with the intense forces of change and domination that are threatening him and his mother. With time and care, he granted me intimate access to his world and that of his neighbors to really dig into how modernity conflicts human identity and coming of age.
On the surface, Ethiopia seems to benefit greatly from globalization. However, rapid “progress” is actively leaving millions like Asalif out of the picture. While ANBESSA is set in Addis Ababa, the ways gentrification, industrialization, and capitalism push so many out of the success story are truly universal.




International Sales


    Anna Berthollet