Abay Vs Vegas: pioneer for red one technology

Review by Tibebeselassie Tigabu

The highly anticipated film "Abay Vs Vegas" premiered on Sunday 19 December 2010, contemporaneously at 18 cinemas in Ethiopia. Directed by Teodros Teshome, who also appears as an actor in the movie, the film depicts the story of Mena who is caught up between two worlds: saving her blind brother or deserting the love of her life.

Shot with both Ethiopian and Hollywood film crews, "Abay Vs Vegas" is the first Ethiopian film to be shot with the sophisticated RED ONE camera - considered the digital successor to 35 mm film, with over 5 times the resolution of other HD video cameras and a new technology for Ethiopia - making it a huge deal for many viewers.

The main venue was the National Theatre in Addis Ababa, but in addition to Addis cinemas, the film was also screened in Bahir Dar, Dessie and Jimma. The premiere was also shown live on Ethiopian Television.

The story is dramatic: Mena, a girl from the city of Bahir Dar in Northern Ethiopia, meets Salsawi, an Ethio-American played by director Teshome. Salsawi  eagerly wants to find a wife before reaching the age of 40, and they agree to marry.  Mena´s life path appears to change dramatically. And it seems almost too good to be true as it will also enable Mena to help her brother – who had been looking after her before turning blind. Suddenly it is within reach for him to go abroad and get his eyesight back.

But it all gets very complicated when Mena falls in love with Nigus, a farmer from the area of the Blue Nile Waterfall, Tis Abay.

Mena has to take a very hard decision: will she choose the love of her life or marry Salsawi and go to the United States to help her brother?

The reactions to the premiere differed:

Many in the audience were enthusiastic: “I loved the film, the story and also the music score. More than anything I like the characterization and the actors played it well,” states Tigist Belete. “The performances were excellent and the images so crystal clear”, agrees Almaz Tegegne.

However, the technical expectations were high, especially among people from the film and related industries: “RED ONE camera is the latest technology in the world so I expected the film to be great but I was disappointed. On the technical part the color is not constant, the sound is not clear. When you come to the story, it is fragmented. This film is a proof that the director couldn’t use the technology appropriately,”  says IT expert Kebede Lemma.

The film was shot both in Ethiopia and America. In the view of another of the premiere-goers, Girma Dereje, the scenes which were shot in the United States were somehow better than the ones set in Ethiopia. Girma also thinks the hype and the media coverage the film got before it was premiered influenced his high expectations which weren’t totally met.

Even if Theodros Teshome, who also wrote and produced the movie, doesn’t want to reveal the budget of the film, he spent 300,000 birr (about 18,000 USD) for promotion only. The RED ONE camera cost him 62,000 USD and he brought expertise from Hollywood including Director of Photography & Editor Mathias Schubert and Production Designer Stephanie Burain.

Theodros has previously directed several Amharic movies including Fikir Siferd, Kezkaza Wolafen and Key Sitet (Red Mistake).
"Abay Vs Vegas" is now showing in all cinemas of Addis. The cast, in addition to Theodros Teshome (Salsawi), includes famous actor Solomon Bogale (Nigus), Blen Mamo (Mena), Rekik Teshome, Girum Ermias, Tesfa Birhane, Mestawet Aragaw, Wolela Asefa and Tesfaye Sima.