Ethiopia | Italy | USA
86 min
HD video, 5.1 stereo, color

A boy caught between the ancient and the new navigates modernization on his own terms. By becoming a lion (anbessa) he can fight back against the forces outside of his control.

Camera & Direction by Mo Scarpelli
Produced by Caitlin Mae Burke, Mo Scarpelli
Edited by Nico Leunen, Thomas Pooters
Music by Erik K Skodvin
Sound Design by Tijn Hazen
a Rake Films production

Made with support of
IDFA Academy
IFP Week Spotlight on Documentary
Catapult Film Fund
Camden / Points North Pitch Forum
IDFA Forum
MountainFilm Telluride Commitment Grant
True/False Rough Cut Retreat
Catapult Momentum Grant
Studio Say So
Moby Group

In 2015, I started wandering around an unfinished condominium complex on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. I was curious for perspective on how a rapid development scheme was playing out on an individual level, especially in a country and culture so historically resistant to outside influence.

On the edge this swath of unfinished buildings, I met a boy who was – in his own ways – confronting “progress” as it steam-rolled his world. Pushed from his previous farmland by the construction, he and his mom were squatting in a makeshift house eclipsed by what turned into one of the biggest condominium complexes in East African history. Living between two realities - the old and the new - he was actively trying to find his place in a world that seemed to constantly remind him that the promises of modernity are not meant for him.

There is a quiet violence which modernization is impressing on all of us. We are expected to straddle the divide between what is sacred to us — our family, our traditions, our history — and what is promising for our future — technology, individualism, and a life centered on raising capital. We live in a neurosis because that future world only estranges us from the old. We live in a lie because the shiny promises of "progress" do not exist for all. Asalif's solution is to create a reality for himself. I made this film because I needed to inhabit the realms he does, where humans may become lions in order to survive.  Asalif's dreams and fantasy are not simply an escape mechanism; they are a fortification necessary to cope with the annals of modernization, to face forces which threaten the existence of all of us. 


+ 69° Berlinale - Crystal Bear nominee, Glashütte Documentary Prize nominee
+ 40° Durban Intl Film Festival 2019 - Honorary Mention for Best Documentary Feature
+ MountainFilm Telluride - Best Director Award, Honorary Mention for Best Documentary 
+ Olympia Intl FF for Children & Youth - ECFA Best Documentary Award
+ MiradasDoc - El Mirador Prize for Best Documentary Feature
+ Sola Luna Doc Festival Palermo - Best Cinematography
+ Social Impact Media Awards (SIMA) 2020 - Best Cinematography
+ IDFA - Kids & Docs Competition Selection
+ Fabrique du Cinéma Awards 2020 - Nominee for Best Documentary Feature
+ Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival
+ Human Rights Watch Film Festival London 
+ Olafur Eliasson Studios, Berlin
+ DOC NYC 2019 - Encore Selection
+ Rooftop Films 2019
+ 22° Thessaloniki Documentary Festival
+ 60° Festival Internacional de Cine de Cartagena de Indias (FICCI) 
+ Stockfish Film Festival 
+ This Human World Film Festival
+ Docudays Ukraine 
+ London Migration Film Festival at the Bertha DocHouse
+ C40 World Mayor's Summit, Copenhagen
+ Rome Independent Film Festival
+ UNICEF Innocenti Film Festival 
+ Buson International Children & Youth Film Festival
+ Festival de Cine de Derechos Humanos Sucre - Bolivia
+ Ljubljana International Film Festival
+ Pripovedovalski Festival (Slovenia)
+ Heartland Film Festival
+ Cleveland International Film Festival
+ Cucalorus Film Festival (USA)
+ Santa Fe Independent Film Festival
+ International Children's Film Festival Bangladesh
+ San Francisco DocFest
+ Woods Hole Film Festival
 - Runner-up for Best Documentary Feature
+ Take One Action Film Festival (Scotland & Wales)

TV broadcast on  ARTE in France, ZDF in Germany - 2019
Online release with - 2020
Film now available on Vimeo on Demand (worldwide), True Story (worldwide), GuideDoc (worldwide), Da Films (Europe), iTunes (most of world), Google Play (USA, Asia, some of Europe), Amazon Prime (USA),  and Vudu (USA).

Press + more information here >
Watch the film here >

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