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

Produced by Rake Films

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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
+ Mammoth Lakes Film Festival 
+ Berkshire International Film Festival
+ San Francisco DocFest
+ Woods Hole Film Festival
 - Runner-up for Best Documentary Feature
+ Take One Action Film Festival (Scotland & Wales)
+ FlyWay Film Festival (USA)
+ New Hampshire Film Festival
+ Tumbleweeds Film Festival (USA)
+ Ashland Independent Film Festival (USA)
+ Gimli Film Festival (Canada)
+ Atlanta Film Festival
+ Detroit FREEP Film Festival
+ Port Townsend Film Festival (USA)
+ FilmScene Iowa
+ Capital City Film Festival (USA)
+ Doctober at the Pickford Film Center, Seattle
+ Northwest Film Forum, Seattle
+ UCLA African Studies Center & Luskin School
+ CineCulture at Fresno State University

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), Amazon (USA) and iTunes (Europe).

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