SOAS University of London

Centre for Creative Industries, Media and Screen Studies

Mr Michael W. Thomas

BA (SOAS), MA (UCL)
  • Overview

Overview

Michael W Thomas
Centre for Creative Industries, Media and Screen Studies

Member

Name:
Mr Michael W. Thomas
Email address:
Thesis title:
Themes and Trends in Ethiopian (Amharic) Cinema: Pioneering Films of the Past and Popular Cinema of the Present-day.
Year of Study:
1
Internal Supervisors

Biography

After studying African Studies and Development Studies at SOAS and highly influenced by a specific module on South African Film (taught by Lindiwe Dovey), I had already decided to pursue a PhD in Ethiopian Cinema. In order to achieve my goal, I needed a good grounding in the history, theory and practices surrounding film studies, which was realised in my MA Film Studies at UCL. 

My specific expertise is in Ethiopian culture, literature and cinema in the Amharic language (which my PhD explores). More broadly, my main disciplinary interests are in African film, screen and media, and cultural production.

Splitting my time between Addis Ababa and London, I have worked for Film Africa 2012 in London as Ethiopian Film Advisor, I was a research assistant for Lindiwe Dovey and in order to focus fully on my PhD, I have currently put aside a long-term goal to translate an Amharic novel entitled Setäñña Adari (Prostitute) by Negash Gebre-Mariyam (1963/64).

PhD Research

My research analyses the trends and themes in Ethiopian (Amharic) Cinema based around a comprehensive historical and ethnographic study of film production, distribution and exhibition in Ethiopia. 

Despite Ethiopia’s rich and long relationship with cinema, studies on the contemporary and booming video-film industry or on the committed development of film in the 70s and 80s by the Marxist Derg regime are practically non-existent apart from a couple of less scholarly works recently published in Amharic.

The aim of this research is, therefore, to highlight crucial developments within the history of cinema in Ethiopia. As the Ethiopian context has been mostly overlooked, the study will set out to weave together a contextual criticism along with formalist analysis and close readings of selected film and video texts. This country-specific focus, moving from the earliest days to the contemporary moment, will not just engage in close analysis of films and history, but also consider the role of culture, people's taste and desires and cinema-going practices. With a particular focus on certain important films as markers in technical change (ie. From 35mm film, to analogue video-films and finally to digital video-films) I explore how cultural, social and political sentiments are reflected on the big-screen. Crucially, cinema will be read as a symptom of modernization and urbanisation and, therefore, as a catalyst where local and global desires meet.

Publications

Book Chapters:

  • Harvest 3000 Years/Mïrt Sost Shi Amät (Haile Gerima, 1976): A Revolutionary Ethiopian Film’, in Africa’s Lost Classics: New Histories of African Cinema, edited by Lizelle Bischoff and David Murphy. London: Legenda, pp. 182-189.

Peer-reviewed publications:

  • ‘Colours of the Nile International Film Festival: an Ethiopia attempt to cultivate African Cinema?’ Journal of African Cultural Studies, special issue on African film festivals (submitted).
  • The Athlete: an Ethiopian voice, a universal appeal’. Journal of African Cultural Studies, 25:1, 114-118.

Conferences

  • Contemporary Ethiopian Video Films: Amharic Language Dominance and the ‘Addis Scene’. International Workshop “Featuring Africa: Exploring the Plurality of African Digital Film Cultures”, University of Liege (Belgium), 3-4 October 2014.
  • Colours of the Nile International Film Festival: an Ethiopian attempt to cultivate African Cinema? Biannual ASAUK conference. University of Sussex, Brighton, 9-11 September 2014.
  • Haile Gerima’s Ethiopian Films: the contestation between Pan-African ideology and Ethiopian nationalistic sentiment. The 1st Annual Conference of the College of Performing and Visual Arts, “Pan-African Performing and Visual Arts”, Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia), 24-25 May 2013.