DU Alumni / People

Alumna’s film sheds new light on Ethiopia

Hellen Kassa helped make the documentary “Sincerely Ethiopia.” Photo courtesy of Hellen Kassa

Growing up in Denver, Ethiopia-born Hellen Kassa knew her classmates weren’t getting the whole picture when it came to her homeland.

“Anytime I was in school or in class, people were like, ‘Oh, you’re from Ethiopia? What’s that like?’ It was very negative,” she says. “It was like, ‘We see famine and we see hunger,’ and even though those are very real and pressing problems, there absolutely are people there who are doing something about it every day.”

To shed some light on the positive things happening in Ethiopia, Kassa teamed up with her friend, Los Angeles-based filmmaker Nathan Araya, to create the documentary “Sincerely Ethiopia,” scheduled to premiere this month in Los Angeles. Kassa, Araya and two other team members spent six weeks in 2011 and 2012 in the African country, filming people and associations working to create positive change.

Among those profiled are the Adugna Community Dance Theatre, a group of dancers who tell powerful stories of social injustices and personal challenges through their art; Yohannes Gebregeorgis, founder of Ethiopia Reads, which builds free public libraries in the country; and Eden Gelan, founder of the Beza Community Development Association, which helps people living with HIV and AIDS.

Kassa (BA ’12), a student in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies when the project began, received a Partners in Scholarship grant from the University to pay for her airfare.

“The idea behind the research proposal was that my research wouldn’t be a paper at the end of it, but it would be a film,” says Kassa, who recently returned to Denver after working for a nongovernmental organization in Ghana. “I was going to go and try to find as many people as I could who are doing really positive and encouraging work in Ethiopia. The goal was to have storytelling, but in a very personal way.”

After the premiere, the filmmakers plan to take “Sincerely Ethiopia” to other venues in North America. In December it will premiere in Ethiopia. In the fall, Araya and Kassa want to screen the movie at film festivals and on as many college campuses as possible, in an effort to get young people talking about Ethiopia and the way it’s portrayed in the media.

“We’re trying to create dialogue and conversations about perceptions of Ethiopia and all of Africa in the media,” Kassa says. “Africans aren’t necessarily getting their own voices out there, and why is that? Is there some important reason why what we see in the media is very negative, and what can we do to change that?”

Another goal, she says, is to get people directly involved by supporting some of the organizations profiled in the film and create a network of people and programs with similar goals.

“It’s a good way for young people to realize you can do anything,” she says. “To see these people’s stories and see where they came from, their backgrounds, it’s very inspiring.”

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  1. Janay Wright says:

    I would love to see it, will there be a showing at DU?

  2. Hellen Kassa says:

    Hey Janay! Yes our team is planning for a showing at DU in the fall, more details will be up on our website shortly keep posted at http://www.sincerelyethiopia.com

  3. Janay Wright says:

    Awesome, thank you! I look forward to it.

  4. Nii-Akwei Acquaye says:

    I am curious about your experiences working for the NGO in Ghana.
    In every aspect of life, there are always positives experiences and things that can be improved on (negatives.

    Can you share what was positive and what was negative?

    Thank you.

  5. Hey Janay, we have a premiere scheduled this Sunday 29th at 5:30 pm at the lindsay auditorium at the Uiversity of Denver. Please join us! And Nii as far as working in Ghana most positive and encouraging thing for me was the people and the impact we were able to have together. Such kind and warm people I really encountered. A lot of the challenges came with the corruption in the systems we had to work under, cultural difficulties between a very diverse African, American and European staff. But generally the work was good and we were able to do a lot.

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