I'm an Ethiopian-American filmmaker based out of Santa Clara, CA. I've lived in various different cultures throughout my life, and my passion for cinema comes from my desire to use visual storytelling to bridge social and cultural barriers. Two people may not have a language, culture, or history in common, but when they're sitting in a dark room watching a story unfold, at that moment, they can have the exact same experience. Growing up in places where I was considered a foreigner, these kinds of experiences were some of the moments I felt most closely connected to those around me.
Eventually, I want to write and direct narrative feature films, but in the meantime, I'll be working as a freelance filmmaker in the Bay Area.
I majored in Communications at Santa Clara University, and some of my hobbies are film photography and drawing. At SCU, I served as Co-President of the SCU Filmmakers' Club for the 2022-2023 academic year.
ABOUT My Portfolio
For the portfolio assignment, I have chosen 5 projects from my time in the Communications Department of SCU and put them here in the context of the Comm department's Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs).
In my work, I try to create unique genre films in order to provide audiences of all backgrounds with an imaginative landscape distinct from that of mainstream media. I want to use cinema to present ways for marginalized groups to see themselves in stories separate from the marginalization that, despite characterizing part of our experiences, can sometimes become a box that we are forced to try to fit into.
The categories that my films fit into are PLO 3, PLO 6, and PLO 7. I chose these PLOs because they are most relevant to my films, in which I often go into them attempting to fill what I see as a gap in our shared visual communication, placing diverse faces and voices into contexts within which they are not usually put. Furthermore, my work attempts to bridge gaps of empathy and understanding through communicating larger philosophical ideas in more relatable contexts.
DAWN (Comm 131f - Narrative short)
Dawn is a short film that places the audience in the apartment with our protagonist as she nurtures her flower. Despite the impending apocalypse, Dawn finds solace and comfort in her ability to care for this life. An exploration of the modern generation's "view from the window" as the world we care about seems to crumble. Dawn strives to find optimism in the truth, finding an appreciation for the middle parts. This film was created as the final project for COMM 131F as a group project, for which I served as writer and director. This film fulfills PLO 7, as it recontextualizes the existensial threat of ecological collapse on an intimate, emotional scale rather than a social scale. It's a work of hopeful stoicism, showing a character finding something worth loving in the context of an inevitable catastrophe.
Paul Seeks Discomfort (Comm 131D - Short Documentary)
In "Paul Seeks Discomfort", Paul, who constantly chases the horizon of his comfort zone, explores whether this behavior more of a discipline or a survival mechanism. This film was created for COMM 131D as a group project, for which I served as director. It fulfills PLO6, as it serves to help people understand Paul's sometimes reckless approach to life that I can relate to as a consequence of our similar upbringings. The producer of the film, Ollie Robinson, and I often express how difficult it is to get people to understand this what it is like to have moved overseas when you're very young, so this documentary was an attempt to open people's eyes to that experience.
Vollny - Tebya Nyet Ryadom (Comm 30 - Intro to digital filmmaking)
In this music video, a vampire sacrifices himself in order to resurrect his dead vampire lover. This project was created as the final project for COMM 30. It fulfills PLO3, as it recasts the vampire subgenre of horror with an all-black cast, approaching the horrific and romantic cultural connotations of vampirism from a new perspective. As a black creative, it can often feel like there's a great big stop sign saying "NO! This is not for you!" when it comes to certain types of film, music, fashion, or any sort of art, so this music video is my way of tearing down that sign.
FINGERLICKIN' (Comm 30 - Intro to digital filmmaking)
In "Fingerlickin'", a young man watches an ominious video of another man eating voraciously. When a myseterious package arrives at his door, he is unexpectedly enthralled with it. This film was created for the "12 Shot Project" for COMM 30, for which the assignment was to create a short film that tells a story in 12 shots. This project fulfills PLO3, as part of my intention with it was to create a horror film with an all black cast, creating a context in which black people can exist within this sort of genre space, and exist in stories about things other than our own oppression.
SLEEP! (Comm 191 - Independent filmmaking Practicum - work in progress)
In "SLEEP!", Alex, a housebound misanthrope, begins to experience fantasies of a human connection when he begins to take a new brand of sleeping pills. This project was created as a group project for COMM 191, for which I served as writer and director. This project fulfills PLO 7, as it attempts to reckon with the social decay of a largely digitized world, and create empathy for those cast aside by it. The project is currently at a rough cut stage.
I think that one prominent theme in these films is the idea of the inevitable– tragedy, Romantic heroism, and determinism– I think that for me, filmmaking is a way of trying to deal with things that are outside of my control. A strangely ironic coping mechanism, because the more I learn about filmmaking the more I realize that none of it is ever in your control. Despite the hyper-individualist culture we live in as Americans (which may make us particularly ill-equipped for this issue) the changing tides of our ecology, culture, and politics have only recently broken the illusion of individual self-determination. Our entire culture is built around freedom and independence, but we've only recently realized how fragile these things can be– yet we continue these myths. All this is to say that myself and my generation were raised in a culture that says you can be/get/have whatever you want if you work hard enough, but simultaneously told that the whole thing is about to come crashing down on us– water wars, supervolcanoes, nuclear annihilation, etc. So for me, this contradiction– our fundamental belief in individual self-determination contrasted with the obvious conditions of our world– is something I like to explore creatively, like in the case of "Dawn", where I explore the possibility of emotional closure in the face of a collapsing world.
Studying Communication has shown me a vast number of ways in which to communicate my ideas in a way that is useful for others. Oftentimes, people aren't terribly interested in reading long-winded diatribes on one's feelings on art, culture, spirituality, or other such lofty topics. But in Communication, the breadth that the classes cover allows many opportunities to practice the skill of fitting your ideas into the sort of box that people tend to find appealing, such as in "Paul Seeks Discomfort", wherein I express the vague sort of ennui that often drives me to make reckless decisions through the story of Paul (who happens to have a far more visually engaging hobby than any of my own).
The film program at SCU has given me a number of great opportunities to get my foot in the door of the film industry. For a job market so informal, fast-paced, and dependent on "who you know", it's difficult to even quantify how helpful the work experience I've gotten because of my professors has been– without the contacts I have through these experiences, I would probably be at a complete loss as to what I would be doing after graduation. I learned that filmmaking at a professional level is in many ways a lot like it has been as a student, such as in my music video project for Comm 30, wherein I needed people to help me out, and I simply just contacted my friends who were the most passionate about film and had the ability to make the time commitment, which for the most part, is often how people get work at the professional level anyways.
Through my filmmaking experience in the Communication department, I've learned an incredible amount about collaboration with others. Making a film where people feel more obligated than excited to help is not only deeply unpleasant, but it often ends up creating unwatchable films. When I first began making films in the department, I was very self-centered creatively– I was reluctant to trust others with my vision and ended up not only overworking myself but leaving others feeling like they didn't have much of a contribution to the project. Filmmaking is an incredibly social art form, both in its creation and how audiences engage with it, so I think that the egocentric perspective that I approached it from in the past is completely antithetical to what filmmaking truly is. Since then, I have prioritized the collaborative process much more in the films that I make. On my film "Dawn" I learned both the benefits of collaboration and the pitfalls of creative selfishness, as I trusted some of my crew greatly, and my collaboration with them was very fruitful, but some other members of the crew didn't feel as valued and did not have as good of a time on set.