Filmmaker Miguel Llansó Interviews Professor Seifu Yohannes
ADDIS ABABA – Although his name matches that of the great singer of the 60′s, Professor Seifu Yohannes stands out as one of the most important figures in nuclear engineering. In another of my transcripts of tape interviews, Professor Yohannes and I talked about the state of independent film. His answers and questions surprise me.
Professor Seifu Yohannes: We talked about the Higgs boson, string theory and demonstration of gravitational waves predicted by Einstein. Now tell me, what’s indeed your profession?
Me: I’m an independent filmmaker.
Professor Seifu Yohannes: Ha, ha, ha.
Me: Why are you laughing?
Professor Seifu Yohannes: I remember now this chump. In this town there is one of those independent filmmakers. He lives behind the church. Every time I see him, I run from him. I have to be careful not to meet him. It’s a nightmare.
Me: Why must you run from him?
Professor Seifu Yohannes: He tries to force me to watch his movie! Begs me! In fact, everyone gets rid of him.
Me: How bad is his movie?
Professor Seifu Yohannes: I have no idea. Come on, tell me, who are the ones watching your movies? Or perhaps you are one of those boring…?
Me: Above all, the festival programmers watch my movies.
Professor Seifu Yohannes: Who the hell are those guys? It sounds like a communist committee.
Me: They are guys who are paid to see our films.
Professor Seifu Yohannes: Who pays for that?
Me: Independent filmmakers like me.
Professor Seifu Yohannes: My God! That means you’re eating an ego omelet, right? Because money is what you don’t earn. Tell me, what’s the flavor of your ego? Is it tasty? I see you’re skinny, boy. For man does not live from bread alone, but mostly of bread. Tell the baker to give you a piece and convince him to pay you to eat it.
Me: Well, not everything is money. Sometimes the filmmakers want to give a little beauty to mankind.
Professor Seifu Yohannes: And who the hell do you believe you are to be giving things out there? Are you Santa Claus? Do you think you’re a prince? You remind me of a little boy who gets his shit from the urinal and hands it to his mother like myrrh. Now that I think about, these film programmers should get millions! His work is unbearable! It is rather like working in a dumping site.
Me: Professor, we don’t produce trash. We try to raise awareness, transmitting canons of beauty, criticism, laughter …
Professor Seifu Yohannes: Whatever, buddy. But… Who recycles all your garbage?
Wait a second. Ignorant of the film industry but expert in systems of exponential growth, Professor Seifu Yohannes is right somehow. While the commercial film industry still focuses on the general audiences – that manipulable mass – the independent film industry is subverting its strategies to the filmmaker as a client. Digital cinema cameras available to any pocket, editing and color correction programs, online video services, thousands of festivals with entry fees, online film distribution services, sales agents, Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, internet super-broadband. It seems that the independent film industry is happy with this constant vomiting of film productions. If there are as many viewers as filmmakers, why not make a profit from both? The problem is that while the industry generates business by exploiting this huge mass of films, the filmmaker can only live out of one; his. Netflix doesn’t care if it’s making $10 a day with your movie; it has 36,000 more films. But you, filmmaker, you care. You want to survive, for God’s sake!
I share my concerns with Professor Seifu Yohannes and he reflects for a moment, as if his brain is frozen. But in fact he is doing calculations of possible exponential alternative systems, to give me a solution.
Professor Seifu Yohannes: Worlds of power always interested me.
Me: What do you mean?
Professor Seifu Yohannes: Take an elevator, for example. Some say that the universe is motionless and it is the elevator that moves inside the building. Others, however, think the lift is completely motionless and it is the building with the rest of the universe that starts to move when we press the button to the second floor.
Me: I don’t see what do you mean, sir.
Professor Seifu Yohannes: The big fishes – like the guy who invented Facebook – always think under the second premise. The universe is set in motion for them while they are motionless. Actually, Facebook users are the ones who should collect huge amounts of money for using this horrible application.
Professor Seifu Yohannes: Because thanks to the millions of users who provide their data and their tastes, openly publishing their stupidity, companies find customers through their ads. No users, no Facebook. Users should receive the advertising revenues from Facebook.
Me: But then, everyone would join Facebook.
Professor Seifu Yohannes: Yes. And most companies would not be announced until the very final implosion. So back to the original question: should you be paid for your movies or should you pay someone to watch…?
Me: Is all of this about power?
Professor Seifu Yohannes: Of course! That Facebook guy robs you of your money because you agree to use his application with his conditions. People enslave others so easily. Do you have any alternative? Imagine a social network where the owner shares the profits with users, who – at the end of the day – are the secrets of success. Full of greed is the world!
Me: You mean that big corporations rob us?
Professor Seifu Yohannes: Depends on how you look at the problem. What do you call this big movie platform?
Me: You mean Netflix, sir?
Professor Seifu Yohannes: What a ridiculous name. Are you doing them a favor by putting your film on this platform? I will tell you one thing: they don’t give a shit about your film, buddy. But they do care about a catalog of more than 36,000 titles. You’re an ant, but they need the army of ants to live like gods. They’ll crush you if they want, but they will never crush the whole army.
Me: I think I see where you’re going … How could the army escape the bondage of the lord, who steps on you all with his huge boot?
Professor Seifu Yohannes: Yes, that is a very bad metaphor. But I’ll give you a clue: get the people to be a part of your success. Use social media to distribute your wealth. It’s called cooperative economics. Give your wealth and they will respond.
Me: What wealth? I am poorer than a rat.
Professor Seifu Yohannes: Do you make good movies or are they crap?
Me: They’re good, dammit.
Professor Seifu Yohannes: Then you have a wealth, you idiot. Share it. Share the profits with the ones who help you promote. You have 6,000 million possible promoters. But count me out. I’m retired.
Me: How could I distribute those profits?
Professor Seifu Yohannes: What the hell did you learn in college? Whenever someone recommends your film and you get the money, you share the profits with those who recommended you. So that person will want to continue recommending.
Me: How do I go with my wallet chasing hundreds of people who recommend my film?
Professor Seifu Yohannes: I don’t think there will be hundreds. But at least two; your mother and your brother. Anyways… In which century were you born, kid? In the XVI century? There are these things called computer programs. The program tracks who recommended your movie and pays his or her share for this work. And so on. In Africa any pie is shared, boy. That’s the polite way. And speaking of cake…
The food is ready. Recorder batteries are running low. I have to travel more than 10 miles on foot to buy new ones. This afternoon the Professor has promised me to go to the river. He’ll explain the theory of gravitational waves by throwing stones into the water. The Professor turns on the TV but there is only one channel with people dancing and commercials about quality mattresses.