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The American director Mo Scarpelli makes a miraculous discovery in her new documentary – a 10-year-old Ethiopian farm boy who has been displaced from his home by urbanisation. Scarpelli has said that when she spotted Asalif Tewold on the street in Addis Ababa, she knew instantly that she wanted to make a film about him. You can see why. A charismatic kid with energy and imagination, he’s at that perfect stage of boyhood with an appetite for adventure and make-believe. That said, Scarpelli’s observational film-making style, slow and lingering, is a challenge and likely to be off-putting to all but hardcore lovers of arthouse.
Asalif and his mum live in a toolshed on the edge of a sprawling new apartment complex in the Ethiopian capital – squatting with other members of their traditional farming community, who have been kicked off their land to make way for the development. A resourceful, inventive boy, Asalif scavenges rubbish piles for wire and electronic parts, which he uses to construct DIY torches and mechanical toys. His partner in crime is Kuba, another country boy. When they quarrel, Asalif befriends Fikadu, a kid from one of the apartment blocks.
In a heart-rending scene, Asalif presents Fikadu with a homemade toy helicopter, a strip of metal whirring around as a propeller. His new friend is unimpressed. “My parents will buy me a better one,” he says, looking at it as if it’s a piece of junk. The scene says everything about how Asalif doesn’t belong in Fikadu’s world.
In front of the camera Asalif is a natural; it’s as if he is unaware that he’s being filmed at all. Of course, that can’t be true. Scarpelli followed him for two years, and, watching her film, I wondered how much she contrived scenes such as the one with the helicopter to illustrate her concerns about gentrification and those left behind like Asalif.
Source: The Guardian
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