Wide Angle: Interview with the creators of "The Market Maker"

July 17th, 2009

Hugo Berkeley, Director and Eli Cane, Producer,
The Market Maker

In the film The Market Maker, Wide Angle travels to East Africa to tell the dramatic story of an Ethiopian economist on a mission. Seeking a market-based solution to ending hunger in her famine-plagued country, Dr. Eleni Gabre-Madhin creates Ethiopia’s first commodities exchange. What she didn’t count on was a world financial crisis getting in the way. In this edition of “Inside Thirteen,” Lauren Feeney, Senior Web Producer at Wide Angle, spoke with The Market Maker’s director, Hugo Berkeley, and the film’s producer, Eli Cane. The Market Maker premieres on Wide Angle on Wednesday, July 22 at 10:00 p.m. (check local listings).

Lauren Feeney, Wide Angle: Can you tell us about your film, The Market Maker?

Eli Cane, Producer, The Market Maker: The film is about an Ethiopian economist, a woman named Dr. Eleni Gabre-Madhin, who has developed a commodities exchange, which she hopes will revolutionize the country’s agricultural markets and bolster the country’s defenses against famine, and improve the livelihoods of the country’s millions of small-scale farmers.

The core of the idea came from the famine in 1984, when, in the north, close to a million people died, as many Westerners know. But what I think a lot of people don’t know is there was also a surplus of food in the southern part of the country the same year. So, she said, we need a market mechanism to get these localized markets talking to each other on a national scale, and if that happens, food will move around the country more efficiently and more smoothly. So the film follows the better part of the first year of the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange, or ECX.

Dr. Eleni Gabre-Madhin

Hugo Berkeley, Director, The Market Maker: It’s also a film about, I think, a person who saw a solution to a problem that a lot of people think is endemic, that, really what can you do, you know? It’s a story about someone who saw a problem, thought of a solution, and then has had to overcome incredible obstacles to make that solution work. She’s an Ethiopian woman, so I think also it’s a story about sort of African solutions to African problems, about what a group of people have to go through to enact the change that they see, that they envisage.

Lauren: What was it like working and traveling in Ethiopia?

Hugo: Ethiopia is a beautiful country, really a wonderful place to get to know. I think we both felt really privileged to have the opportunity to travel around. One of the great things is that the work that Eleni and her team are doing isn’t just in the center of the city and the capital, it’s everywhere, it’s out in the fields and out in the countryside, and we were able to go to all these incredible places with them. Ethiopia is a very diverse country – it has like Rift Valley, which is very lush and green and hills, and then you up to the north and it’s desert and it’s arid, and it’s dusty and difficult and very hot, and in the middle you have all the highlands.

It wasn’t without its difficulties. Like, electricity is not very constant, so if you’re dealing with camera equipment and all of that, you have a lot of problems just charging equipment and keeping it clean, because of all of the dirt and dust. But as a country and as a people, everybody was so welcoming and friendly and open, and helpful all the time.

Lauren: Can you talk about how the two of you work together?

Hugo: Eli and I actually met on a project about a Senegalese singer called Youssou N’Dour. This is our first big collaboration of this variety.

Eli: In the field, Hugo was the DP, and I’m on sound, and generally that means we’re attached, literally. So aside from a couple of miscommunications when he’s walking one way and I’m walking the other, I think that we work quite well together.

Hugo: We both have a strong interest in African music, so we heard a lot of music – there’s a lot of great music in Addis. If you go to Gonder, there are these spectacular castles, or in Lalibela, these wonderful churches that are built into the rocks. It wasn’t just work. There was a lot of enjoyment.

Eli: And I think that doing those things and seeing those things and getting a sense of place contributes hugely to the feel of the film.

Hugo: In that sense, maybe the film isn’t just about Eleni, it’s also to get a feel and flavor, and hear and see Ethiopia.

Lauren: What was it like to work with Aaron Brown?

Aaron Brown, host, Wide Angle

Eli: It was great. He is a consummate professional. He showed up after an 18 hour flight, landed in Addis, slept for, I don’t know, six hours or so, then at six in the morning got up, went to the airport, got into a little rickety one prop or two engine plane, and flew a few hours to the countryside. Then got in a car and drove for few hours down a bumpy road, and did his first interview.

We inundated him with details over dinner and other meals, and he was able to take four hours of pent up rambling from Hugo and me and boil it down to its most essential elements, and ask the right questions and draw out what we hoped would be drawn out of characters in his interviews.

Hugo: This is a complicated story, a complicated place, a lot of history, and I think Aaron works as a kind of translator, in a way. He’s able to take all that information and boil it down to something that people can identify with, and in that sense, I think he really brings a great deal to her story.