What the Wise Awakens To | Ethiopian Short Film

A Film by Yohannes Mulat Mekonnen


“What the wise awakens to” is a short animation film made from individually hand-painted frames.

The narration of the film is based on the famous allegory of the cave from the Republic. The allegory of the cave as an archetypically structured story has a lot of similarities with other similar myths and stories on the same subject. For instance, with the life of Buddha from the east.

Both stories begin from more or less similar settings. In both Plato’s cave and Buddha’s youth, the reality is carefully constructed. The protagonist from Plato lived in a cave where what he sees is selected and structured as shadows. Buddha also spends his pre-enlightened life in a world devoid of hunger, illness, and death: curated and controlled by his father.

These two stories diverge only in their picture of what the real world is: what their protagonist awakens to. According to the allegory, the protagonist will leave the cave to awaken to the splendor of the real world. Radically better. While Buddha awakens to the suffering of the world.

This is also where the interest of the film lays: what the knower awakens to.


The film took 3 months of production, including painting the frames and design. It is in post-production for the past 2 months. It’s a solo project for the most part (design, painting, narration, direction) with music by Yizzac Kasahun.

I chose to use painted frames because a camera felt too impersonal for my purpose. Are painted frames limiting? Yes. But it is those limitations and working with and around them, discovering just how far one can push them that add a personal touch for me.

I try to not have a clear vision of what I want to do and what Ideas I want to explore as I enter the studio. I have found that my work assumes a more organic form when I start with a very vague understanding of what I want to do and allow the work itself to guide me where it will.

In this particular case, It began with an interest to animate fire. It made me think about shadow puppets and the role shadows played in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. From there my thoughts naturally shifted towards concepts such as awakening, the pursuit of knowledge, and the often undiscussed pain that comes with them. And so the film became an antithesis of Plato’s Allegory, a pessimistic exploration of awakening. The intent is not to paint them as negative or meaningless, but rather to express that with awakening and enlightenment also come pain and confusion.

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