Urban Genesis
Documentary feature 2022
96 min.

Ethiopian farmers and a team of international architects have joined forces to tackle the problem of rural exodus. Deep in the African hinterlands, the unequal participants are building a small model town that could point the way out of the globally worsening migration crisis.

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Ethiopia is facing many issues that seem to be unmanageable. It is one of the countries with the highest population growth world-wide and is particularly affected by the rural exodus. Every year, millions of young people flow into cities due to a lack of prospects for their future in the rural regions. In a few decades more than two thirds of the Ethiopian population will live in urban areas. Addis Ababa, the capital city, is growing explosively. Today there is already a lack of space, of the necessary infrastructure and of course jobs.
FASIL GIORGHIS, architect and professor for urban planning at the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development (EiABC) of the University of Addis Ababa, tries to influence the enormous social pressure together with his colleagues, such as ZEGEYE CHERENET. Giorghis and Cherenet fear political destabilization, as over 80% of Ethiopia's population still live in the countryside from subsistence farming. In 2016, the strong migration movement was partly responsible for an uprising that the government of the time had bloodily suppressed.

TILAHUN AYELEW manages with his wife and their two children a tiny piece of farmland using quite archaic methods. The family can only barely live on it. And there are hardly any perspectives for the future. Tilahun's nineteen-year-old son wants to move to the city, because the small piece of land, half of which he will once inherit, can not secure him a livelihood. When some strangers from afar approached Tilahun and other inhabitants of the Bura village with an offer to take part in an unusual project of a small experimental model town called BuraNEST, the farmer grasped at the chance. Besides Ethiopian urban planners from Addis Ababa there is also a white man involved in the project, Franz Oswald from Switzerland.

FRANZ OSWALD is a former professor of architecture and urban planning at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich. He came up with the idea of the New Ethiopian Sustainable Town, shortly BuraNEST. His approach is quite radical. BuraNEST is the only of 146 urban development projects in Africa to follow the bottom-up strategy. With BuraNEST, Oswald wants to transform these villages with no future into small self-financed and self-governing urban structures. The farmers are to play the leading role in this proccess. If it proves to be a success, the Ethiopian government plans to build a whole interconnected network of hundreds of such small rural towns with an integrated agriculture. This would open up completely new perspectives, not only for the millions of farmers in Ethiopia, but for many other developing countries as well.
Despite his initial concerns about the project Tilahun has sold his most prized possesion, a bull, to buy a share in a coop apartment building and is working harder than anyone else to build the model town.


Director: Dodo Hunziker

Script: Dodo Hunziker, Yared Zeleke

Cinematographer: Frank Schwaiger, Pierre Reischer

Additional cinematography: Efrem Mekonnen

Editors: Anja Bombelli, Gisela Castronari-Jaensch

Composer: Ivo Ubezio

Sound Design: Peter von Siebenthal

Color Grading: Pierre Reischer

Production: Corinna Dästner, Urs Schnell


World Sales: Rushlake Media GmbH

Distribution Switzerland: Royal Film



A production of DOKLAB GMBH in coproduction mit SRF Swiss Radio and Television, SRG SSR, ZDF/ARTE, funded by Berner Filmförderung, Bundesamt für Kultur, Kanton St. Gallen Kulturförderung, Suissimage, MEDIA Desk Suisse, Ernst Göhner Stiftung, Succès Passage Antenne, Burgergemeinde Bern, Fondation Suisa and supported by Documentary Campus, Sources 2, FOCAL.


Tilahun Ayelew

Fitalew Tilahun

Agegno Tilahun

Tigabnesh Bayley

Helen Zeray

Franz Oswald

Benjamin Stähli

Temesgen Atnafu

Bizuayehu Jembere

Fasil Giorghis

Zegeye Cherenet