By Tadias Staff
Published: Wednesday, March 19th, 2014
Washington, D.C. (TADIAS) — During the Q&A session at the 10th Annual New African Films Festival — that was held at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland this past weekend — filmmaker Zeresenay Mehari and producer Mehret Mandefro, fielded questions regarding their award winning movie Difret, including how they came across the epic story. Zeresenay shared that in 2005 he had met Meaza Ashenafi’s brother at a dinner where he heard about his sister. Zeresenay recalled being told “you should make a movie about my sister.”
“Yeah, I laughed about it and then I typed up her name and a thousand pages came up.” He added: “And what she was able to [do] in Ethiopia at that time blew me away. And I wanted to meet her and I asked to meet her, and a couple of months later we met. She was very skeptical that a man, an Ethiopian man at that, wanted to do a story about women’s issues.”
Difret, which won the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, narrates the true story of a teenager who was a victim of telefa (the archaic custom of marriage by abduction in Ethiopia) and later gained public attention when she was arrested and charged with murder for the killing of her abductor. The girl’s subsequent acquittal on the grounds of self defense is owing not in small part to the courageous and tireless effort of the now legendary lawyer Meaza Ashenafi.
“Bringing this issue of gender to the surface and making a difference in Ethiopian law is really very important,” said Martha Negash, an audience member and a former law school classmate of Meaza, emphasizing that she’s proud her friend’s work.
“I have a lot of respect for Mehret and Zeresenay for choosing to really talk and discuss in detail about women’s issues,” shared Dr. Menna Demessie. “Of all the films they could have made to make a film about the struggles of young women in Ethiopia, while also being very sensitive to the culture and tradition, I really respect them for that.” Menna added: “First of all its based on a true story, so the fact that there is success or light at the end of the tunnel is key to the fact that there are women who against all odds are still fighting on behalf of other young women and willing to put themselves at the forefront of these issues that I find very empowering.”
Among those who watched the film included Ambassador Imru Zelleke, “Very well done,” he noted. “Both from the technical point of view and the history reflects the present day Ethiopia with all its contradictions between the old and new. It was marvelous, a first class job.”
Asked to name additional social subjects that he would like to explore in future cinema projects, Zeresenay told Tadias that he is interested in tackling immigration. “I want to talk about that,” he said. “I also have a story that I wanted to do about human trafficking and prostitution. That’s an issue that is affecting us a great deal.” He cautioned: “Of course, they are far away from being full conceptualized works.”
Mwiza Munthhali, Public Outreach Director of Trans Africa, and one of the presenters of the New African Films Festival, stated that compared to when they first started showing at AFI Silver Theatre nearly a decade ago, the number of films shown at the annual festival has doubled with 18 African motion pictures curated from all parts of the continent making their debut in 2014. “The number of films to choose from has also expanded stupendously in the last ten years,” Munthhali said.
Below is Tadias Magazine’s video coverage of the event by Tsedey Aragie.
Tadias Interview with Zeresenay Mehari & Mehret Mandefro
‘Difret’ Wins Panorama at Berlin Film Festival
Ethiopian film confronts marriage by abduction (BBC)
‘Difret’ Wins World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award at Sundance Festival
Tadias Interview with Filmmaker Yidnekachew Shumete