Sunday, March 23, 2014

Reflections on Ethiopian award winning Film 'Difret'



Blogger's Note:  Last Thursday evening at American Film Institute in Silver Spring Maryland, I saw 'Difret'the Ethiopian film that won Audience Awards for dramatic or fiction films both at Sundance Film Festival and at Berlin International Film Festival. Even with its low-budget production,it is first-class movie both technically and in the way the script was developed en par with Indie films made in Europe or in America. The script or main story revolves around the ground breaking legal case where a 14 years old Ethiopian girl stood in trial after killing the man who abducted her making her his wife through old cultural tradition called 'Telefa' (marriage by abduction). The following well written review is by Ambassador Imru Zelleke who saw its 1st screening during African Film Festival 2014. It is good to note here that a sold out crowd (mostly Ethiopian origin) saw the movie during its 1st screening and the organizers felt it deserves a 2nd screening. That was when I saw it and it was sold out again. It seems the large number of Ethiopians or Ethiopian-Americans living in Washington DC metropolitan area heard about it thru words-of-mouth and turned out in big number. It recalled the time when 'Atletu' (another Ethiopian film based on the legendary marathon runner Abebe Biqila's life) was screened at the same venue for sold-out crowd. For me, equally best moment was the Q & A session that followed the screening and moderated by Mr. Mwiza Munthali (the organizer of the African Film Festival). The questions were great and the answers from the Director/Scriptwriter of the film ZereSenay B. Mehari  & the Producer Dr. Mehret Mandefro were well-thought of and very illuminating not only about film making but also about the broader topic of gender and culture in general. I had also the chance to talk one-on-one with the Director and the Producer. I found them very nice, humble, eager to listen and easy to engage in conversation with. I look forward to see more the works of these accomplished, energetic & creative young professionals in the future. 
Watch below clip of the Q & A session recorded during the first screening courtesy of Tadias Online Magazine.

World Cinema Dramatic Audience Awar at Sundance Film Festival and "Best New Movie Award' at Berlin International Film Festival. Even with its low-budget production, It is first-class movie technically en par with Indie films made in Europe or in America even with those large budget movies made in big Holywood studios. The script or main story revolves around the ground breaking legal case where a 14 years old Ethiopian girl stand in trial after killing the man who abducted her making her his wife through old cultural tradition called 'Telefa' (marriage by abduction). The following well written review is by Ambassador Imru Zelleke who saw its first screening during African Film Festival 2014. It is good to note that here, a sold out crowd (mostly Ethiopian origin) saw the movie during its first screening and the organizers felt it deserves a 2nd screening. That was when I saw it and it was sold out again. It seems the large number of Ethiopians or Ethiopian-Americans living in Washington DC metropolitan area heard about it thru words-of-mouth and turned out in big number. It recalled the time when 'Atletu' (another Ethiopian film based on the legendary marathon runner Abebe Biqila's life) was screened at the same venue for sold-out crowd. For me equally interesting was the Q & A session that followed the screening moderated by Mwiza Munthali, the organizer of the African Film Festival with Director ZereSenai B. Mehari & Producer Dr. Meheret Mandefro. The questions were great and the answers from ZereSenai &  Dr. Mehret were well-thought of and informative not only in film making but also in broad topic of gender and culture in general. I had also the chance to talk one-on-one with the Director and the Producer. I found them very nice, humble, eager to listen and easy to engage in conversation. Watch clip of the Q & A session recorded during the first screening below courtesy of Tadias Online Magazine.



World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award
World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award
DIFRET “Daring”
[Review by Ambassador Imru Zelleke] 
This is a serious movie that depicts in depth the traumatic times that the  Ethiopian society is undergoing from an ever present past towards an inescapable future.  It is a true portrayal of our contemporary national life, with all its contradictions, misconceptions, misunderstandings, of the struggle to survive a grueling existence amidst a violent social turmoil, of despair and hope. This is not an allegory of some past events, it is about present day Ethiopian society.
It mirrors the enormous disparity between the new urban moneyed class and  the abject poverty of the ordinary people. The fear of the ominous bureaucracy and the indifference of the judicial system are glaringly visible throughout the movie. Particularly, the plight of women in a traditional society still anchored in some brutal practices, and the courage and integrity of the young female lawyer and her elder associate who defy even the highest judicial authority, is a magnificent portrayal of the resilience and courage of Ethiopian womanhood.
The film was inspired by a true story and is shot in a genuine physical milieu in which it might have occurred. The subject was treated with candor and intellectual honesty, no frills, no special effects, no paraphernalia.  Cinema wise I think that the film belongs to a category called “cinema verite”.  However, unlike these kind of movies that are usually shot with hand held cameras, the use of professional gear has enhanced its visual quality. The exterior and interior scenes have been shot meticulously and convey most convincingly the mood and temper of the story. This is not an amusement movie but a profound comment about a society in transformation.
The Director Ato Zeresenay Berhane and the producers Woyzero Dr. Mehret  Mandefro  have shown a keen understanding of Ethiopian social fabric, they represent the promising future generation.  The heroines of the story Hirut and the lawyer Meron  as well as all the other actors have given a wonderful performance. Director Zeresenay deserves high credits for writing the script and for his delicate and skillful direction of non-professional actors into acting admirably in difficult and complex roles.  Compliments are also due to the team of producers, especially to Angela Jolie for participating in this venture and adding to her illustrious work this unique artistic achievement.  This is a film to be seen more than once to seize fully its meaning and significance to our future social development. 
We should look forward to other cinematic works by Director Zeresenay Berhane and producer Dr. Mehret Mandefro, whishing them our highest congratulations. 
Imru Zelleke                                                                                                     March 16, 2014 





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