Director of Ethiopian Indie Difret on his Award-Winning Film

April 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

Zeresenay Berhane Mehari introduces his film "Difret" at the AFI Silver Theatre

Zeresenay Berhane Mehari introduces his film “Difret” at the AFI Silver Theatre

It’s hard to imagine how one could see Difret, the independent film by Ethiopian filmmaker Zeresenay Berhane Mehari, and not want to do something about the issue of violence against women and girls. That is how I felt after the award-winning film screened last month at AFI Silver Theatre as part of TransAfrica Forum’s New African Films Festival. And clearly that was part of the director’s intent. Difret recounts a landmark 1996 case in Ethiopia where a lawyer, Meaza Ashenafi, already a fearless advocate for women, takes up the defense of a young teen girl, Hirut Assefa, who has killed the man who abducted her. The practice of abducting young girls into marriage had been a tradition in Ethiopia for centuries, and Hirut’s reaction gets her condemned to death, prompting Ms. Ashenafi to become embroiled in an impassioned battle to save her life. Standing up to entrenched customs and beliefs is a courageous tack if you’re an African

"Difret" Producer Mehret Mandefro, center, with TransAfrica Forum's Mwiza Munthali and Zeresenay Mehari during the Q&A

“Difret” Producer Mehret Mandefro, center, with TransAfrica Forum’s Mwiza Munthali and Zeresenay Mehari during the Q&A

filmmaker. Ousmane Sembene’s award-winning 2004 drama Moolaade did come to mind, where he took on the more widespread issue of female circumcision. Mehari and his team should obviously be commended, but it was the fearless efforts of Meaza Ashenafi in overcoming that archaic tradition that inspired the director to challenge all the odds he faced in bringing this true story to the big screen. Following the screening, the director revealed that his decision to shoot film rather than digital came out of the desire for a more authentic look (he shot it on location in Ethiopia). That’s a gutsy move for an indie project; not only does it significantly increase the film’s budget, if you’re shooting in Africa you’re severely limited as to where you can get the film developed and processed. But all that effort has yielded dividends for Mehari and his team; Difret has become one of the darlings of the 2014 film festival circuit, winning awards at both Sundance and Berlin, and entering competition in the Curaçao and San Francisco International Film Festivals. It also attracted the attention of actress and one-time UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie, who agreed to come on as an Executive Producer. Whatever artists do, or are supposed to do, Zeresenay Mehari has done with this film. Watch our one-on-one interview with him above. Then go and spread the word. Difret will screen next at the San Francisco International Film Festival, beginning April 24. Check out the film’s Facebook page, and follow them on Twitter. Bless…

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