December 31, 2015
Based on the true story of a 14-year-old Ethiopian girl kidnapped for a forced marriage, this is a compelling portrait of deeply rooted sexism and injustice dragging the nation back to a Bronze Age notion of women’s rights. Abducted by galloping horsemen as she walks home from fourth grade, Hirut (Tizita Hagere) escapes, shooting her intended husband with her captors’ rifle as she runs home. The men want to use a knife to kill her on the spot; the court system prefers to follow judicial statutes by giving her a proper death sentence. Meza (Meron Getnet), a female legal aid activist, sets out to argue that the girl’s fatal shooting was a matter of self-defense. Pushing ancient traditions of forced child marriage into the 21st century is no easy matter even when they violate what most countries recognize as basic human rights. Writer/director Zeresenay Berhane Mehari brings impressive creative talent to his first fiction feature; it’s not surprising that Angelina Jolie put her support behind the film as executive producer.
November 30, 2015
by Alan Zilberman
Written and directed by Ethiopian filmmaker Zeresenay Mehari, the drama “Difret” unfolds with striking moral clarity. Its characters are strong ”” a necessity since the subject matter is downright disturbing, particularly to Western audiences.
Hirut (Tizita Hagere) is a 14-year-old girl from a small village outside Ethiopia’s capital of Addis Ababa. One afternoon on the way home from school, she is abducted by a group of men. One of them rapes the girl, whom he intends to marry. Taking a rifle, Hirut escapes the following morning, shooting and accidentally killing her assailant in self-defense. After the girl is arrested, an attorney and women’s advocate named Meaza Ashenafi (Meron Getnet) decides to defend Hirut, at no cost to her family.
Mehari avoids any sensationalism in telling Hirut’s story. Instead, he lets it unfold like a courtroom procedural. Using a cinema verite style, he never dwells on the times Hirut is in danger. Instead, “Difret” focuses on the impasse between modernity and tradition, between cosmopolitan and provincial lifestyles. The most disturbing scene is one in which the village elders ”” all men ”” gather, openly discussing the merits of abduction, as if it’s their God-given right.
The scenes with Hirut and Meaza are gentler and more character-driven. That is where Mehari’s film finds its emotional core, as well as greater nuance.
That “Difret” is based on an actual case from 1996 comes as a shock, indicating that the Ethiopian government apparently tolerated child kidnapping for so long. The film’s prominence is due in no small part to Angelina Jolie, who served as executive producer. Yet “Difret” deserves recognition for more than a famous name. Bride kidnapping remains a problem in some parts of the world. This film is a necessary reminder of what can happen when people preserve tradition for its own sake.
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November 9, 2015
by Joyce Hackel and Julia Barton
The word “Difret” has many shades of meaning in Ethiopia’s language Amharic: it can mean both “to dare” and “to have courage,” but also “to be violated.”
Like its title, the film “Difret” represents many things: it’s a work of fiction based on a true story of courage and change; it’s one of the only films from Ethiopia shot on 35mm film; and it’s got big name recognition in the form of executive producer Angelina Jolie Pitt. But above all, the film tells the story about a traditional practice through the experience of one frightened girl caught in a whirlwind beyond her control.
“Difret” is based on the story of Aberash Bekele ”” called Hirut in the film ”” a girl who was abducted by men on horseback outside her rural Ethiopian village. It’s the day she’s promoted to 5th grade in school. Her captor ”” who failed to get her father’s permission to marry her ”” insists he now has the right to marry her according to a tradition known as telefa. But she fights back, accidentally killing him. She faces a death sentence until attorney Meaza Ashenafi steps in to fight for her. The resulting courtroom drama riveted the nation in 1996, when it took place.
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November 2, 2015
by Joann Pan
Trained as a filmmaker and cinematographer, Zeresenay Berhane Mehari had a clear intention for his project, Difret. “From the get-go, my target audience was made up of the young girls and boys of Ethiopia. I said, ‘I’m going to make the film for them and I’m going to talk about a societal issue that we have been neglecting for centuries: abduction for marriage.’ I knew if I didn’t talk about this issue, no one was going to do it.” The resulting independent film is based on a true story, a landmark case that helped change telefa””the tradition of violent abduction of teenage girls for marriage. In 1997, Meaza Ashenafi””founder of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association””successfully defended Aberash Bekele, who was 14 years old when she was on trial (and facing death) for killing her abductor. He was realistic about the odds: “I knew only about three percent of scripts written are made and distributed,” he says. “I was ready for that and prepared as much as anyone could be.” Mehari, whose film won an Audience Award in the World Cinema Dramatic category at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, talks to Oprah.com about what he learned working toward a dream that his heart wouldn’t give up on.
1. Find the 1-in-3,000 Person Who Is Right for Your Project
Two weeks before we started filming, I was ready to stop production because we couldn’t find [an actress to play] the little girl. The young girl was 14 years old when she killed her abductor. I wasn’t able to find a trained actor for the part. The year we were filming, about 100 or 110 films were made in Ethiopia. There was not a single part written for a child or a teenager. That meant I had to look for someone outside of the acting community. We printed out leaflets and flyers””5,000 of them””and handed them out to young girls at elementary and high schools. I saw 3,000 girls in order to find this one actor, because the film’s success depended on her. When I saw [Tizita Hagere], I knew she was the one. She was the person I was looking for. It felt like it was meant to be.
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October 30, 2015
by Erin Sharoni
Humanity is no stranger to violence. In the realm of cultural traditions, fossilized within the resin of generations, there is both happiness and hatred.
Violence is justified by those who cling to the past. Assurance that they, too, will be preserved.
But traditions, like technology, become archaic over time. No matter the pace, there comes a moment when humans grow out of a thing once considered essential. Stone turns to metal, metal turns to plastic; priestesses step down from altars to make way for priests.
Where females once ruled many societies, a strong male wind blew in and reshaped cultural landscapes like the shifting sands of a dune. Patriarchy replaced matriarchy. Women bowed their heads and pulled their robes closer. Sometimes, they even covered their bodies completely so that only their eyes blinked at the bright sun, windows to souls hidden beneath fabric and oppression.
Difret is a new film from executive producer Angelina Jolie that paints a poignant picture of a controversial Ethiopian tradition and the inevitable shift that accompanied it. It chronicles the extraordinary, true story of a 14-year-old Ethiopian girl, Aberash Bekele (called Hirut in the film), who is abducted and raped in the accepted custom of telefa and subsequently arrested after killing her captor in self-defense. Her unlikely savior is headstrong female lawyer Meaza Ashenafi, a woman bent on justice for the young girl and legislative acknowledgment of an abhorrent practice. Jolie insists,
Difret not only shows the tenacity and strength of two remarkable Ethiopian women and brings the world’s attention rightfully to these two real-life heroes, but it also shows the extraordinary talent and creativity of Ethiopian filmmakers.
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IndieWire: Producer Mehret Mandefro on How Her Bride-Abduction Film ‘Difret’ Shows that Change Can Happen
October 29, 2015
by Melissa Silverstein
In “Difret,” 14-year-old Hirut (Tizita Hagere) is kidnapped while walking home from school and forced into marriage by an older man she doesn’t know — and who’s willing to do whatever it takes to break her down so the teen will become a docile wife and captive. But Hirut says no to this long-standing tradition in her village — and kills her abductor, putting her on trial for her life. A brave female attorney (Meron Getnet) takes her case and fights to buck these archaic traditions in an emotionally powerful Ethiopian film based on a true story.
“Difret” producer Mehret Mandefro talked to Women and Hollywood about why she felt it was important to talk about tragedy in terms of change, how Angelina Jolie’s involvement in the film changed its trajectory and how the child-bride-kidnapping problem is much more common and widespread than she’d previously thought. (Freja Dam transcribed this interview.)
“Difret” is now open in theaters.
W&H: Talk about your journey with the film, how you’ve taken it all over the world at festivals and now have an U.S. release. You’ve had it released in other countries?
MM: Yes, the U.S. release is the last one.
W&H: How many countries has it been released in?
MM: I’ve honestly lost count. I think 20. At Sundance, we got picked up by international distributors. It changed everything, and they got it much wider than we ever thought was possible. It’s really because how wide it got outside the U.S. that made us rethink how we were going to do our U.S. release. Foreign-language films in the U.S. don’t do well; it takes a distributor who is willing to partner with the filmmakers. In our case, we were so hands-on with this project. It was a labor of love and our baby. I wasn’t going to give it to a distributor who wasn’t going to do anything with it, especially after having experiences with other distributors around the world who actually were thoughtful in the marketing and had feelings for it. That made us a lot choosier with what we were going to do with the American territory.
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October 27, 2015
by Richy Rosario
As the old adage goes, “Well behaved women rarely make history,” but what happens when that “misbehavior” is a tactic used for survival? Enter Difret, which depicts the plight of 14-year-old Hirut in her native Ethiopia, when seven men abduct her in efforts to get her to succumb to an arranged marriage. Hirut’s unfortunate circumstances in Difret, executive produced by Angelina Jolie Pitt, tells the real-life story of Aberash Bekele, a young advocate who tackles violence against women, and telefa, the kidnapping of child brides in the African country.
Bekele was 14-years-old when she was put on trial for killing a 29-year-old farmer, who tried to force her to marry him by abducting and raping her. She was the first young woman in history to ever resist this practice, which led her to win the case, and change Ethiopia’s political climate against women forever. At its best, Difret is synonymous with all things feminism. The film begins by showcasing an older woman’s struggle with domestic violence from her husband, as she visits bada** lawyer, Meaza Ashenafi’s (Meron Getnet) office. After she tells Meaza that the popular opinion around town is that her husband loves her and his abuse is a show of affection, the fearless attorney takes matter into her own hands. In true she-ro fashion, she visits the woman’s husband and tells him if he doesn’t stop, he will lose his job. Surely enough, the beatings stop.
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October 23, 2015
by Aberash Bekele
Movies and stories can often act as catalysts to make a difference in the world we live in. They shed light on the untold stories of personal struggles and successes, inspiring audiences to strive for change.
Through the film Difret, we, the filmmakers and I, want to provoke large audiences to take action towards helping bring an end to child marriage. I myself was only 14 years old when I was kidnapped for marriage to a much older man. I was taken to an unfamiliar hut, locked inside, and raped. Unlike most children who share this horrible reality, I was able to escape by shooting my captor and running to safety. Even so, I wasn’t free. I was charged with murder and brought to trial. Fortunately, I had an incredible and supportive team behind me, who worked tirelessly for my justice.
After the court case victory, I was still exiled to leave my village because of what happened. So even though I won, I had a hard life. I was not allowed to return and live with my family. So I thought it was better to remain hidden than be public. But the film has changed that. I am thankful that it has made my story visible for others and I have been encouraged by the positive response.
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October 20, 2015
By Monica Castillo
Dramatizing a real incident, the movie follows fourteen-year-old Hirut Assefa (Tizita Hagere), who on her way home from school one afternoon was kidnapped and raped by a man seeking to become her husband. During her desperate escape, she shot and killed the man. In return, her village demanded her death. Determined women’s-rights lawyer Meaza Ashenafi (Meron Getnet) takes up Hirut’s case to argue for the girl’s innocence.
It’s the kind of heartbreaking international story you might expect from Angelina Jolie Pitt, who serves as an executive producer. But Difret is above wrenching your heartstrings for sympathy. Its small-scale focus on the relationship between Meaza and Hirut makes it an engrossing drama without having to resort to showing the traumatizing violence that takes place in the first fifteen minutes. The young leading actresses, Getnet and Hagere, imbue their characters with admirable strength in the face of seemingly unending adversity.
October 18, 2015
By Dodie Kazanjian
A number of internationally acclaimed visual artists these days are deeply engaged with social issues. Julie Mehretu, who was born in Ethiopia and lives in New York City, is one of them. She was so struck by the true story of a 14-year-old Ethiopian victim of the ancient and cruel tradition of marriage-by-abduction that she sold a major painting to finance and produce Difret, a powerful and moving film based on the girl’s experience. Mehretu, who is currently working to make the issue of abduction a U.S. foreign policy priority, spoke with Vogue.com about helping to make the film, which premieres in New York City on October 23.
How did you get involved with Difret and what was your part?
[Director Zeresenay Berhane] Mehari sent me the script for Difret, which I was blown away by. The word difret means “courage” in Amharic, and I actually thought what they were trying to do with this film was courageous. I didn’t know Mehari’s work as a filmmaker, only that the script was incredibly powerful and the film had to exist. I sold a work from my collection to help raise the budget for it. The film itself was better than any of us could have imagined. It is a beautiful film, made in Ethiopia, that can stand shoulder to shoulder with many other great films in global cinema. Since then I have been involved in trying to help Difret reach the widest possible audience.
September 22, 2015
Check out Time’s magazine feature piece on Aberash Bekele, one of the heroines in our film, as she talks about her life as a child bride. Check out an excerpt of the interview below:
In 1997, when you were 14, you killed a man. Can you explain why?
I was abducted, and I was trying to go home. I shot not at him but to keep him away.
Why had he abducted you?
Abduction is one of the accepted methods of marriage in Ethiopia. You get abducted, and then you get raped, because as the father of your potential child, the abductor is in a higher position to negotiate with the family for your hand.
What happened after you killed him?
I was arrested immediately, and I stayed in prison for a year awaiting trial. The Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association came to my aid and fought my case. After three years, I was released.
Did you get to go home?
I couldn’t go back to my village, because the family of the guy I killed vowed vengeance and were threatening me and my family. Through elders and mediators, it was possible for my family to stay. But I was exiled. I went to Addis Ababa, the capital city, to an orphanage.
How did things change in Ethiopia after your case?
Not much changed regarding the tradition itself. But in my village for about seven to eight years, not one girl got abducted, because people knew that there were consequences. They realized that abduction is not permitted by the law. We’re just now seeing abduction come back again.
Your case was in the news, but then you went silent about your travails. Why are you speaking out now?
Because I got the chance. I left the country and was working as a housemaid in Dubai, and I wasn’t able to talk about the issue. Now with this film coming out and my job as an activist, I have a new chance to talk about what happened to me, and the tradition.
Read full article.
September 11, 2015
by Jeff Labrecque
Ethiopia has made great progress as a nation since the devastating famine and civil war of the 1980s, but as recently as the 1990s, women in that country were susceptible to unspeakable violence disguised as custom. In Difret, which played at Sundance and opens in theaters on Oct. 23, two Ethiopian women fight back against the practice of telefa, the accepted abduction and rape of teenage girls as long as the man marries his victim.
Based on a true story, Difret was the passion project of Ethiopian filmmaker Zeresenay Berhane Mehari. It tells the story of a 14-year-old (Tizita Hagere) who defends herself against her abductor and is sentenced to death when she kills him. A female lawyer (Meron Getnet) takes her case, pitting generations of tradition against the future of equal rights in her country. Mehari turned down opportunities to get his film made abroad, in English, because he was determined to film it in Ethiopia, in Amharic, so that his countrymen and women could see and relate to the story.
“Difret not only shows the tenacity and strength of two remarkable Ethiopian women and brings the world’s attention rightfully to these two real-life heroes, but it also shows the extraordinary talent and creativity of Ethiopian filmmakers,” says Angelina Jolie, who became an executive producer prior to Sundance, where the film won an Audience Award. “I’m very proud to be a part of it.”
Read full article.
August 1, 2015
As President Obama, in Ethiopia, decries outdated traditions like child marriage, Christiane Amanpour speaks with the producer, and subject, of the new film Difret.
May 30, 2015
by Stephanie Hallet
In the Winter 2015 issue of Ms. we introduced readers to an Ethiopian-made film titled Difret, produced in part by Angelina Jolie. The film tells the true story of an Ethiopian girl who, after being victimized in the 1990s by the local discriminatory practice of telefa, or marriage-by-abduction, killed the man who had abducted and raped her. The girl was charged with murder, but her lawyer, Meaza Ashenafi, not only helped clear her of the charges but took on telefa itself.
The girl at the center of the film remained anonymous until this year. Now that Difret has begun screening around the world, however, Aberash Bekele is speaking out about her experience. Below, read a Ms. Blog exclusive interview with Bekele and find out how you can help end the practice of telefa.
April 28, 2015
Public Radio International published a great feature on the film earlier this year. If you missed it you can check out the excerpt below and click on the link to view the full article.
“Difret is a film inspired by the true story of two Ethiopians, a young girl named Aberash Bekele and her lawyer, Meaza Ashenafi.
Bekele inspired the character Hirut, a 14-year-old girl we follow in the film as she bounds home from school. The mood shifts as she’s surrounded by a band of men on horseback. She’s taken to a hut on the edge of town where she is raped. Later she sneaks off ”” grabbing her captor’s rifle ”” but he follows her into the woods. Cornered, she turns to face this man who hopes to be her husband and pulls the trigger.
With that shot, she interrupts one of Ethiopia’s oldest traditions: the violent practice of Telefa, where men rape and abduct young girls into marriage.
Hirut is arrested and charged with murder. Ashenafi, the founder of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers’ Association, rushes three hours from the capital to take the girl’s case. Her trial eventually leads to a strengthening of Ethiopia’s laws against child marriage.
Despite the gains chronicled in the film, the ancient tradition of Telefa is still prevalent.
Difret’s producer, Mehret Mandefro, and her husband, the film’s writer and director Zeresenay Berhane Mehari, are both Ethiopian. It was important for them to take a critical look at their culture’s transformation, but without demonizing tradition.”
February 28, 2015
The 23rd annual Pan African Film & Arts Festival (PAFF) is now over, after a February 5 through February 16 run, showcasing as many as 150 films (shorts and features), over the 11-day period. Difret won the Best Feature Narrative award at PAFF and we are thrilled! Thank you Los Angeles and the PAFF team.
For a full list of winners read the Indie Wire article.
December 16, 2014
DIFRET is only the fourth feature film to be made in 35mm in Ethiopia and is this year’s Ethiopian submission for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film. It tells the story of a young girl of 14, abducted for marriage, in a tradition that goes back centuries in rural parts of the country. After being raped (“having her virginity taken”) by her abductor, to claim her for marriage, she escapes and shoots him with his own rifle. Then the girl is put on trial for murder. For it is unthinkable for a woman to kill a man.
December 12, 2014
The compelling “Difret” is a small film with a lot on its mind. Authentic and affecting, this drama about fighting against the Ethiopian tradition of abducting young girls into marriage is potent enough to be that country’s official Academy Award submission and gain the support of Angelina Jolie as an executive producer.
December 11, 2014
Only one film from sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) has ever won an Academy Award for foreign-language film. That is “Black and White in Color” back in 1976, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, a French production flying under the flag of the Ivory Coast. Before this year, this vast region of 900 million people had only ever submitted nine films, and Annaud remains the only nominee.
December 6, 2014
November 28, 2014
July 24, 2014
The long-running Durban International Film Festival is back and this year it’s offering cinema lovers a host of must-see movies. Read more.
April 8, 2014
I saw thirty films at the Sundance Film Festival over ten days in Park City, Utah, and I must admit, while many of the films that I had the honor of watching were stimulating and provocative, very few were heroic or uplifting in the most classical sense or experience of cinema. For the nuanced and inspiring retelling of the true life story of two Ethiopian heroines ”” Nobel Prize nominee and human rights attorney Meaza Ashenafi and the fourteen year old girl, Hirut, whose life Meaza defended ”” Ethiopian filmmaker Zeresenay Berhane Mehari deservedly won the 2014 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition for his feature film Difret. Sensitively and intelligently scripted, impeccably shot on 35mm film, and precisely and movingly acted, Difret holds the additional honor of being the first film ever shot in Ethiopia to have screened in competition at Sundance. It is a remarkable achievement and little wonder that Angelina Jolie has signed on as Executive Producer of Difret.
February 28, 2014
January 29, 2014
Kenneth Turan, the head film critic for the Los Angeles Times, profiles Zeresenay Berhane Mehari as part of his coverage of the 2014 Sundance film festival.
PARK CITY, Utah ”“ When Zeresenay Berhane Mehari, newly arrived in the United States to continue his education, wrote to his father in Ethiopia that he’d decided to study film, the reaction was not exactly positive.
January 14, 2014
The official announcement about Angelina Jolie joining our team is out in the trade press. Check out what she had to say about our film in The Hollywood Reporter.
January 11, 2014
Difret was included in Entertainment Weekly’s 5 hot films headed to Sundance list.
December 11, 2013
Sundance Institute announced the films selected for the U.S. and World Cinema Dramatic and Documentary Competitions and the out-of-competition NEXT <=> section of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, January 16-26 in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance, Utah. Difret is included in the World Dramatic Competition. This is the first time in the 30-year history of the festival that an Ethiopian movie will be competing in this category.