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Project dldl/ድልድል Principal Investigator collaborates with UK- and Ethiopia-based filmmakers to produce multilingual docudrama on domestic violence in Ethiopia

Background and objectives of the film

As part of project’s dldl/ድልድል impact pathways, the project’s Principal Investigator (PI), Dr Romina Istratii, has established a new collaboration with the UK-based company Exile Pictures Ltd. to produce a multilingual docudrama on domestic violence in Ethiopia that seeks to raise awareness and to motivate positive responses to the problem in the community. The film’s storyline is a collation of stories and testimonies of real people as they were communicated to the PI in previous long-term anthropological research in Ethiopia. The aim of the film is to share the research findings in a more accessible format with the public and other key stakeholder groups in Ethiopia to nuance the public’s understanding about domestic violence and how this is experienced in reference to religio-cultural beliefs, practices and norms in Ethiopian society. The film is particularly interested in educating religious leaders, clergy and laypeople on the complex role that religious rationalisations and the clergy play in the experience of domestic violence in Ethiopia, influencing victim’s responses and help-seeking attitudes positively or negatively, and to suggest how faith and religious leaders could become more resourceful and effective in responding to the problem.

The film will be produced in Amharic, with Tigrigna and English subtitles being included in acknowledgement of the original sites of Dr Istratii’s anthropological research that was completed in the countryside of Tigray and to make the film accessible to an international audience, respectively. Subtitles may be produced in other languages of Ethiopia as feasible.

Engaging UK- and Ethiopia-based female and male filmmakers

Exile Pictures is ideally placed to undertake the production of such a docudrama as it specialises in producing documentary and drama films in Ethiopia and across the diaspora and has extensive experience and knowledge of filming in Ethiopia and the UK across a range of sensitive subject matters. The company is led by Hermon Hailay and Max Conil, who together combine many decades of experience in film direction and creative production. Hermon is Ethiopian and was trained at the leading theatre school in Addis Ababa. She is one of Ethiopia’s leading filmmakers, with several critically and commercially successful documentary and feature films to her name. She is also in a unique position as a female producer and a filmmaker working on difficult topics to direct this film, having worked extensively on topics such as sexual violence. Max, in turn, has worked as a screenwriter and creative producer for a range of productions across Ethiopia, where he was based for five years. In Ethiopia, the team will be supported by a production crew led by Yidnekachew Shumete, who is the co-Founder and General Manager of the production company Kurat Pictures.  Yidnekachew has been at the forefront of the expansion of domestic cinema and screen content production in Ethiopia since the early 2000s, with his films ስርየት/Siryet (Redemption) released in 2007 and ኒሻን/Nishan (Medal of Honor) released in 2013 having been featured in international film festivals.

Together, Exile Pictures led by Hermon and Max, and Kurat Pictures led by Yidnekachew, have the combined skills to support Dr Istratii in the materialisation of her creative vision in a way that is informed by an Ethiopia-centred and Africa-centred perspective, reflecting the decolonial sensitivity and aims of project dldl/ድልድል.

An innovative collaboration model between the Principal Investigator and the film producers

The production of the docudrama, which is based on Dr Istratii’s intimate understanding of domestic violence and long-term engagement with rural communities in Ethiopia, has been enabled by an innovative model of collaboration between Dr Istratii and the film producers. At an initial stage, Hermon and Max supported the PI in the development of the film’s storyline and script, paying attention to the creative vision that Dr Istratii shared with the company. The script was written by Dr Istratii relying on first-person accounts and select passages from over 200 interviews with research participants. Max and Hermon guided Dr Istratii in this initial process by providing her with training in different ways of approaching story-telling within film, helping her to recognise the key elements of a story, and providing feedback and comments on script-writing. This first stage resulted in a tentative production plan produced by Max and Hermon.

In the second stage, Dr Istratii has been working with Max, Hermon and Yidnekachew to move from pre-production to film production. Exile Pictures will ensure that the creative vision of Dr Istratii will be executed according to plan by the local crew in Addis Ababa by managing and overseeing the production process. The Ethiopia-based producer, Yidnekacew, and his local crew have been working with Dr Istratii, also based in Ethiopia, to refine the script in Amharic, identify ideal shooting sites and casting actors who can embody the experiences and testimonies of the original research participants with authenticity.  During the process of pre-production, Dr Istratii, the production companies in the UK and Ethiopia and the local crew have been working intimately together in a consultative manner to achieve the production of a docudrama that considers the many sensitivities of the subject matter and is informed by a genuine decolonial perspective and ethos both in its making and its result.

Extensive discussions have been held about the ethics of producing a docudrama on the sensitive topic of domestic violence, the ethics around engaging real communities in this process, and security concerns in a currently conflict-affected Ethiopia. These discussions have emphasised the prioritisation of the crew’s safety in all stages of production, the need to minimise the likelihood of re-traumatisation and stigmatisation or misrepresentation of victims, survivors and even perpetrators in the storyline, and a concern to ensure the engagement of communities in shooting sites so that they become active stakeholders in the process of production and can benefit directly from the film production, such as by building relationships of trust with community stakeholders and recruiting supporting actors and sourcing film materials locally.

Current stage of the film production and anticipated release of the film

There are three main stages in the production of film: pre-production (planning), production (filming), and post-production (editing). Between January and May, the production company and Dr Istratii worked on writing and preparing the film script. Currently, the team is at the stage of pre-production, which includes scouting for potential shooting areas, hiring and training actors and putting together a specialised crew and supporting team. Already, Dr Istratii and Yidnekachew together with the crew that he leads in Ethiopia have travelled to different areas of the country that are proximate to the capital Addis Ababa to view possible shooting sites and meet with community members. This stage is anticipated to be completed at the end of August 2022, with production starting in September 2022.

The finished product is anticipated to be delivered at the end of 2022, with the film release following soon after.

Photos of team working on pre-production activities