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Una mirada hacia Etiopía: Entrevista a Jessica Beshir

Con una mirada contemplativa, Jessica Beshir observa, en Faya Dayi, la cultura etíope que orbita alrededor del consumo de khat, una planta usada por los sufíes durante siglos para la meditación.

El Festival Internacional de Cine de Morelia (FICM) tuvo la oportunidad de conversar con la cineasta de origen mexicano y etíope sobre este, su segundo largometraje, que forma parte de la Sección de Documental Mexicano de este año.

Jessica Beshir (2021, dir. Faya Dayi)Jessica Beshir (2021, dir. Faya Dayi)

FICM: I would like to start by asking you about the formal qualities of your film. I think it is one of the most openly formalistic documentaries in the competition. Does the subject define the way the documentary is constructed or is it something that somehow coincides with the themes?

Jessica Beshir: It comes from the theme; it defines the form. For me that was it. I wanted to be able to talk about many things outside of narrative themes that are also intangible narratives. For me, the shape was the way to adjust to that.

FICM: Another situation that I find interesting is that perhaps other directors could approach the subject in a different way, perhaps more journalistically, with data, interviews, etc. Do you think it is more important to affect the audience emotionally than to inform them to represent these types of stories?

JB: Information is important to me, but cinema gives you an opportunity to go far beyond specific information. Today we have Google, one can go to information, but for me, it was very important to bet on experience rather than information. This experience carries all the information that I wanted to convey.

FICM: Going back to the origin of the film, what is it that moves you from the subject you are showing, from the khat culture?

JB: Well, at first I started making this movie when I returned to Ethiopia after a long time. I grew up in Ethiopia, but we had to leave the country for political reasons and I did not return for a long time, so when I returned, I found myself with khat, which I have known all my life because in that region it is part of the culture, but not in this economic magnitude. Everything is surrounded by the khat, visually, emotionally. That had a great impact on me and I wanted to know why this khat economy had grown so much, replacing agriculture of tea, corn and other grains that used to support the community and no longer existed. So it was rather an opportunity to find out why and there, connecting with friends that I hadn't seen since school, I began to realize many things and wanted to convey what was happening.

Many of these changes are going through the socio-political issues that exist in the country, mainly right now, that we are in a civil war; that we have many migrants and the youth spend their time eating khat simply because they want to kill time and get rid of that frustration of unemployment. I wanted to make this film to have an opportunity to talk with the community and so that we can start having a dialogue about everything that is happening.

FICM: What effect would you like this documentary to have on the audience, especially those who may not know much about the situation in Ethiopia?

JB: First of all, to know other parts of the world, to know this place where I was born. I also believe that there are many reflections in the sense that migration is something that is happening all over the world. This is a point of view from a part of the world that is perhaps not very well known.

FICM: Thinking about what you were saying, that perhaps filming the documentary is a way of a reunion for you, it struck me that you play several roles in the film: you produce and you direct, does it have to do with that intimacy?

JB: It has to do with many things. First, with the lack of funds. Nobody was interested in financing a film in Ethiopia, about farmers, about khat; I spoke to some producers who were still interested, but they had a completely different movie in mind. The questions were: "Well, where are the drug traffickers?" They wanted to make a drug movie and for me, this was not that, not at all. I couldn't convey to them exactly what I wanted, but they weren't interested anyway and I wasn't interested in making a drug movie either, so I decided to do it myself. It took me a long time, but it was exactly what I had to do. At the end of the day, I am very happy that the film was not financed. I liked doing it myself, even though it would have taken me ten years, it doesn't matter. It would have been another movie entirely if I had gone there with a crew, even if it was only 4 or 5 people because I wouldn't have had that intimacy and couldn't have lived with people the way that I was able to.

FICM: The choice of black and white also caught my attention, does it have to do with this, let's say spiritual theme, in the film?

JB: Yes, from the beginning I knew that this movie was going to be in black and white. The place, ironically, is one of the most colorful places that exist in this world; the colors are shocking, but I felt that this was not the story I wanted to tell. The beginning of the film says: "We humans can see what is outside, but in reality, we could know what is inside." That is a bit of what was guiding me in that choice to do it in black and white.

FICM: Taking all these difficulties into account, what is the joy of making documentaries? What is the thrill?

JB: For me, it was the love you can have, the power to connect with people. These are people I grew up with, it's the place where I grew up. It is a great life experience because nobody can take that away from you. For me, it was very healing to be able to make this movie and live with them, listen to the language. To share everything. That was the most beautiful thing that this movie left me.