'Difret' From Angelina Jolie Pitt Depicts A Culture Clash Between Tradition & Modernity — EXCLUSIVE CLIP
There is a long-held rural Ethiopian custom of a man kidnapping his bride from her family before their marriage. It's known locally as telefa, and though it's illegal, it impacts around 40 percent of women in the country, according to a statement by the director of Difret , a new Angelina Jolie Pitt-executive produced film that tackles such matters. In Difret, a 14-year-old girl named Hirut is subjected to the terrible tradition — with an even more horrifying twist. Hoping to return to her family, Hirut kills her kidnapper with his own rifle while attempting escape — an act that results in a prompt and summary death sentence. Yet thankfully, she earns the support of a fierce lawyer from the nascent Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, and together they embark on a campaign to get the sentence reversed.
Though it might sound a world away, Difret is based on a true story, and, as seen in this exclusive clip, gets at the heart of the conflict between cultural development and adherence to traditions in Ethiopia. Director Zeresenay Berhane Mehari was born and raised in Ethiopia before coming to the United States to study film at the University of Southern California. He met Meaza Ashenafi, the lawyer who takes the case, around 2005, according to IndieWire, and from there, the project snowballed.
Difret is an Amharic word — a language spoken across Ethiopia — that acts both as a noun and a verb. It means both "courage" and "to dare," and it concisely conveys the heart of the film that it titles. It could equally apply to Meaza Ashenafi, or her young client Aberash Bekele, or Hirut as the film calls her. And Difret is, without question, a courageous film. It depicts the struggle between old and new, and it neither villainizes nor lionizes either side of the debate. The movie won audience choice awards at Sundance Film Festival and the Berlin International Film Festival, and was selected as Ethiopia's Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film, though it didn't ultimately receive the nomination.
Mehari didn't set about making this film in order to highlight a little-known cultural rite; rather, his film has broader aims — to "reveal the ways in which the human condition transcends when belief systems fall apart," he said in a press release, adding that he decided to tell the Difret story in order to translate "the struggle of moving from an old Ethiopia to a new one." This forward-thinking nature is evident in the exclusive clip below. It begins with Ashenafi approaching a the designated best man of Tadele, the deceased betrothed, who was there when Tadele attempted to kidnap Hirut. She readily acknowledges that she won't be able to convince him to testify, but the conversation quickly turns to a tension between the traditionally patriarchal society and the rights and autonomy of the women within it.
"Men abduct when they fall in love," he tells her. Tadele, angered at Hirut's refusal, and despite an arrangement with another family, kidnaps Hirut anyways. The scene is just a microcosm of the larger film, serving to encapsulate the discussions it wrestles with throughout. It's concise and poignant, and gets right to the point — the man in the scene is so set in his ways, so sure of his convictions, that he would condemn a 14-year-old girl to death for violating such a taboo.
The making of Difret has also been notable for the commitment of all filmmakers involved. For the director Mehari, this meant shooting on more challenging analog film in a time when most directors have turned to digital; for one of the producers, Ethiopian visual artist Julie Mehretu, this meant selling a large work in order to help finance the film, she told Vogue. When the film began receiving festival attention, Mehretu realized it could gain increased mileage with an "ambassador," so the Difret team reached out to Angelina Jolie. Jolie, a staunch advocate for equality for women and global humanitarian, came on board to support the film as an executive producer and sponsor. This clip is just a quick glimpse of the intellectually compelling and visually exciting phenomenon that Difret is; the full film is out in limited release on Oct. 23.
Image: Courtesy of Truth Aid Media