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Ethiopian migrant turns perilous journey into film

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Addis Ababa (AFP) – Zekarias Mesfin spent months making a movie about his dangerous illegal migration from Ethiopia — and when he arrived at the film’s premiere, he was in a coffin carried by six white-gloved pallbearers.

Not that Zekarias, 33, was dead.

But he chose the dramatic entrance to show how close to death he came 12 years ago when he left his home in Ethiopia to journey across the deserts of Sudan and Egypt to try to get to Israel.

“I was almost dead,” Zekarias told AFP, following the Ethiopian premiere of the film last week at the national theatre in the capital Addis Ababa. “At the Israel border, I lost many, many friends, sisters, brothers.”

Zekarias could not have predicted where his journey would finally take him: after being caught and jailed for two years for illegally entering Egypt, the United Nations helped him resettle in Canada.

He has since become a Canadian citizen and settled in Edmonton, Alberta with his wife and two children.

Zekarias says he spent years thinking about making a film about his odyssey.

Finally deciding to take the plunge three years ago, he ploughed his savings of 2.2 million birr ($81,303, 69,067 euros) into making “Ewir Amora Kelabi”, an Amharic phrase that can be roughly translated as “the higher spiritual power guiding the lost”.

‘I was there’

Zekarias plays himself in the film, re-enacting his journey across Africa to show viewers just how hazardous it can be.

Illegal immigration is “very difficult, it’s very, very dangerous. I want to teach that,” Zekarias said of the film, which was shot in Ethiopia. “I didn’t make this documentary film by guessing. I was there.”

Ethiopia is Africa’s second most populous country and also one of its poorest.

But despite rapid economic growth over the past decade, many Ethiopians seek to try their luck elsewhere, mostly countries in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, even if they don’t have any visas and have to brave war zones like Yemen to get there.

An estimated 334,000 Ethiopians migrated to the Middle East between 2006 and 2014, according to the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat, a group of international organisations that monitor migration in East Africa and Yemen.

Tales are rife of the brutality and violence that the migrants face.

In August, the United Nations reported at least 50 migrants from Ethiopia and Somalia were deliberately drowned off Yemen by smugglers who appeared to have spotted a coastguard patrol.

Those who do make it to their destinations and find work provide vital remittances for their families back home, but are also regularly exploited by their employers or physically abused, according to the International Labour Organization.

A familiar story

Zekarias’ movie — which he also produced and wrote — won an award for Best Emerging Filmmaker at the African Film Festival in Dallas in July.

It is a story that would be familiar to many Ethiopian migrants.

After being orphaned at a young age, Zekarias roamed Ethiopia working in barber shops until 2005 when he decided to make the trek to Israel, enticed by the better prospects there.

Along the way, he and other migrants were abused and cheated by smugglers and rarely had enough food and water.

He was eventually captured by Egyptian authorities near the Israeli border and thrown into prison.

The film is unflinching in its depictions of the brutality migrants face, but Zekarias said it was up to the viewer to determine whether they want to migrate or not.

“Anyone can decide to go. The decision is up to them,” Zekarias said. “But if they see this movie, I don’t think they want to go.”

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DOCUMENTARY FILMS

Aamir Khan: The snake charmer – Witness

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Aamir Khan is one of the most popular and influential Bollywood actors in India today. He became a star of Hindi cinema in the 1980s, and his greatest commercial successes have been the highest-grossing Bollywood films of all time.

Yet in 2012, Khan’s career took an unexpected turn. Together with a childhood friend, he created a TV series called Satyamev Jayate which became the first prime time TV show in India to expose the country’s most critical social issues – from rape to female foeticide and dowry killings.

Aamir Khan was used to portraying macho men on a quest for vengeance and belongs to an industry accused of denigrating women and encouraging sexual violence.

But now, the 48 year old actor with Peter Pan charm risks his career by challenging men to re-examine their attitudes and behavior towards women, confronting the spiraling wave of gender-based violence in India and defying age-old stereotypes.

The snake charmer follows Khan on a journey through India’s TV and Bollywood film industry, as he attempts to change the way Indians perceive and treat women.

From the set of Satyamev Jayate, the film follows Aamir Khan backstage to his new Bollywood blockbuster Dangal.

Khan’s quest ultimately opens a window into a country in crisis and into the changes it is undergoing.

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Arts & Culture

Kenyan-Somali, black, Muslim and Canadian: new doc explores Canada’s hyphenated identities

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Short documentary ‘Hyphen-Nation’ by 22-year-old Torontonian puts five black women in conversation

A new documentary by a 22-year-old Toronto filmmaker is analyzing what is means to be an immigrant in Canada.

Directed and produced by Samah Ali, Hyphen-Nation features a 14-minute conversation between five women of colour that is inspired by her own cultural experience.

The women discuss how their cultural heritage influences their identities as Canadians and immigrants.

“The whole conversation is what’s your hyphen?” explained Ali, calling her debut film a “nuanced” discussion about what black Canadian identities look like.

“And that’s what opens it up to so many people to identify with because whether it’s themselves or their family members who have an immigration story, everybody typically has a hyphen.”

The women are asked if they identify with being black Canadians.

Ali explains this is both liberating and tragic. She identifies as a Kenyan-Somali woman, along with a Muslim woman and a black woman.

“I don’t know if I identify strongly as a Canadian, but definitely when I leave Canada I identify as a Canadian,” she said despite being born and raised in Toronto.

“The other parts of my identity, the ones that are more visible, the ones that I practice everyday are definitely the ones that are on the forefront of my mind. Compared to my Canadianness, it’s something that I’m not really aware of until I have my passport and I’m travelling to other countries.”
Sojin Chun, programmer for Regent Park Film Festival, says the short documentary captures the theme of the festival.

“We really want to show different narratives that you wouldn’t normally see through other means, through the mainstream media,” she said.

The three day event is free and showcases the work of women of colour which reflects Toronto’s east end neighbourhood.

“We really make sure we represent all the cultures that are present in Regent Park,” said Chun.

Ali explains this is why she wanted Hyphen-Nation to premiere at the film festival.

“I want this film to foster a greater community, not only in Canada, but also worldwide.”

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Movies

A Young Somali Finds Refuge in UK, and Boxing

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Charlie Watts, a young filmmaker based in Manchester, has created a powerful short documentary called STRIVE, which tells the story of Idris Ahmed, a refugee desperate to improve his life, and that of his family.

Ahmed, originally from Somalia, was born into violence, with civil war ravaging his country.

In the film, Ahmed recalls his early memories from Somalia. “I was seeing the majority of the time dead people,” he says. “It becomes normal when you are hearing gunshots every night.”

In boxing, Ahmad found a way of channeling his anger and pain, and coping with these challenges. Now a young man, he dreams of taking his passion in life to the next level. “I am at a point where I have something, and I want to achieve great things,” he says. “I’m gonna keep going.”

“I just want to live my life to the fullest,” he adds.

“I am at a point where I have something, and I want to achieve great things”

STRIVE beautifully tells the story of Ahmad’s journey from childhood to adulthood in the UK. The film captures the challenges of dislocation and the resilience and perseverance of refugees.  It is set to premier in London next month.

You can find out more about Charlie’s work on his website: http://www.charliewatts32.com

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