The Difret Saga


The suspension of Difret film, which involved Angelina Jolie as executive producer, by a court order has given rise to a controversy among a host of claimants.

It all started on Wednesday around 6:15 PM. The movie was well underway after a video message from the executive producer, Angelina Jolie, was shown. Then the lights suddenly came on and the director of the movie, Zeresenay Berhane Mehari cradling his son on his arms and his wife Mehret Mandefro (PhD)  by his side came on the stage of the Ethiopian National Theater and informed audience that the film was banned from showing by a court order and asked the attendants to exit the hall.

The audience was both perplexed and angered by the abrupt discontinuance of the movie and started leaving the building in disarray murmuring their dissatisfaction.

After winning the Sundance Film Festival, the premiere of Difret in Addis Ababa was anticipated by many. Invited ambassadors, government officials and filmmakers gathered to watch the film but only for 15 minutes. Addis Ababa Police arrived with a court order which resulted in banning the movie’s premiere and scheduled screening in cinema halls across the capital.

The film is based on the true story of a 14-year-old girl named Aberash Bekele (Hirut), who was accused of killing a 29-year old man who raped, beat and abducted her for marriage.

Aberash was charged with murder and jailed without bail until Meaza Ashenafi, a founder of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, heard about the case and decided to represent her that transpired in a court battle which resulted in her acquittal on the ground of self-defense.

Written and directed by Zeresenay, Difret won the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and a similar award at the Berlin Film Festival.

Following the international prestigious awards the premiering of the film in Addis Ababa prompted Aberash and Fekeru Ashenafi (brother of Meaza Ashenafi) who says he is the original story writer, to lodge a lawsuit at the Federal High Court against Zeresenay, Haile Addis Pictures and Truth Aid Media on September 1. The plaintiffs petitioned the court to issue an injunction order stating that the screening of Difret would cause irreparable harm to their economic and moral rights. Consequently Judge Berhanu Mengist issued an injunction banning the film from premiering and for public showing. He also instructed the plaintiffs to deposit a 50,000 Birr bond.

Aberash claims the producers did not ask for her consent and she did not know about the film until seven months ago after it was screened in Berlin. Seven months ago, she said, she met Zeresenay and talked about acknowledgment and some sort of payment which was not effected by Zeresenay.

Aberash, who blames the producers for not considering her personal security and wellbeing, said that she tried her best to explain her situation before the premiere of the film until Zeresenay rebuffed her by saying “I am tired”.

“Owing to what happened to me I live in hiding and this film again exposed the forgotten story all over again and put me and my family in danger,” Aberash told The Reporter.

Explaining why she was living away from her home village in Kersa town in the Arsi Zone of the Oromia Regional State, Aberash said in Oromo culture (Guma), when a woman kills a man she cannot pay blood money has to leave the area for good.

“I was told not to come back and for many years and out of respect I came to Addis scared for my family’s wellbeing.”

Aberash said that she is currently facing financial difficulties. “My life is on the edge while they are planning to premiere my story in a glamorous way, that is not right,” she told The Reporter.

According to Zeresenay’s testament on different media, in 2005 Fekru told him about Meaza Ashenafi’s specific case. That was when Zeresenay took the concept from him and developed it in to a movie. “I am the co-writer of the movie script. Zeresenay did not want to talk to me after 2008 and he started hiding,” Fekeru alleges.

Fekeru also claimed that he talked about the film with other friends and obtained Aberash’s consent to make the movie.

“Without her story there will not be a film. If she was not raped, if she did not kill him or did the courageous thing there would not be a story,” Fekru told The Reporter.

According Meaza, at the pre-production of the film she gave a consent thinking that this film empowers Ethiopian women. She, who says she had close relationship with Aberash, did so to create awareness. After the production started she managed to get hold of Aberash.

“I brought her to Addis Ababa after the Berlin festival and currently she is staying with my mother,” Meaza claimed.

“I believe she should benefit from the film and Zeresenay also believes in this. He is also willing to do that. Aberash also expects that. The problem is not being able to communicate,” Meaza told The Reporter.

Related to her brother’s claims, Meaza acknowledges his friendship with Zeresenay. Apart from that she does not know if there is anything between the two of them. She believes the disagreement will be amicably settled in a couple of days.

On his part, Zeresenay told The Reporter that since he only has the court’s injunction, he does not want to disclose any information without understanding the details of the lawsuit. Regarding the consent of Aberash he did not want to say anything. Though he explained earlier on Friday he would disclose the information after getting the details of the lawsuit from his lawyer and declined to answer any question.

On the other hand the director of the national theater, Tesfaye Shimels, said the court injunction was handed over at 5:25 PM.

By then the hall was already filled with some 1,200 people comprised of ten ambassadors and ministers. “The directors of the film resisted and wanted to screen the film which created difficulties in resolving the issue in a peaceful manner,” Tesfaye told The Reporter.

Source: The Reporter