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2014 Sundance “Trading Cards” Series: #9. Zeresenay Berhane Mehari (Difret)

2014 Sundance "Trading Cards" Series: #9. Zeresenay Berhane Mehari (Difret)Eric Lavallee: Name me three of your favorite “2013 discoveries”…
Zeresenay Berhane Mehari: The Master (P.T. Anderson), Half of a Yellow Sun (Novel, Chimamanda Adichie), Orchestra Baobab (60s Band, Senegal)

Lavallee: They say: write and create from what you know. Why did you decide to tackle this subject matter for your first feature?
Mehari: I chose this story because I was inspired by the act of courage two women took. One was a lawyer who dared to question a centuries-old tradition, the other, a young girl who refused to live by it. The story also made me question the very tradition that I am a part of but failed to see how it affected us all as a country and I found that interesting from a storytelling standpoint. Lastly, what the two women were able to realize is a filmmaker’s dream story to tell.

Lavallee: Despite it being a work of fiction … I imagine it must have been a harrowing experience for the actress behind your protag (Hirut). How did you find her, and what kind of workshopping did you do with her?
Mehari: I didn’t think it was at all possible for a 13-year old kid with no prior experience or training to emotionally portray such a horrific story. But Tizita Hagere (Hirut) is a natural. It took me eight months of auditions, often times working seven days a week to see as many kids as I could on the weekends to find her. After our first table read, I realized that she actually didn’t need any workshop. The only thing I did in the way of preparing her was to keep her away from the other actors and crew to protect and maintain her raw emotions.

Lavallee: Angelina Jolie is among the exec producers….how did she board the project?
Mehari: We are really honored and lucky to have Angelina Jolie as one of our producers. She heard about the film through a mutual friend who was moved by the story.

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2014 Sundance "Trading Cards" Series: #9. Zeresenay Berhane Mehari (Difret)
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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

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