As part of our All Roads Film Festival coverage, today IT talks to filmmaker Daniel Taye Workou, whose film Menged is featured on the newly released All Roads Film Festival 5th Anniversary Collection DVD Set. Workou is a filmmaker of Ethiopian descent and Menged is his first fiction short, which was shot in and around his grandfather’s village in Ethiopia. It is a modern adaptation of a folk tale about a father and son on their way to market and the people they encounter along the way.
The 2008 All Roads film festival begins this Friday in Los Angeles at the historic Egyptian Theatre. A National Geographic program, All Roads provides an international platform for indigenous and underrepresented minority-culture artists to share their cultures, stories, and perspectives through the power of film and photography.
How did you get into filmmaking?
I got into filmmaking quite late. I came to Paris to do a masters in international relations, but I quickly learned that Paris is not only the City of Light but also the city with the most films on screen in cinemas every day. As a student you can enter a lot of cinemas for free. It was then that I started to become what the French call a cinephile. Three years later I went to film school in New York.
What is the story behind this film?
The story was one of my favorite tales my father used to tell us when we were kids. It left a big impression on me. My father moved back to Ethiopia some 30 years ago. I used to visit him frequently and I watched the country going through all kinds of changes politically, economically, and culturally. As my father grew older I wanted to spend more time with him and was looking for projects in Ethiopia.
When I visited my grandparents in the countryside I was looking for a story to place here. Observing the people and the dilemma they live in I remembered the story. I tried to adapt it to the situation there now and incorporate the elements which have an impact on the rural society in Ethiopia today: religion, globalization and international organizations. I decided to make it a comedy because humor is an important part of our culture.
What does the name Menged mean?
The word "menged" can mean the road, the passageway or simply getting from one place to another. The film is a parable and I used plenty of symbols in it. Menged can also mean "journey" (being on the road) or "transit." I was looking for a simple title that also has a second meaning. Ethiopia is a country in transition (transit = menged) and it has started to move ahead but nobody can really say where it is going these days. And like the film’s characters, a nation in transition must make a lot of choices while while facing influence from many sides, domestically and internationally. Hopefully in the end the right decisions will be made.
Can you tell us about the location where Menged was shot?
The film was shot in and around Buee, my grandparents’ village, which is located about 100 km south of Addis Ababa. It is Gurage country, a very fruitful and green area with a peculiar culture. The landscape is just breathtaking; it becomes a character in the film. It is a symbol of the dilemma that I feel Ethiopia faces these days. Such poverty exists in a land that has so many resources, which cannot be used efficiently for political or cultural reasons.
As a character in the film, the landscape speaks for itself. It is place that is fruitful and silently observes its people that struggle in it. If it could speak, it would ask, “Why is all this happening?”
What do you want people to learn about Ethiopia from this film?
I wanted to show Ethiopia in a realistic way. It is a country of many facets. I think a common misconception about Ethiopia is that it is a dry country with extreme poverty. Ethiopia has an altitude range from 1,000 meters below up to 4,000 meters above sea level. It has all kinds of vegetation, from the Rift Valley to rain forests, from deserts to highlands. There are lakes with resorts and plenty of historical and cultural sites, like the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Do you have any advice for travelers on the best way to experience your country and its people?
Ethiopia is breathtakingly beautiful and a very safe place to travel for the most part. People are warm and welcoming and most of all honest. They are rooted in their traditions, and due in part to the fact that Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that has never been colonized, people see foreigners as guests to their country and show them the courtesy and respect which is inherent in the culture.
Visit the historic sites in the north or the wildlife and ethnic tribes in the south, or go bird watching and relax in one of the resorts by the many lakes.
Depending on your interest and budget you can travel in organized tours or by yourself and if you are open you may find yourself invited to people's homes and treated to food and drinks.
You can rent a four-wheel drive to go around or fly Ethiopian Airlines to most of the major sites for a reasonable price. There are now a lot more hotels that accommodate tourists with higher standards.
Visit the All Roads Film Festival website for more information on the films and to see a schedule for the upcoming L.A. and D.C. events.