Salem Mekuria

Originally published in Sisters of the Screen: Women of Africa on Film Video and Television. Africa World Press, Trenton, NJ,  2000.

Interview held at the 15th FESPACO, February 1997, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

I saw your film Deluge at the Ethiopian Mini-Film Festival in Washington, D.C. in 1996.  I found it very intense and engaging. It is also being screened here at FESPACO.  Could you talk a bit about your film?

The film is titled Deluge in English, it is called Ye Wonz Maibel in Amharic.  It is a sixty-minute documentary, a personal story talking about an historical event.  I finished it a year ago, but then I re-cut it so that it could be transferred to film so that it would be shown in festivals.  It is on 16mm film and that is how it is being screened here.

You narrate the film and you talk about your own personal process and how you felt while making the film. You also talk about going to Ethiopia to do the research and the shooting.  Could you talk about your experiences while making the film?

In the film, the story that comes through is a personal journey.  The time line of the story is from the end of the Haile Selassie era to the end of the military dictatorship, which happened between 1974 and 1991.  But the making of the film itself has its own time line.

I started working on it in 1991, right after the fall of the military dictatorship, at which time I went home deliberately to make a film about that period.  Basically, I started researching and filming at the same time because I didn't know exactly when the military dictatorship was going to end and how or what I was going to do about it, although that thought was in my head for most of the time since my brother disappeared.

When I went home in 1991, I took my camera with me and started talking to people.  I really didn't know exactly what I was looking for or what I was going to end up doing.  And so for three years, basically, I went back.  Twice I went with a crew and started talking to everybody I could find who was willing to talk about that experience.  Then I would come back and start to edit it.  My initial thought was to make this big official history: this happened, this happened to so and so.  But it became so unwieldy; every time I would come back and put together a rough-cut of some sort, I couldn't stand it myself, let alone other people who were not as close to the story as I was.

Eventually, after a lot of cuts, after a lot of thinking, then I realized that I was not really looking for the official story, I was looking for that personal story, what happened to my brother.  And what happened to my best friend.  So with the help of my daughter, who could see a lot clearer than I could at the time, because I was too overwhelmed with the magnitude of this story, I realized that that was what I wanted to do.

Eventually the final product came through as both a journey for me, in terms of trying to discover what happened—although I don't discover exactly what happened—but also as a personal journey as to how I understood this story, what my part was in it, what my brother's part was in it, and how that fit into the big official story.  That really was what eventually came out.

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