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Germany / Ethiopia

Sarah Noa Bozenhardt • Director of among us women

“I would like us white German filmmakers to help ensure the film industry reflects our society”

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- The German director shares her experiences of making her first feature-length documentary

Sarah Noa Bozenhardt • Director of among us women

Sarah Noa Bozenhardt's documentary among us women [+see also:
film review
interview: Sarah Noa Bozenhardt
film profile
]
about the women of Ethiopia premiered last year at DokLeipzig and received considerable attention. This year, she is taking part in the Face to Face promotional campaign by German Films. We spoke to her about her origins, her artistic ideas and the responsibility she feels as a filmmaker and, more particularly, as a filmmaker from Germany.

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Cineuropa: Your current documentary among us women is about the situation of women in Ethiopia. You open up an intimate window which testifies to great mutual trust. Was it difficult to achieve this?
Sarah Noa Bozenhardt:
I think it was only possible as a result of our particular attitude, especially shared by Daniel Abate Tilahun. Daniel is the co-director of the film but he’s also like a brother to me. He has lived as part of my family for many years. However, he was born in Megendi and is sufficiently familiar with the local people and their life. We have this family relationship with each other, as our parents do too. The film was the result of collaboration between our two families. From the women’s perspective, I was Daniel's sister, and it was clear that we would tell their story together. We got to know the midwife because she had attended the births of Daniel's mother’s children, including Daniel’s. This resulted in further contacts, and a chain reaction developed.

Was it hard to get enough distance to finish the film?
It was very complicated. There were these exchanges in Megendi, which were very intense and very close-up. There were also outside shoots, and I went back to Berlin several times in between. Time seemed to fly by. We and our German team members looked at the material. Our editor in Berlin had no personal affiliation whatsoever with either Ethiopia or the protagonists, although she did feel a connection with the subject matter. I think that was very important in the editing process, that we had someone who could look at the material with fresh eyes and without any emotional attachment to the footage, unlike me. It wouldn't have been possible for me to cut and shorten certain moments or scenes that were very intense in my eyes, like the various births. That only became possible as a result of the distance that others brought with them.

To what extent has your personal connection to Ethiopia and your experience in the country influenced your artistic work?
A great deal, given that I spend a lot of time in this female setting. When I arrived there as a child, it was the space where I felt most secure. I found quite a lot of support there when I was trying to find my way around it. I experienced something which I rarely see reflected in the Western view of Ethiopia. It projects images of famine and poverty. But that’s not at all the experience I’ve had. It helped me, as a filmmaker, to see that something was wrong. It made me want to show that there’s much more than meets the eye.

Have you always wanted to make documentaries?
I've always really enjoyed telling stories, writing and communicating. Originally, I wanted to be a writer, and went to Canada to study creative writing. Then I got into film, because I was able to study it at college. I was totally blown away by the fact that I could translate writing into something visual and into a kind of oral storytelling. I particularly liked the fact that it’s not limited to a specific language and that far more people can access it.

Do you see yourself as a German or Ethiopian filmmaker? And what role does your Canadian experience play?
In my mind, it's hard to separate the two. Of course, I have a very strong connection to Germany, a German identity; I speak German with my family and it’s a big part of me. But it's the same in the Ethiopian context. Canada hasn’t shaped me so much as a person, and it’s not part of my identity, but it is where I gained professional experience and made contacts that helped me move forwards.

What do you see as your duty as a filmmaker as Germany?
I would like us white, German filmmakers to help ensure the film industry reflects our society. That means making room for other people. And standing up for your beliefs, saying no to things that might otherwise be expected of you, and not taking jobs if you're not the right person for it.

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