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Q&A with Ruth Hunduma - Director of The Medallion - LSFF & Clermont-Ferrand 2024

Friday 26 January 2024, by Abla Kandalaft, Elise Loiseau

A single piece of jewellery holds the story of generations. Director Ruth and her mother go back to Ethiopia and explore her mother’s story as a survivor of the Red Terror genocide.

A remarkable and ambitious documentary by Ruth Hunduma. By revisiting her own family’s trajectory and a dark chapter in Ethiopia’s history, the film serves as a powerful act of remembrance and the need to transmit this knowledge and acknowledgement to future generations.

The short will also be part of the London Short Film Festival and will be screened as part of Ancestral Remembrance at the Garden Cinema on 27 January.

What gave you the impetus to make this film?

As the Tigray war grew and worsened in Ethiopia, myself, my family, and our people were becoming astounded by the lack of media coverage it was receiving - especially due to the severity of the war. The Red Terror Genocide was something my mother always used to talk about in my childhood, and I recognized a reccurring theme; a Western neglect. And thus, selective solidarity. The Red Terror genocide came and went, and remained relatively unknown in its aftermath, and I had a deep dread that the same would happen in this instance. Hence I decided to make this film, using my mother as a vessel, and her experience in the genocide as a symbolic link to the recent war. I not only wanted to shine light on the tragedy of those times, but also highlight the resilience and immense retainment of joy the people of Ethiopia grasped following these times, and continue to grasp. And ultimately, humanise the face of war.

How did you mother welcome it? And your uncles?

My mother welcomed it very warmly. She was nervous, given the political instability at the period, however always had a yearn to tell her story. And this is the most perfect way for it to be told... through the voice of her child. Her legacy.

What would you say where the biggest hurdles you faced?

When I was first out in Ethiopia filming (I shot it in 2 parts, first in June 2022 by myself, and then again in December 2022 with my crew and team), it was in the midst of the war. I got stopped by the military on multiple occasions and even had my camera confiscated at one point. There was a deep sense of paranoia in the air. I managed to shoot incognito for all the public scenes and really embraced the intimate moments with my mother. By the time my crew had come out to Ethiopia, a ceasefire had been declared to weeks prior, but it was still a risk, and we had to keep a close eye for government bodies, and have protective personnel with us, however we managed to rapidly shoot what we needed. And it was a deeply moving experience.

Tell us a bit more about your choices as a filmmaker - your use of archives and perspectives...

I wanted to really lean on artistry and beauty for this film. I didn’t want to display Ethiopia in a manner that is all too familiar in society - as war-torn and forlorn - nor make a formulaic war documentary. I like breaking the rules. I wanted to lens the country with the profound beauty I see in it, and give the film the gift or artistic depth and texture. Making this film is a form of care, of paying my dues and respect to my mother and my country, and I wanted to do so in the most beautiful way possible.

Would you say making this documentary has impacted on the relationship you have with Ethiopia?

Absolutely. I’ve seen sides and corners of this country and its beautiful people in ways I have never seen before. And I’ve been travelling to Ethiopia my entire life!

What is your background as a filmmaker?

I’m predominantly a narrative writer/director, however have over the last year ventured into documentary and short form (i.e music videos) and I love it! It’s great training ground.

What are your hopes for Clermont FF 2024?

I’m hoping to see as many wonderful films as I can and meet the incredible talent that’s going to be there. And sip on some lovely French wine!

Any message or comments?


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