A FILM BY TAMARA DAWIT
Director and Writer: Tamara Dawit
Participants: Tsehai (Sally’s mother), Brutawit is Sally’s oldest sister and the Dawit family matriarch, Sally’s sister, Kibre,; and Sally’s sister, Menfie; Tsion, Abrehet (Sally’s mother-in-law)
Language: English and Amharic version with English subtitles
A personal investigation into the mysterious life of the director’s aunt Sally, an Ethiopian aristocrat-turned-communist-rebel who disappeared during the Ethiopian Revolution.
Finding Sally tells the incredible story of a 23-year-old woman from an upper-class family who became a communist rebel with the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party. Idealistic and in love, Sally got caught up in her country’s revolutionary fervour and landed on the military government’s most wanted list. She went underground and her family never saw her again. Four decades after Sally’s disappearance, Tamara Dawit pieces together the mysterious life of her aunt Sally. She revisits the Ethiopian Revolution and the terrible massacre that followed, which resulted in nearly every Ethiopian family losing a loved one. Her quest leads her to question notions of belonging, personal convictions and political ideals at a time when Ethiopia is going through important political changes once again.
Tamara Dawit , “As a child, I grew up hearing elaborate stories about their childhoods from my vibrant Ethiopian aunts – tales about their grandmother helping the war effort against the Italians, meetings with fortune tellers, hitching in Europe, lavish cocktail parties, or sneaking out to go to the beach. The stories were pleasurable and exciting, painting a vision of a wonderful past. However, I could never decipher which stories were true and which ones had been spiced up with their typical Ethiopian romanticism. Lost in all their stories was Sally, a family member that no one ever mentioned to me. It wasn’t until my early 30s that I had stumbled upon a photo of Sally, but the family was hesitant to talk about her. Little by little, I managed to convince my grandmother and then my aunts to share Sally’s story.”
1970s, the autocratic regime of Haile Selassie became increasingly contested. A coalition of communist activists, students, workers and peasants started demanding a more democratic state through peaceful strikes and protests.
In 1974, the Emperor was overthrown by the military junta called “the Derg” – the “Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army.” Soon after, the Derg led by chief commander Mengistu Haile Mariam established an authoritarian military government. Anyone contesting his leadership became an “enemy of the state.”
In 1977, the Derg launched the “Red Terror,” a violent and repressive political campaign that led to mass imprisonments and assassinations. Anyone in disagreement with the Derg’s communist policies could face severe punishment. People would disappear without reason. Others would be tortured, or put in jail simply because they were related to a wanted person. Houses were searched. Perhaps most excruciating of all, mourning someone killed by the Derg was illegal, and families were forced to repay for the bullets that had killed their loved ones.
The Derg remained in power until 1991. Amnesty International estimates that 500 000 people died during Derg leadership. In 2008, the Ethiopian Supreme Court found Mengistu guilty of genocide in absentia and sentenced him to death. In spite of his conviction, Mengistu continues to find sanctuary in Zimbabwe because of his friendship with Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe; the country refuses to extradite him.
PARTICIPANTS: TSEHAI (Sally’s mother), BRUTAWIT is Sally’s oldest sister and the Dawit family matriarch, Sally’s sister, KIBRE, the free spirit of the family; Sally’s sister, MENBIE, was the one who originally tracked down some of Sally’s old comrades in an effort to learn more about her sister's life. As a member of the Dawit family, TSION is stubborn and always thinks she is correct. ABREHET (Sally’s mother-in-law) is the mother of three children who all died during the Red Terror, Tselote being her oldest.
Production Company: Catbird Films, Inc
Run time: 1 hour 18 minutes
Starring: Tsehai Tesfamichael Abrehet Asefa Tamara Mariam Dawit Kibre Dawit Tsion Dawit Brutawit Dawit Menbere Dawit Ferkete Gebremariam Ashenafi Kersma Brur Gebrai
Director and Writer: Tamara Mariam Dawit
Cinematography: Alex Margineanu
Editor: Mahi Rahgozar
Composer and Original Music: Zaki Ibrahim
Music by: Abegasu Shiota, Alister Johnson
Producer: Isabelle Couture
Executive Producer: Katarina Soukup-Catbird Films
Production Company: Catbird Productions
Editor: Mahi Rahgozar
Cinematographer: Alex Margineanu