Ethiopian-Mexican Jessica Beshir’s serene black and white film is a mesmerising work of audiovisual art. Beautiful and dreamlike images are filled with the sounds of bustling people, Sufi rituals and political debates. Capturing the life of her childhood town, Beshir wants to give a channel to the memories and stories of Ethiopians.
Shot in the surroundings of the city of Harar, the documentary focuses on the intoxicating khat. The plant has been consumed for centuries, however in recent decades it has increasingly taken over the growing sector, becoming almost an industry in its own right in the region. Khat leaves simultaneously alleviate and generate social problems. Chewing khat has become an epidemic, as it numbs the mind regardless of age or background. The older generation, in the midst of societal problems, try to illuminate and educate the younger folk who dream of a life elsewhere.
The compelling shots are influenced by topical, global issues such as climate change, minority rights and migration. Despite the dark yet evocative themes, it’s easy to succumb to the two-hour flow of hypnotic images. The documentary, shot over nearly a decade, is personal and poignant, and invites the viewer to get to know people before they become news headlines.
Omar Fasolah (translated by Lydia Taylerson)