Difret: A Condemnation of Violence
This film is sure to inspire everyone who believes in human rights and equality for women. For his first feature Zeresenay Berhane Mehari chose to make a narrative film based on a true story that took place in his native Ethiopa two decades ago. The film is a condemnation of violence against women and the ancient practice of abduction into marriage, known as telefa in Amharic, which was then common in rural villages. A 14-year-old girl, Hirut, is kidnapped by a would-be husband with his gang of six cohorts on horseback, who then beats and rapes her. She steals his rifle and when the men chase her and have her cornered, she shoots and kills him in self-defense.
Despite Hirut being the obvious victim and the fact that national law prohibits abduction into marriage, Hirut is declared guilty and sentenced to death by a village council. The local district attorney wants to convict her of murder as well. But they do not count on the emergence of a bold female attorney to defend the girl.
Meaza Ashenafi arrives from the city to represent Hirut and argue that she acted in self-defense. Ashenafi courageously embarks on a collision course between enforcing civil authority and abiding by customary law. In the process the women’s legal-aid practice, Andinet, is banned by the Minister of Justice, but Ashenafi is not daunted by powerful enemies and continues fighting to save Hirut’s life. With every setback she raises the stakes and beats the men on their own turf.
Between 1995 and 2002 Andinet helped more than 30,000 women and children. Hirut’s case made abduction for marriage illegal and punishable by a five-year prison sentence. In 2003 Meaza Ashenafi was awarded an African Nobel Laureate. Difret won the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.