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Interview with Rahel Tewelde about "The Beautiful Ones" by Olivier Barlet

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Rahel Tewelde, we are in Cannes, at the film festival. Is that a first experience for you?
It is my first experience.
What do you feel?
I’m delighted, I’m excited, I’m very happy. I’m sharing my experience with people all over the world, this is a good opportunity for me, I’m very happy.
How did you come to cinema in Eritrea?
We don’t have film schools in Eritrea. We get to cinema through self-learning because we have lots of stories to tell, we have a big love to share to the world. We have some limitation because we are not technically developed enough. But we work hard, we read, we organize some short-intensive courses by inviting other people from abroad, from Europe, from America. We ask anyone who is expert to come and that’s how I came to cinema.
Do you have training possibilities?
In Eritrea, yes. I work in the Cultural Affairs department in my country. That’s what we do, we organize some intensive courses. Our resources are limited but we organize it.
And yourself, how did it come? Why did you want to make films?
It’s an internal call. You have some call inside, to contribute something to your society. You have some push, you can call it a love for people, you can call it a care for people. You don’t sleep all night, you wake up and you write something. You see some problem in the society and you try to solve that problem. I’m forced to make some things, to write.
Is The Beautiful Ones your first long feature film?
No, it’s my second movie. I also write short dramas, stage dramas that display on independent stage, in our country, in the festival of Eritrea. We work different kind of dramas and also movies.
Is there a production of short films in your country?
During 2005, we organized three-month long training. We organized the students in four groups so we produced four short films. It was practical training, it was fantastic. We have four of them, we tried to translate some of them and send them to some other festivals but we couldn’t do that due to some technical problem. We tried.
Do you show your films in the east-african festivals? In Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania ?
If the invitations come to us, if things are ok with the funding, we will come to participate. But from Uganda, the Amakula Kampala International Film Festival tried to invite us, and asked us again and again. But we couldn’t do it because of some technical problems. We would like to participate anywhere, all over the world, why not?
About your film The Beautiful Ones, who are the beautiful ones?
I was talking about the young people, they’re all beautiful ones. We’re beautiful inside or outside but the main theme is if you don’t take care of yourself, if you just throw yourself to some bad habits, drinking, smoking or something, someone is going to take your fortune. This guy was handsome, was a successful businessman, he was successful in every aspect of his life but he couldn’t take care of himself, he threw himself into bad habits so he lost his fiancée to the other one. The other doctor was a very careful person, a decent person, a persuasive person but the lady, the main actress, she was obliged to make such decision whether it is for love of her fiancée or for the reality of the other person. She sacrificed everything to choose her love but her fiancée didn’t help her, he just throws himself on the bad habit, he throws his flower, his life too, he had an accident, he lost his life. No matter who you are, no matter what you did, no matter the love that surrounds you, no matter you’re embraced by a love of your society, the first thing is you have to take care of yourself, you have to respect yourself so that you live a happy life or a successful life. That’s my theme for The Beautiful Ones. So we’re all beautiful, the young people all over the world but we have to keep our beauty, we have to know our beauty and take care of that beauty very carefully. That’s my theme.
Is your aim, through this film, to raise the morality of the youth?
Yes, the young people should know their beauty inside and outside, their potential, and take good care of it. If you just handle it carelessly, nobody would save you from the danger. No matter who loves you, you can have lots of love, lots of beautiful girls surrounding you, lots of family, your mother, your father can love you but if you don’t take care of your health, it’s sad. It’s so sad to lose such kind of young people because of a silly mistake. They were drinking whisky while driving, imagine, and they drive fast and they talk to other girls who are driving too. They were beautiful but their beauty didn’t help to save their life.
Your hope is that when young people see that film, they will have some kind of example of what could happen if they don’t behave well, and will maybe behave another way.
Yes, that’s what I want, I want to inspire people. I put both of them, I put those who don’t take care of themselves and I put the others who take care of themselves. I put the fiancé, the very loving guy, and I put the adviser of the main actress, he was a very decent man, he doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t drive fast, he doesn’t drink. I put both sides so the young people can choose. They have the model. I didn’t put only the negative side, I also put the positive side so when the young people see the movie, they can identify themselves, they can be inspired who to be.
You set your story in the upper-class of the society. Why did you choose that class especially?
I didn’t choose that higher class, it’s the middle-class. In my movies, I would depict the setting to higher class. I don’t fancy this lower class, I like the story but for Eritrean, it’s not our gift to be displayed. Our image shouldn’t be on the lower class. It’s not our gift to be poor. We’re working hard, it’s a new country, we have all these limitations and challenge from all over, political strength. We’re working hard to be rich. I don’t want our external image to remain as poor class.
How did you find the actors? Do you have movie actors in Eritrea or theatre actors?
You wouldn’t believe it, especially acting, in Eritrea, everybody can act. Without a school. You wouldn’t believe it. Because there’s a need, the culture by itself is art. Lots of acting in the traditional activities, customs, festivals, dancing, ceremony celebrations. There you find a good theatre. You don’t need to send someone to acting college. All you need is to work hard. Everybody can act, it’s not a problem. The only problem is when they get to camera because it’s a new technology to them. So you have to train them with the camera, you have to tell them not to look at it when acting. They’re new ones by the way. Eighty per cent of the actors were new, they had never acted before.
How did you choose them?
They were fit, some of them are university graduates. The story is about university graduates. I wanted them to be mature.
Did you do a casting? Were they friends you knew already?
I did a casting but most of them were friends.
How do you do a casting, do you put an announcement to look for the people?
We don’t do announcement, we just call them. It’s a small city, we know each other very well. You just meet him on the street, « Hey, I need you, come to my office or to my place, I will put you on some acting ». He agrees and he comes, as simple as that. But we do the audition, actually. If one doesn’t fit for the scene, we try another one.
How did you finance the film?
I got my funding from the government ministries.
So there’s a fund for films in Eritrea?
Yes, for most of them. If you talk about social moral, if it has an important message.
If it brings something to the society, they finance it.
Yes, the government finances it then. You just have to have a good proposal, a convincing script.
Does it cover the cost of the film?
Yes. We finished with almost 500 000 nakfas, which is nearly 30 000 US$.
So it’s very cheap for our behaviours.
For us, it’s very expensive. For us, it’s half a million.
What’s the marketing of the film? Do you have cinemas to show it?
Yes, we have. In Eritrea, surprisingly, on week-ends, all the people come to the cinema to see the local films. It’s very crowded, you line up. The people want to see films in their language on the screen. It’s a kind of rewarding audience. Even Eritreans abroad buy the DVD of movies made in our country. Movies from the other countries, even Hollywood movies, don’t get a full audience. They’re shown on week-ends so people go there in the cinemas not to see the movies but just to relax and have fun in the cinemas. It is an advantage for local filmmakers, but the society would need to see the movies from all over the world. We just focus on our movies.
Did you show The Beautiful Ones?
Yes. It is a small country but we showed it three times in one cinema. We have three cinemas in the city, four, five others in the country: ten cinemas altogether. In one cinema, we had one thousand people minimum in one week-end. That’s our audience. It is rewarding !
Do you still have big cinema movies with lots of seats ?
Yes. Italian cinemas : the Emporos, the Roma, the Dante, even the names are still the same !
And did you show it on television as well?
Not this one, but the previous one, Forgiveness, which was about HIV carriers couple, wife and husband. The Ministry of Health liked it, and funded it. It was translated into English and Arab, and broadcasted by the Eritrean TV. It was about the question : could you forgive someone who transmits you the HIV, whether he’s your husband or wife. It’s a very catchy movie because you don’t know who infected who as both the wife and the husband commit adultery. Until the end of the movie, you don’t know who infected who. Who is going to blame the other or are they going to blame themselves only. Finally, when the truth is out, do they need to forgive each other? People like it.

Transcription : Lorraine Balon///Article N° : 7693


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