Interview: Jessica Beshir, director of Hairat

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Jessica Beshir talks to Glasgow Short Film Festival about her new short film, Hairat, and her unique way of describing the feeling of falling in love.

The film is highly poetic and personal. It has a sense of a magical filmic ritual. What made you want to tell that story?

Watching Abba Yussuf’s ritual was one of my dearest childhood memories. I was just hypnotized by the relationship between these uncanny lovers. I loved the universe he created around himself and the way it made me feel, but I didn’t know why. I often found myself revisiting this memory, especially when I felt alone. So, I wanted to film the ritual the way it played in my memory, as a place where I could find solace in it.

Yussuf Mume Saleh’s story combined with the poetic voice over, creates a sense of a lyrical ritual on the absurd nature of love, while highlighting what seems to be a traditional act in Harar. Was this something that you had in mind when you started the film?

From the beginning, I knew how I wanted it to look visually, but the poem came afterwards. One night, on my way to film Abba Yussuf, I met a young poet who spoke to me about love and heartbreak. As we zigzagged the labyrinth of the walled city, he started reciting his poetry. I didn’t understand Harari, the language in which he recited the poem, but I was so moved by the way he was emoting that. At that moment, I knew his ode to love would be the key to the interior world of the film. In retrospect, I understood that the poem was a gift, sort of an incantation that put a spell on me and guided me throughout the shoot.

In the film there is an interesting contrast between the threatening and tender side of the hyenas; was that something you experienced during filming as well? What were the difficulties you faced while filming the hyenas, an animal considered to be vicious, wild and untamed?

Filming the hyenas around Abba Yussuf is like entering a place where you are free and liberated from fear; it is like when you fall in love. When I was there shooting, I forgot that I was right next to hyenas, whose bite is almost as strong as a Lion’s. I was touched by their playfulness and Abba Yussuf’s tenderness towards them. But every now and then, a hyena’s dense body rubbing mine would send a shiver down my spine, reminding me of my fragility and vulnerability; just like someone in love.

The film is in black and white instead of color. Why did you choose this particular look?

The love/fear dichotomy informed the film’s rhythm and aesthetics. I felt that the colors though beautiful, especially the hyenas’, they were somehow distracting the viewer from the themes at hand.

 Hairat screens at International Competition 6: Where You Look From (N/C 15+)

 Interview by Errika Zacharopoulou