PAGE 03: An Ethiopian Movie for Everyone

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By Karishma D’Mello

“This is my debut feature film, and it is about two best friends pursuing their own unique aims and desires, and the different paths they take to get there,” says Jan Phillip Weyl, director of Running Against the Wind (2019), which has its world premiere on 22 January at the 51st International Film Festival of India. “It’s a feel-good film; a story of friendship. One of the boys is trying to become a marathon runner, while his best friend is an aspiring photographer. It is an authentically and realistically made drama story about a friendship. It’s a life-affirming film.”

“Our film was selected by the cultural minister of the Ethiopian government as our national nomination for the best international feature film category for the Oscars in 2020. That’s what makes it special,” says Samerawit Seid, one of the producers for Running Against the Wind. Unlike Weyl, Seid was born and raised in Ethiopia. 

Given its connection with athleticism, the film also features the all-time-great Ethiopian long-distance track-road runner, two-time Olympic gold medal winner, and the winner of four World Championships titles, Haile Gebrselassie performing as himself.

Running Against the Wind was filmed within the national capital Addis Ababa, and across other locations spread across the rest of the country. “I was born in Germany, lived there for several years and studied at the Munich film school, but I am Ethiopian at heart,” says Weyl. “That’s why it’s especially a great honour to be Ethiopia’s only contender at the Oscars in 2020. Despite being born in Germany, I am still considered Ethiopian. I believe intercultural filmmaking is a demonstration of unity.”

Weyl told The Peacock, “Ethiopia is very close to my heart; the culture, the people, and everything about it. As a student in the eighth grade, I started collecting donations to raise funds to build a school in Ethiopia. Then I was invited to Ethiopia by the Austrian actor Karlheinz Böhm when I was eighteen. Back in 1982, he founded an NGO to promote development in Ethiopia and when he invited me here, I began to learn a lot about the culture through my humanitarian work with him. My time in Ethiopia inspired me to make this film.”

Seid describes the process of shooting for the film as one of their biggest challenges during the filmmaking process. “There were many changes happening within the Ethiopian government at the time. This made our job harder. The tense political climate and the governmental transformations were difficult,” Seid tells the Peacock. “There is a lot of talent in Ethiopia. We have fantastic stories, great writers, directors, actors – we have everything, but no infrastructure or funding to back it up. The government does not support films very much. To them, it’s just entertainment – nothing more. That’s what makes it hard.”

As a writer and director, Weyl hopes more people continue to seek out the film and watch it long after the festival is over. “What I want is for people to understand the unique desire everybody carries within them. Everybody has dreams and desires to live for and strive for – things that they are working towards. That’s what the film is about,” he says. “One of my biggest hopes for the film is that it gets picked up by Netflix, India. It’s a movie for everyone; a movie for every generation. It brings something positive to the world and its audience.”

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