Tamara Mariam Dawit
Hot Docs 2020
DOXA, Encounters, Durban, CinemAfrica, NY African Diaspora
The director seeks to unearth the story of an aunt she’s never heard of before.
After Tamara Mariam Dawit, the daughter of an Ethiopian man and Canadian woman, moves to her father’s homeland to reconnect with her father’s side of the family, she learns of the existence of a long-absent aunt, Selamawit, known affectionately as Sally. While Sally’s sisters are surprised by Dawit’s claims that they’ve never spoken about Sally in front of her, it’s clear that their lost sister’s story is a painful one. Interviewing each of her aunts, as well as other family friends, Dawit delves not only into Sally’s story, but that of Ethiopia’s tumultuous history. Though presented as something of a mystery, Sally’s story is well known, up to a point, by her family, the offspring of a respected diplomat for Emperor Haile Selassie’s government. Sally was involved in the student movement that opposed Selassie as well as the more radical Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party that was targeted as an enemy by the repressive military junta that forced the emperor from power in 1974. Sally went into hiding, but the family eventually learned of her death, though they never knew the exact circumstances. To her credit, the filmmaker’s investigation uncovers this missing part of the story, bringing closure to Sally’s sisters. While Dawit’s filmmaking is very basic and conventional, and especially marred by slow, unengaging, and too present expository narration, she does manage to broaden an intimate personal story through a wider consideration of Ethiopia’s fraught history.