Spotlight of the week – Jessica Beshir

February 18, 2022

Jessica Beshir is an Ethiopian-Mexican filmmaker, producer, and cinematographer based in Brooklyn. At sixteen, she left with her family to escape the chaos during the Derg Political Regime. She has mentioned that she grew up a lot faster because of the cold war she had to go through. She graduated in Film Studies and Literature at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she learned how to make several internationally recognized short films.

Before working on Faya Dayi, she had a solid reputation for other short documentaries. The short documentary He Who Dances on Wood (2016) was selected for Hot Docs and won Best International Documentary Short at Edmonton Film Festival and the Jury Award at Anchorage International Film Festival. Hairat (2017) premiered at Sundance and was screened at IFFR and IDFA. Jessica is a recipient of the Sundance Documentary Film Program, Jerome Foundation, and NYFA Fellowships. Faya Dayi (2021) is her feature debut. It is a decade-long documentary with several ups and downs, full of memories for both her and the people who worked with her.

After returning to Ethiopia, she wanted to spend time on the farms to understand and learn about the Khat farms. She observed significant changes in people’s lifestyles as she traveled in Ethiopia to research Khat. These things pushed her more to learn why Khat became a prominent part of people who live there, which she realized later that Khat came from a religious, ceremonial practice of imams. Faya Dayi is a combined effort of researchers, farmers, family, friends, university professors, film professionals, and much more directly or indirectly affected by it. It is a representation of Khat’s effect on people’s daily lives. It describes how Khat was chewed to boost people’s daily activities, especially laborers like farmers. Khat, taken to increase their daily activities, has now become the one that cuts the youth’s future short. The documentary is in black and white to reflect all the dichotomies in the myths. 

Jessica took a great deal of time to learn deeply about the prominent drug, Khat, affecting a high worker population in our country. The documentary is expected to help us realize how it makes people frustrated, lonely, impotence, and dreadful instead of the famous label as the booster. We appreciate Jessica for producing Faya Dayi to show the world how Khat dreads people’s lives and needs our attention more than ever.

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