Festival de Cannes
18e L'Atelier 2022
Beza Hailu Lemma
The Last Tears of the Deceased
May 7, 2022
Beza Hailu Lemma is an Ethiopian filmmaker who has written, directed and independently produced several short films. His debut feature film The Last Tears of the Deceased explores the idea of absolute faith and its manifestations in the context of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Hi Beza, it's great to talk to you, how's everything going?
Thank you! It's great to talk to you too. Everything is going well, I hope the same is true for you.
What does it mean to be at L'Atelier 2022 with your film project The Last Tears of the Deceased?
I’ve wanted to participate in L’Atelier for a while and It’s a great honour to be selected to attend the lab with my debut film project. I’m looking forward to presenting it to interested industry professionals later this month.
How important is this opportunity like L’Atelier for filmmakers?
They are very instrumental in getting films made, I think. Specially for emerging independent filmmakers around the world, labs like L’Atelier help in securing financing. In a time of limited availability of funds for author driven cinema, they present a precious opportunity to pitch to prominent co-producers, sales companies and distributers to further the development and production of the film.
With The Last Tears of the Deceased being your debut feature, how different is this film, in terms of story and style, to your previous films?
It is quite different from the short films I’ve done so far. The last film I made was a short observational documentary titled Katanga Nation while The Last Tears of the Deceased is a meditative gothic mystery that is very different in terms of style, mood and thematic obsessions.
What are some of the main themes you like to explore in your films?
It varies from film to film but my biggest obsession at the moment is the essential nature of liberty and freedom in attaining true faith. Having the privilege to question, analyze and deconstruct dogma is very instrumental in the quest to achieve spiritual transcendence, which I think is a result of conscious choice.
Do you allow yourself flexibility with your screenplay once you start shooting?
My background is mostly documentary but as a general principle I’d love to improvise on set with actors to achieve a performance that is not exaggerated and instead is integrated well with the identity of the person playing the part. I don’t want to be rigid during a shoot because I believe what makes a great film is the collaboration that you have with the cast and crew around you.
You are the Berlinale Alumnus, what was this experience like for you and what was the most valuable lesson you took from your time in Berlin?
My time in Berlin was great, I really love the festival and its welcoming spirit. The Talents program was also amazing as it allowed me to learn from established film professionals and make lasting friendships with people from all around the world. However the first time I was there, I was bit overwhelmed due to the sheer size of the event and amount of people attending it. The second time I was there was better because I went with a pre-planned schedule as part of the Ethiopian delegation which made things more streamlined.
"There are a lot of ways to make a film and what makes the process exciting is finding which one fits your film best."
Ballad of the Spirits is a film you wrote, directed, and produced. How important is it for you to be part of a long standing independent filmmaking tradition that exists in Africa?
Making a film is very hard in Africa due to the lack of both public and private funds, but it's even harder for short films. To make Ballad of the Spirits, we really had to bring everything we had to the table and be patient through all the things we faced during production. Ultimately, we are proud of the film we made and the places it went to. I think there are a lot of similar stories all over the continent and it just makes you proud to know people still make films in the hardest of circumstances.
For anyone wanting to explore the wealth of Ethiopian films/filmmakers do you have any you could recommend?
I think it's kind of customary to start with Haile Gerima, who is definitely a giant of Ethiopian and African American cinema. Harvest 3000, Imperfect Journey and Teza are all great films.
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the stories they want to tell?
Absolutely. I think it’s very important for filmmakers to keep innovating and finding new means to express ourselves. There are a lot of ways to make a film and what makes the process exciting is finding which one fits your film best.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I’m an avid cinephile and have always been curious about the voices behind the camera. I loved films that move and entertain but are also inquisitive about life and that try to push the limits of the form. I saw a lot of potential with cinema that I didn’t in any other art form to tell stories the way I wanted to.
Is there any advice you've been given that's stuck with you?
“Learn to love solitude”... that’s the advice I’ve heard that has stuck with me for a while. Writing especially is a lonely endeavour and it's best to start being comfortable with spending long hours alone.
For the next generation of filmmakers what key advice or tips could you offer them?
I’d say be patient. Good things take time, and being patient with your work and let- ting it grow fully into what it's supposed to be really helps in advancing the potential of the work.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from The Last Tears of the De- ceased when they see it?
I hope they take from it the lesson being inquisitive. Most times we accept things the way they are because of the way we are raised. But as adults I think it's important to ask questions and to be curious, as that’s the only way we can make conscious and informed decisions.
L’Atelier hosts its eighteenth edition this year and will invite to the Festival de Cannes 16 directors whose projects have been considered particularly promising. Together with their producers, they will be able to meet potential partners, a necessary step to finish their project and start the making of their film. L’Atelier provides its participants access to international co-productions, thus accelerating the film’s completion.