Meet the Director of 'Fig Tree,' a New Film About Young Love in the Midst of the Ethiopian Civil War

21 September 2018


fig tree

At TIFF, we talk to Aäläm-Wärqe Davidian, the Ethiopian-Israeli filmmaker telling a story that has parallels to her own life

To be 16, in love, and in the middle of a civil war—that's the territory mined by Ethiopian-Israeli filmmaker Aäläm-Wärqe Davidian in Fig Tree, which received its official World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). It's her first feature film, and one of several directorial debuts by Africans – and African women, in particular – that premiered at TIFF in 2018 where Davidian was named one of the "Directors to Watch."

Set in Addis Ababa in 1989, the story revolves around Mina, a 16 year-old girl Jewish girl living with her grandmother and brother. The family tries to keep going as the war rages around them, and as they make increasingly frantic plans to flee the country for Israel, where Mina's mother already waits for them. But Mina is also a girl in love, giving her a private anguish to deal with along with the general tension and anxiety that permeates her world. Eli, her boyfriend, is Christian, and just the right age to join the local militias. Eli hides in the forest, making the great fig tree their meeting place.

Aäläm-Wärqe studied her craft at the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School in Jerusalem, and then worked as a researcher for noted documentary filmmaker Ada Ushpiz. It was there that she woke to the realization that film was her true medium. "This is my language," she says.The filmmaker based the story on her own experiences growing up in war torn Ethiopia. Born in Awash, she grew up there until the age of 11, when her family, much like Mina's, fled to Israel under what is called Operation Solomon. Once she got to Israel, she says she was surprised to discover that people thought of Ethiopia as a Third World country. Over time, the feeling lent momentum to her film making ambitions. "I must share my world, my people," she says. It was the world of Ethiopian Jews she didn't see reflected in the media around her; even more so, the lives and stories of its women.

Watch the trailer

fig tree trailer

Read the full interview on Okayafrica here.