Hermon Hailay is an independent filmmaker. She was born in Mekele, Ethiopia, and is now based in Addis Ababa. Her credits include the features “Balaguru,” “Yaltasebew” and “Price of Love.” (Press materials)
“Price of Love” will premiere at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival on September 13.
W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing.
HH: “Price of Love” tells the story of a young Addis Ababa taxi driver who finds himself caught up with a beautiful, young prostitute. She is trying to escape the dark prostitution networks of the Middle East and finds refuge in his taxi. As they grow close, they discover that falling in love can be their salvation, but that it comes at a very high price.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
HH: I grew up around prostitutes and I knew them well. But I never judged them. I saw them as beautiful young women, mothers and sisters. In Ethiopia being a prostitute is not easy because of the culture and religion. They can’t escape the judgement from society, so they move far from their village to the city and then eventually out of the country, mostly to the Middle East. They have many reasons to do the job and they feel enormous guilt about it, but underneath it all, they are women who feel love and emotions like everyone else.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
HH: Working with such a small budget (ten thousand dollars) meant we had to make many compromises on both the script and shoot, but the challenge was making the right compromises so that we could still deliver an engaging film. It was also challenging to find the right balance to deal with the subjects of prostitution and religion in a sensitive manner without offending society, but without compromising the story.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
HH: I want people to think about the beauty of human relationships and how they can change people even in desperate circumstances.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
HH: Don’t see yourself as a female filmmaker. Being a woman is not a disability. Be free to tell any story that touches you: Don’t be biased because you are a woman to tell stories only about women. You have to see the world in its entirety. Of course, there are challenges but take advantage of them because they make you stronger.
W&H: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?
HH: People think I always tell stories about the street life of Addis Ababa, but actually my films are about the honesty of the characters and their relationships. I never target an audience — I tell stories that inspire me. If I am gripped by a story, it will control the process.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
HH: There is no funding for films in Ethiopia, so with my producer, Max Conil, we had to use our own money to get the film made. We had only ten thousand dollars for the shoot, so we had to be careful with all our decisions as we couldn’t afford to make a mistake. We had to use only the essential crew members, and we shot the film with just seven crew [members], all untrained Ethiopians, as there are no film schools in the country. We also chose to use non-actors, so that we could find the authenticity in their performances.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
HH: “Caramel” by Nadine Labaki is fearless in breaking stereotypes and showing unknown societies and taboo relationships with sensitivity and humor.