Back to IndieWire

‘Lamb’ Director Yared Zeleke on His Young Protagonist and Ethiopia’s Religious Tolerance

'Lamb' Director Yared Zeleke on His Young Protagonist and Ethiopia's Religious Tolerance

“Lamb”, directed by Yared Zeleke and presented by Ama Ampadu and Laurent Lavolé showed in

Competition at Doha’s Ajyal Youth Film Festival this month to an audience of youth and children
under the age of 18. “Lamb” premiered in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard 2015, marking the first time an Ethiopian film has ever screened as an Official
Selection at Cannes. ). It was this year’s Ethiopian submission for Academy Award© nomination for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar©.

This is no Little Bo Peep lamb. This lamb has rough brown wool and is led on a rope, dragged on a rope by a young boy, Ephraim, eight years old, who lives
in the devout Coptic Christian land of Northern Ethiopia

Lamb” is a classic tale of a child and pet, the type of story which has been loved by children
in every generation. Think “Old Yeller”, “Black Beauty”, “Charlotte’s Web”, “Babe”, “Lassie Come Home”. Ephraim’s pet lamb Chuni belonged to his mother who
has died from the drought-caused famine hitting their land. His father must leave the boy with distant relatives while he seeks work in the city. His lamb
is the only link he has to a life of happy innocence once shared with his loving mother and father.

The small nuclear family where he must stay lives together in a one-room hut: a grandmother who presides over the family, her son an authoritarian father
who reacts against change of any sort, his wife and their sick child. They have also taken in the sixteen year old Tsion who is always reading and seeking
ways to educate herself and eventually leaves for the city.

Ephraim does not conform to the norms of males as farmers; instead he prefers cooking.

The authoritarian patriarch of the family refuses to listen to advice of his niece about modern ways of growing crops during the drought and he forbids the
child Ephraim, whose love of cooking (“girl’s work! The uncle says) leads him to make money by selling samosas at the market.

Moreover, the authoritarian father of the family wants to serve Ephraim’s lamb as a meal for the upcoming holiday feast and to save his family from

This moves Ephraim to act to save his lamb. In order to make money he sells his extraordinary samosas in the market place to raise enough to finance his
trip to the city to find his father and save his sheep from being sacrificed and served for the upcoming holiday feast.

The children who saw this film at Ajyal Film Festival were entranced by how foreign and strange the landscape, and indeed, the people themselves were. The
questions they asked Yared Zeleke, the director, and the two young stars, sixteen-year-old Kidist Siyum and eight year old Rediat Amare were startling. Not the usual Q&A of adults that you hear after they
have seen a movie.

Was the boy really being hit?

Well yes and no. He had lots of padding, lots of practice, and the whip was very small.”

Why did you have so much landscape?

Because the land was a character in the movie. The land shapes who we are. This special land in Ethiopia shapes the characters in the movie. It is as
ancient as the people who practice the earliest form of Christianity and Judaism. There is so much history in the mountains. Ethiopia is the only country
in Africa never colonized by Europeans. The mountains protected them and the people are very spiritual.

It was shot in Gondar, the most Jewish section of Ethiopia where Felashas (Jews) and Christians live. The Felashas are a minority and so you see the little
boy is an outsider because his mother, who died of the famine and draught, was a Jew and he is given a special blessing by the priest.

When the action was going on, focus was on the boy. Why did you make the film like that?

The movie is about the boy, so everything is shown around him. Staying with the boy it’s is more “true” to stick with the character.

What was your favorite scene?

My favorite scene is the magic forest. The hardest scenes were with Chuni the lamb. I’ll never work with an animal again.

Why does your film say “dedicated to my grandmother”?

I’m from the city; I never had a pet and I don’t cook. But I went to visit my family in the country when I was little and I met my grandmother. When I was
10, I lost all my family in Ethiopia and I moved to New York.

Where do you live?

Yared: I live in Addis Adaba.

I liked seeing Muslim, Jewish and Christians together. I liked the landscapes. They were works of art. How did you choose the actors?

Yared: We
auditioned and videotaped 7,000 people over six months. Half of them were kids. The two stars chosen just stood out. Without Rediat Amare playing Ephraim and Kidist Siyum playing
Tsion, the movie would be completely different.

How did the 16 year old actress like her role?

Kidist Siyum:
I’m a city girl, it was hard to learn to be a country girl.

Both Kidist and were very smart good students and had not acted before.

Rediat Amare
Ephraim is quiet and introverted. I am not. I’m very outgoing. We are both mischievous and misfits.

How do you feel about audiences their age seeing the movie?

As the writer, I never thought of who it was for. I only wrote about my loss. The country is like a fairy-tale, so beautiful. I have only had adults
watching it in the past so showing it to kids is great! What do you think?

Kidist Siyum
I am happy to see people my age. I hope people will take away lessons from the movie.

Why did the boy leave the lamb?

He had to let go in order to grow. Sometimes that is a part of growing up, to let go of childish things.

“Lamb” is a carefully nuanced film of silences and understatements, stunning landscapes and beautiful people dressing in exotic styles. Three female
figures, the grandmother, the mother and the teenaged Tsion, the strong-willed nose-in-a-book girl bring a measured warmth and depth which increases our
feel that we are participating in their lives, lived in such close quarters, beautifully shot and a contrast to the vast and beautiful mountainous
countryside of Ethiopia where Ephraim spends much of his waking and dreaming hours.

Christians, Jews, Muslims and others lead a peaceful coexistence in what looks like a hard life but still a life in a sort of paradise which is
disappearing. To see it in a family setting will instill a special feeling of participating in the audiences.

The music is outstanding as is the final celebratory dance, with shimmy shoulder shaking I have never seen before.

Lamb” (not to be confused with Ross Partridge’s “Lamb” soon to be released stateside by The
Orchard) is the first film of director Yared Zeleke, who received an MFA in Writing and Directing from

It was workshopped in Addis Ababa. The producer, Slum Kid Films, an Ethiopia-based film production company co-founded by Ama Ampadu aims to discover and
nurture emerging talent in Ethiopia, as well as to support the development of Ethiopian filmmaking.

Ama knows the European system of filmmaking and was able to secure support from ACP from Norway and CNC from France. The fact that “Lamb” was selected for
the Cannes L’Atelier film financing summit two years ago, almost assured that, upon completion, it would premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, as it now

France, Ethiopia, Germany and Norway are represented by coproducers Gloria Films, Slum Kid Films, Heimatfilm, Dublin Films, Film Farms, ZDF/Das kleine

Producers are Ama Ampadu, Laurent Lavolé, Johannes Rexin. Co-producers are Alan R. Milligan. Executive producers David Hurst, Bettina Brokemper.

Berlin funded this international co-production and Naomi Kawase’s “An”, both of which played in Cannes’ official selection this year.

It was supported by the Doha Film Institute, which has funded more than 220 projects since its inception. Five of their grantees made their world premieres
in the Festival de Cannes this year in various sections among which ‘”Lamb” was in the main world cinema
showcase, Un Certain Regard. The others were “Waves ’98” by Elie Dagher (Lebanon, Qatar) in the Official
Short Film Competition; “Dégradé” by Tarzan and Arab Abunasser (Palestine, France, Qatar) and ” Mediterranea” by Jonas Carpignano (Italy, France,
Germany, Qatar) in the Critics’ Week and “Mustang” by Deniz Gamze Ergüven (Turkey, France, Germany, Qatar) selected for the Directors’ Fortnight.

International sales agent is Films Distribution. The film has been has licensed to

Kimstim Films for U.S.

Haut et Court for France

Neue Visionen for Germany

Trigon film for Switzerland

Filmarti for Turkey

Moving Turtle for Middle East

Ost for Paradis for Denmark

Mantarraya for Mexico

Betta Pictures for Spain

Maison Motion for Taiwan

Suraya for South Asia

Bio Paradis for Iceland

DDDream for China

7ème Ciné Art for Tunisia and Morocco

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged , , , , , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox