We should never underestimate the sheer impact and power that movies have over our lives. Through the big screen, television and the internet, movie producers and directors—as well as movie financiers—have the ability to shape our perceptions of the world and tilt reality at their whim.
It is with this truth in mind that I was instantly captivated by Helen Kassa’s new movie “Found in A Dream”, a movie about an Ethiopian immigrant struggling to fit in, navigating between doing right and doing what he must to survive only to be changed by love. In an industry that seems to be gravitating more and more to special effects and stunts, it was heartening to see Helen taking the harder path. Below is the conversation I had with Helen where we discussed her background and her aspirations as an up and coming producer/director.
Q: What was your inspiration behind “Found in a Dream” and why did you feel the need to tell the story?
Helen: The inspiration behind Found in a Dream is the role the past influences our present lives and shapes our future. Art is a very powerful tool to tell our stories. Ultimately “Found in a Dream” is about love, culture and finding a sense of belonging in away from the country we knew in the past and in the countries we migrated to. I think there is close to none which tells our story our ways especially about our youths. So I strongly felt that there is a need to come out and tell our way of film making or storytelling.
Q: How did you end up in the movie industry and more importantly, why did you choose to be behind the camera instead of being in front of it?
Helen: It definitely was not an accident. I knew ever since I was young that I wanted to be a storyteller. I wrote poetry and short stories while I was at school, creating became my passion. After I moved to Australia, I studied film and productions for three years then I started to make movies. Movies give me the ability to use my imagination and, in a way, paint using the camera. The camera has way of bringing to life messages and stories in ways that you can’t on paper alone. Even though I still love writing, I have found equal passion behind the camera and through the movie making process.
Q: Found in Dream touches upon taboo subjects, which is fascinating given the conservative nature of the Ethiopian culture. I think this is a critical and courageous step; keeping issues of despair, identity crisis and the hardships people face in adapting to new cultures and environments can drive many people to extreme means. Your movie sheds light on this struggle. How has the reception been thus far from the Ethiopian community and beyond.
Helen: So far the reception has been amazing. I know the topic I used was a bit unconventional and definitely unusual, I touch upon topics that we prefer not to touch upon as a society. I am not dismissive of the concern some have, the issues brought to light in the movie are considered taboo for a reason. But this is a story that I wanted to tell and I hope my decision to do so encourages others to explore both the good and the bad as we continue to adapt and evolve as artists and movie makers.
Q: There is an almost existential crisis immigrants when arriving in new lands. Conform for the sake of success which could bring about the loss of one’s culture or keep faith to one’s heritage and risk being marginalized. In a lot of ways, this is the struggle that Abeselom faced in “Found in a Dream”, is this a story that you faced yourself and if so, how did you navigate the conflict between conformity and culture.
Helen: It might not be as extreme as Abeselom but I have faced racism in different ways. Racism come in different forms, some of it subtle and some of it that is more in your face. I guess I did what all of us do, push on and don’t give in because some choose to be full of hate. Immigrants from Africa have to face two challenges, not only to be judged because of our complexion but because of our accents as well.
Q: Given the box office success of the Black Panther, there is renewed interest in conveying stories from the continent of Africa. Something that I’ve always been fascinated by is the potential for one day the stories of Adwa, Timbuktu, and the Zulu nation—to cite but a few of tremendous civilizations that prospered in Africa— to be told by us instead of being told for us. That is why I’m honored to interview you, I am hoping that you and the people you inspire will pick up the mantle and tell our stories. What are your thoughts on this?
Helen: Thank you! It is great to see a movie like Black Panther have such big box office success. Hopefully, this will show that there is a demand for more stories to be told from the Africa. On a personal level, even though I have done mini-documentaries and short films prior to this movie, this is my first feature film so the journey of growth and discovery is just starting. I hope to hone my craft and continue to learn newer and better ways to convey stories that are rarely told.
There is an endless wealth of stories that can be found in Ethiopia and throughout Africa, we can contribute so much to the film industry. Especially in the realm of historical narratives. My dream is to bring an Ethiopian/African movie produced and directed by Ethiopians and Africans. In order to do so, we need the support of Ethiopians and the African diaspora as a whole. We have to show that there is a demand not only for major blockbuster movies but for movies that are produced by independent companies and lesser known but tremendously gifted directors, writers and actors. If we support each other, the sky is the limit in terms of capturing the significance of Adwa, Timbuktu and beyond on film for our children to learn our stories from us. That is my mission and what drives me each day!
Q: Where can people watch your movie and how can they support more of your work in the future?
Helen: We will be showing the movie around the world as soon as we done with the festivals. If anyone wants any update about the screening of the film they can follow me on Facebook Helen Kassa or @poetslanefilm productions.
Check out the preview of Helen’s movie “Found in a Dream” and support independent producers and creators by using #FoundInADream
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.