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The Film Reporter interviewed  Cheryl Halpern regarding her film "Natsanat"


Q: What was your overall role?
I served as both Producer and Director of �Natsanat.�

Q: Did you always want to be in the film Industry?
I have always enjoyed being a storyteller. I have focused on the different platforms that promote storytelling; radio, television and now the film industry.

Q: Tell us how Natsanat evolved.
I was working together with the First Lady of Ethiopia, Azeb Mesfin, on an educational initiative for rural girls. During a breakfast meeting, the First Lady and her friends began reminiscing about their teenage years when they challenged all cultural norms while fighting for freedom in the bush. I was unaware of what these women had endured and I felt compelled to share their stories.

Q: Did you have any unusual difficulties during filming?
There were no unusual difficulties. The women were excited to be given a chance to tell their stories.

Q: Will winning awards help promote the film? How so?
Being selected for screening at an international film festival allows the stories of these women freedom fighters to be seen and heard by audiences across the world for the very first time.

Q: Where were the locations?
�Natsanat� was filmed on location in Ethiopia and also in the United States.

Q: To what audience is Natsanat suited?
�Natsanat� is suited to any audience that appreciates the value of freedom and equality.

Q: What was it like working with various sources? How did you go about choosing who to interview?
It was a privilege to work with all of the individuals associated with the film. H.E. Azeb Mesfin was the prime organizer; without her help the documentary could not have been made. Each of the women that we interviewed also had friends to whom they provided an introduction.

Q: What has the feedback been so far?
The feedback has been very positive. During Q&A sessions following the screenings the audiences have been requesting more information. The most meaningful feedback for me came from a group of high school girls that were invited to view the film as part of the WOW Film Festival in New South Wales, Australia. They were inspired by the capacity of teen aged women to achieve, against all odds.

Q: Are you working on any new projects?
There are several new projects in development.

Q: Tell us about your own background. Where you were born? Where did you study film? What was your first movie? What was your previous job? Are you a full-time filmmaker?
I was born in New Haven, Connecticut. My father was a Congregational Rabbi and our home was open to people from all walks of life. I was raised in a �storytelling� environment. When I went to Barnard College in New York City I became involved with WKCR-FM and had a weekly radio program. Years later, President Bush appointed me to serve as a director of the Board for International Broadcasting. Afterwards, President Clinton appointed me to serve as a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. During the administration of President George W. Bush I was appointed to serve on the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that I subsequently chaired. Now I am a partner at HQ Creative LLC , a multifaceted digital production company.

Q: What was your first award? And how did you feel at that time?.
One of the first awards that I received was from the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders who
commended my career in broadcasting and my advocacy on behalf of women�s rights in celebration of Women�s History Month. I was honored to be so acknowledged.

Q: What was the best part of the project?
The best part of the project was having the opportunity to engage with the women of �Natsanat.� It is a privilege to be able to call them my friends.

Q: What was the most challenging?
The challenge was deciding when to stop filming. There was so much more that could be told but there was an uncertainty as to how much would an audience want to watch about Ethiopian women.

Q: Are you pleased with the overall outcome?

Q: What are your hopes and dreams for the film?
I hope that the women of �Natsanat� will serve as role models for other women who are seeking peace and equality.  

Q: How long did it take to complete the film?
The film took the better part of two years.

Q: Will you do a sequel?
We are considering a sequel that will focus on justice in the aftermath of freedom.

Q: Why is this subject important to you?
All too often, during times of conflict, women and children are the first victims. It is important to recognize that women can stand up, defend themselves and succeed.

Q: Does this film send the message you intended?
Yes. �Natsanat� tells the story of women who fought for freedom, challenged cultural norms and succeeded to have equality written as an article in Ethiopia�s Constitution.

Q: Do most people just turn a blind eye when they hear of these issues?
The audiences with whom I have engaged in Q&A have all wanted to learn more about these women and their 17 year fight for freedom.

Q: Why the title?
�Natsanat� means freedom in the Ethiopian language of Amharic. Freedom is what these women fought to achieve for 17 years.

Q: Advice to others who might like to follow in your footsteps?
It is always important to listen carefully to what is being said around you. You might hear a compelling story when you least expect it.

Q: Is this a film that young people, college or high school students could benefit from?
This is a film that can benefit young viewers. The women who are interviewed were teenagers at the time that the fight for freedom was occurring.

Q: Has the film won any other awards?
�Natsanat� has won a number of awards including;
Best International Documentary at the World of Women Film Festival and the International Black Film Festival of Nashville
Best Documentary Short at the San Francisco Docfest and the Female Eye International Film Festival.
It received the Rising Star Award from the Canada International Film Festival and was an Official Selection at the Madrid International Film Festival and the St. Tropez International Film Festival.

Q: Why Africa? What connection do you have on personal level with this continent?
I do not feel a personal connection specifically with the African continent. I do believe that it is important to support and applaud women who have brought about positive changes locally in their communities and nationally within their countries.

Q: How do you see yourself in the next 10 years?
I enjoy being a storyteller. I hope that I will have the opportunity to listen, learn and share compelling stories in the coming years.


Related links:

  • Iara Lee: The Suffering Grasses

  • Yunus Shahul: The Future Assassin

  • Trevor Graham: The Hummus Warrior

  • Joon Bai: Labor of Love

  • Ilchi Lee: The Spiritualist

  • � The Film Reporter 2013-2015