When the 2,500-year-old community of Ethiopian Jews, the Beta Israel, faced severe human rights violations, religious persecution, and the specter of the imminent genocide of their community during Ethiopia’s brutal dictatorship and civil war in the 1970s, activists from within the community led them on a dangerous, secretive, and decades-long journey of escape to their ancient homeland, Israel. Yet public knowledge of their dramatic journey has been formed by media representations that focus on Israel’s role in their escape while leaving out Ethiopians’ critical roles in their own survival and depicting them instead as voiceless, passive victims, leaving a deeply negative impact on the community. Together with a younger generation of Ethiopian-Israeli activists fighting for the reclamation of their narrative today, the activists from the ‘70s-‘90s tell the dramatic and inspirational story of how they planned escape, pioneered routes, became tireless activists, and risked their lives to save their community.

Phase of Support: Production

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Avishai Mekonen

Avishai Mekonen - Director, Producer, Editor

Avishai Yeganyahu Mekonen is co-director/producer of 400 Miles to Freedom (7th Art Releasing; Kanopy; Platinum REMI Award, WorldFest-Houston) with screenings at over 100 venues including the NY Jewish Film Festival/Lincoln Center, Africa World Documentary Film Festival, Museum of Tolerance, Museum of the African Diaspora, and the Toronto, San Francisco, Zagreb, Copenhagen, Miami, Palm Beach, and Jerusalem Jewish Film Festivals. The film’s short precursor Judaism & Race was part of the exhibition The Jewish Identity Project: New American Photography, The Jewish Museum, NYC; Skirball Museum; San Francisco Contemporary Jewish Museum. Earlier work includes the award-winning The Sea Is My Brother; Seven Generations (Six Points Fellowship; solo exhibitions: Tisch Gallery; Adam Clayton Jr. State Building/Art Gallery; Temple University Art Museum); Video Flour (Channel 1; NAT GEO, Barcelona and Italy Film Festivals; AFO International Competition-Documentary, Czech Republic-Award Winner); and Menelik (Producer; New Century Prize, Jerusalem International Film Festival). He holds a B.A. from Tel-Chai College, Israel.

Shari Rothfarb Mekonen

Shari Rothfarb Mekonen - Director, Producer

Shari Rothfarb Mekonen is co-director/producer/editor of the award-winning documentary 400 Miles to Freedom and the short films Fur (Filmmaker Magazine Audience Award; Best Director Award, Columbia Film Festival, Director’s Guild of America; Los Angeles Independent Film Festival) and Ocean Avenue (Best Film Award, Columbia Film Festival, Director’s Guild of America; AFI International Film Festival, L.A.; Palm Springs International Shorts Film Festival; Women in the Director’s Chair). Her documentary The Sea Is My Brother (Worker’s Unite! Film Festival) was screened in Congress by Rep. Al Green and discussed in the Congressional Record by Rep. Charles Rangel. Her work has been exhibited in international galleries and museums including The Jewish Museum, NY (solo exhibition/permanent collection, Water Rites/Ocean Avenue); and the Whitney Museum of American Art. A graduate of Columbia University (M.F.A., honors), the Cooper Union (B.F.A), and the Whitney Independent Study Program, she is currently full professor in video production/media studies, BMCC/CUNY.

Project logline and bios courtesy of the grantees.