Review: “Teza” Is Another Must-See Film From Haile Gerima

Set in Ethiopia and Germany, Award-Winning Movie Explores Identity and Internal Struggles

 Action. Romance. Historical facts. Humor. “Teza” has it all. 

Ethiopian-born Haile Gerima, a professor of film at Howard University, spent 15 years preparing “Teza” for the masses and audiences love it. Gerima’s acclaimed independent film will be shown at 7

“Teza” is narrated in Amharic, one of the key languages of Ethiopia, with subtitles in German and English. The story is told through the eyes of a man named Anberber, played by Aaron Arefe. Anberber is a passionate young man who grew up in Ethiopia, but left to study medicine in Germany during the repressive regime of Ethiopian dictator Haile Mariam Mengistu.

While in Germany, Anberber grows as an intellectual, finds and loses love, and builds life long friendships. Yet, in the end, he remains loyal to his country and returns to his homeland in hope of curing the sick and making a difference in Ethiopia. 

However, when he returns he is greeted by violence, death, poverty, illness and the reality check that while he was away, time did not stop. Instead, things worsened in Ethiopia, and, with Mengistu in power, Anberber is helpless.

Filming “Teza” in Ethiopia and casting actors from the East African country made the film seem that much more realistic. Several scenes are simply breathtaking. As the fiery sun falls gently behind a quiet Ethiopian lake, it paints a beautiful reflection in the water of soft reds, vibrant oranges and golden yellows. A soft raspy voice sings an ancient proverb over the Ethiopian drums, and the audience “oohs” and “ahs,” mesmerized.

Throughout the film, Anberber goes through an internal battle as he struggles to find himself and his place in the world. The story is largely told through flashbacks. As the movie jumps around between the 1970s ’80s and ’90s, it is important for viewers to keep up or else they will be lost.

“I try to marry cinema with my culture,” explained Gerima, who has made 11 films including “Sankofa,” also the name of his film, video and bookstore café on Georgia Avenue. 

“It’s a struggle. The end result is imperfect. It’s not perfect. So in my film, I try — I like to make imperfect cinema. Because in the imperfection, I find my identity.”

Because of the subtitles, the film requires a lot of reading, but viewers don’t seem to mind.

“I’ll be honest,” said James Malon, a student at American University. “At first, the subtitles were a little intimidating. But by the end of the film, I completely forgot that I was reading because the movie was so good.”

“Teza” has won numerous awards. At the 65th Venice Film Festival, “Teza” was awarded the Special Jury Prize and the OSELLA for best screenplay. It also won the 2008 Cinema for UNICEF Award. 

At the 2008 Arab-African film festival of Carthage, Tunisia, the film swept away five awards, including the Tanit d’Or for the best film. It was also awarded the Golden Unicorn for the best feature film at the Amiens International Film Festival in France and won prizes at the 2008 Dubai International Film Festival and 2009 Rotterdam International Film Festival. 

“Teza” was first out of 128 films at the 21st Pan-African Film and Television Festival (FESPACO) in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. It was the jury’s unanimous choice for this year’s top African film prize.

“Teza” is a must see. People of all ages and backgrounds will walk away with something different from the film. But one thing is for sure, most will walk away feeling as though they got their money’s worth.