On this gloomy but warm day, Sunday, the 8th of July, several Eritreans made their way to North London to watch the new Eritrean film, Babylon – the majority of the audience were young people but there were also many families. This was rather a little different than the usual Eritrean social gatherings.
The venue was not any thing like a cinema apart from the darkness or absence of light that gave it a little resemblance to a cinema, however, every one seemed more concerned about finding a seat, as the empty chairs were quickly filled; which meant the unlucky ones had to wait for the next show.
Following a short documentary on the role of successive Eritrean youth generations in the national struggle, the long-awaited film, Babylon, started. With the pop corn going around, great sound system in place and the silence- the cinematic mood was now fully in place.
As the film started with the opening title sequence, the question that come to mind is after the so much effort the audience had made – traveling from far places and committing their day of rest – will this film be a disappointment or worth their efforts?
Ultimately it is through the eyes and response of the audience that determine how good a film is. The reactions and emotions of the audience that was displayed throughout Babylon film will be described below, but now few words on the film and the very serious national issue it raised.
Babylon is a book turned into a movie. The book was published in 1995 and has been widely read in Eritrea and amongst Eritreans living across the world.
Barely few years into the new era of Eritrean independence while Eritrean people were celebrating their independence and embarking into a new life – rebuilding their shattered country and lives after long years of suffering- the writer of the book, Babylon , Dr Kibreab Fre, envisaged this extraordinary story that there would be new ploy to destroy Eritrean people’s hard-won independence.
Towards the end of 1980s, with strategic victories of the Eritrean People’s Libration Front in Eritrea and beyond, Eritrean independence appeared to be unavoidable; some officials (including Eritreans) of the then Ethiopian regime, under Mengstu Hailemariam, who accepted Eritrean independence was inevitable, yet strongly believed a new long-term post Eritrean independence strategy was needed to bring back Eritrea under Ethiopia.
For this purpose an organization of like-minded people with units in different countries including Ethiopia, Eritrea and the command center in USA, Washington, was formed prior to Eritrean independence with a multifaceted plan and calculations of the challenges the new Eritrean government would face – given the challenges of building a country from below zero and exploiting these challenges to achieve the organization’s goal.
The main plot of the film is clashes between this organization and Samuel, tegadlay, who accidentally comes across the secret document with details of the plan. Since the organization had well entrenched itself into Eritrean government institutions, Samuel was hunted by the police and also endangering the lives of individuals who he came into contact with.
The ploys of the organization were very sophisticated; it had successfully penetrated its Eritrean members into the EPLF during the struggle for independence so that they get key positions in the post independence Eritrean government. Another big advantage of the organization was also the financial backing of the USA government (that deeply opposed Eritrean independence) which it utilized to get its ways with officials.
Dr. Kibreab Fre is a well admired writer not only for his very gripping writings but the topics he has written about. Since much of what he wrote as fiction, has transpired into reality, the question how he predicted or envisaged things has been the most discussed point amongst many Eritreans.
In the last twelve years, Eritrea has gone through very trying times, from military aggression, psychological, economic, and social warfare to the ongoing USA’s naked aggression using the UN to bring down the country to its knees.
It is, therefore, no wonder, the reaction and emotions displayed by the audience, watching this film was extraordinary. It was rather two way communications, when the character defending Eritrean national interest, seemed to be loosing, as though, Eritrea were loosing its independence for real, emotions went high, some even shouted supporting the character and showing their revulsion at the other characters who were determined to get their way at the expense of the Eritrean national interest.
There film was a real emotional journey including a few moments of laughter. All the characters delivered very well in particular the main character Samuel, played by Aman Hamid Ibrahim.
Although most of us, did not envisage much of the challenges our country faced, they were bound to happen – looking back into recent history now. As it has been revealed by some former USA officials such as Former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ambassador Cohen, even after Eritrea was librated in 1991, the USA tried for some form of unity between the two countries. The TPLF, had not then consolidated its power, it pretty much depended on EPLF and could not afford to listen to the advice of Washington.
The other aspect a lesson can be learned from the recent experience is as the Eritrean independence appeared to be inevitable towards the end of 1980s, Eritreans who conspired with enemies including those who held seniors position in Ethiopian regimes joined EPLF in the hope of getting some position in the post independence era. When Eritrea was faced with challenges with the Weyane backed by the USA, these individuals and others with hidden agenda were the first to betray the country, once again conspiring with enemies.
Once again as it will certainly happen, when Eritrea fully comes out of the current challenges as victorious, what lessons do we draw from the recent history and from the foxes dressed in sheep’s clothing?
In conclusion Babylon is a very timely film and has taken the Eritrean film industry to another level technically and in terms of content. This is a film that has required talents and dedication of many individuals in their respective fields. The Director, Wedi Feraday, has once again delivered excellent production.
The film is very gripping and enjoyable, but it is recommended that you watch it in a larger group to experience both the film and the reaction to it. For the people who are old enough to experience the pre independence era, it will also bring some memories.
Although everyone regardless of their age, had equally their attention grabbed by the film, as I did, you might get a question asked “what does EiSePa mean?” by a young man who was born with the re-birth of the nation. Therefore, our writers will need to consider a very significant number of our population, who will need some form of reference or description of the words or names that belong to the past.
Babylon movie ended with grand of applause; fully satisfied audience both by the quality of movie and the fact the ploys of enemies of Eritrea ended with failure and a big smile from the main Character, Samuel.