Fig Tree is a debut film written and directed by Aalam-Warqe Davidian, a graduate of the Sam Spiegel Film School in Jerusalem. (Previously, she made a number of short films under her maiden name, Almork Marsha.) A strangely compelling film, it deals with the experiences of Jews from Ethiopia. The entire story, shot on location, takes place in Ethiopia during a period of terrible unrest.
Mina is an adolescent Jewish girl. She lives in the outskirts of Addis with her grandmother and her brother who lost his arm serving in the army. Her mother has already gone to live in Israel and is waiting for them to join her. These are difficult times in Ethiopia. There is a civil war and the government troops are kidnapping teenage boys to force them to serve in the armed forces. Mina is in love with Eli, also a teenager, who is living in the woods, trying to escape the hardships of serving in the army. When Mina and her grandmother and her brother are notified that it is their turn to depart for Israel, Mina hatches a plot to try to save Eli from the army and to bring him to Israel, even though he is not Jewish.
The film’s title refers to a specific tree, a place of refuge, where Eli goes to hide from the government soldiers. It is also the place where Mina has discovered a man maimed by the civil war, who is trying to kill himself, hiding in the large and gnarled roots of the tree. Eli assures her – this place is neither heaven nor hell – which seems to be an honest appraisal of their life in Addis. What else might the title refer to? Fig leaves in the Book of Genesis are used by Adam and Eve, after they receive knowledge, to cover their nakedness – this is where Mina and Eli first make love. In addition, the Christian Bible (and Eli is Christian) mentions the fig tree in connection with the promise that Jesus will return to the Land. And that is what this film is about – returning to the Land.
The film has garnered awards – it won a prize for best film by a woman director at the Toronto International Film Festival, and a prize for cinematography at the Haifa International Film Festival. This is a small film which tells a story about two teenagers, their simple needs and desires. It is also a women’s film – telling the story through the eyes and experiences of a teenage girl. Even though this is not a big production, or a complex narrative, it is an absorbing human story of a family, trying to escape the hardships of poverty and war in Ethiopia.
I am proud to say that I sit on the selection committee of the joint Gesher - Avi Chai film fund, which supported both the development and production of this film.
Fig Tree was made by Black Sheep Productions