Faya Dayi: Jessica Beshir’s Documentary (Women/Film)

Shot in black-and-white with layered sound design, Jessica Beshir’s feature documentary debut, Faya Dayi, is an ode to the filmmaker’s hometown of Harar, Ethiopia, and its spiritual life.


Jessica Beshir
Courtesy of Janus Films
Jessica Beshir

“It is the time that I haf this relationship with the people and the place — that’s what gave the film the depth that it has,” she explains of the passion project, which took 10 years to make.

The Brooklyn-based Ethiopian Mexican director, who immigrated to the U.S. as teen amid political strife, centered the story on khat, a stimulant leaf important to the Sufi religion and now Ethiopia’s largest cash crop. From harvest to market, she follows its story, revealing larger societal issues. “You enter that world and what it feels like to be there, spending time and realize the passage of time and what that signifies,” she says.

There are no talking heads or exposition framing the film in a geopolitical context. Instead, the topic of migrants in search of a better life is shown in human terms. “I used the power of cinema, image and sound,” she says, “to explore concepts of love and fear and light and darkness.”

The film played at the 2022 Sundance Fest; MoMA’s New Directors, New Films; True/False; and SIFF.

Cinetic is handling sales of Faya Dayi, which was acquired by Janus Films.

She claims to have been inspired by Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Mirror; the films of Maya Deren and Apichatpong Weerasethakul

She is developing another Ethiopia-set film, which she promises to be “genre-free.”