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Maternal matters

New short film ‘Bunchi’ exposes struggles of Ethiopian-Israeli mom

The latest movie from Esti Almo Wexler reflects aspects of her life and upbringing, condensed into 29 minutes

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

From 'Bunchi,' Esti Almo Wexler's new short film about the Ethiopian-Israeli experience (Courtesy Abayenesh Productions)
From 'Bunchi,' Esti Almo Wexler's new short film about the Ethiopian-Israeli experience (Courtesy Abayenesh Productions)

As the Ethiopian holiday of Sigd was celebrated Wednesday, Ethiopian-Israeli filmmaker Esti Almo Wexler marked the date with screenings of her new 29-minute short titled “Bunchi,” about a 35-year-old wife and mother struggling with her family responsibilities.

It follows Almo Wexler’s previous film, “Lady Titi,” a comedy with an identity switch that sheds light on the contemporary Ethiopian-Israeli community.

“Lady Titi” was the first commercial Israeli film focusing on Ethiopian characters, produced by Elad Wexler, and written and directed by Almo Wexler, partners in work and life who run Abayenesh Productions.

“Bunchi” offers a different take on the Ethiopian Israel experience, and much of it is drawn from Almo Wexler’s recollections of herself and her mother, and the struggles her parent endured.

“I’m everyone in the film, I’m Bunchi and the daughters and maybe also the grandmother,” said Almo Wexler. “But right now I identify with Bunchi because I’m a mother.”

Bunchi, played by Hava Tizazu, is a parent trying to hold her family together, grappling with her troubled mother-in-law, her daughters and her husband, who appears to be deceiving her.

Director and screenwriter Esti Almo Wexler and her husband and business partner, Elad Wexler, of Abayenesh Productions (Courtesy Abayenesh Productions)

In the film’s 29 minutes, Bunchi is badgered from all directions, and then has to pull it together, hosting the extended family for a less-than-joyous gathering.

Almo Wexler said the film echoes her own life as a child, after journeying to Israel at the age of 4 with her mother, where they reunited with her father.

“It’s my house when I was a child, and it’s the image of my mom, even in the way she looks,” she said. “I didn’t get at first how much Hava looks like my mom, but she does.”

The film also shows the progression of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, with a mother who speaks Hebrew to her children, as well as to her family and friends, but Amharic to her mother-in-law, or when she’s thinking about family matters.

There’s a family member running for the Knesset, and a local butcher who greets Bunchi with an Amharic term, with whom she clearly has a longstanding relationship.

And yet, said Almo Wexler, “Bunchi” is a film without a specific time or place, even though the setting appears to be in Israel, in the present.

“It’s outside of time, it’s a folktale,” she said. “It’s familiar but it’s not obvious.”

She had trouble funding and selling the film, which is why Almo Wexler wrote it as a short and not a full-length feature.

“I said fine, I’ll do a short so that viewers can see it and see the potential,” said Almo Wexler, who hopes the community screenings she’s arranging will help her find a budget to make a full-length movie.

She was troubled and disappointed by the lack of interest, particularly from the local festival circuit, and has ended up creating her own traveling festival, showing “Bunchi” at local community centers and synagogues.

“I’m bringing a new angle, educating audiences myself with this short film that’s the story of my family,” said Almo Wexler. “At every screening, people want to know the rest of the story, the whole story.”

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