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Faya Dayi

Fall Grants 2020 - Post-Production Stage

Jessica Beshir / Feature Documentary / Ethiopia, United States of America, Qatar / 2021 / 118 min / Black & White / Original Language: Harari, Oromiffa / Interests: Documentary


‘Faya Dayi’ is a uniquely beautiful, award-winning documentary that explores the widespread use of khat in Ethiopia. While Sufi Muslim communities traditionally used the khat leaf for religious purposes, it has now become a popular daily ritual across all spectrums of society and the country’s most lucrative cash crop. The film takes us on a spiritual journey through the prism of the khat trade, offering a sensory window into the aspirations of the unemployed and oppressed youth and elders alike for whom chewing khat to achieve Merkhana (the high of khat) has become a radical escape, a space of socialisation and revolt against oppressive forces. For many, Merkhana is the only place where their hopes, dreams and aspirations can live.

At the centre of the film is Mohammed, a fourteen-year-old who works as an errand boy in Harar. The khat-chewing lifestyle of the adults surrounding Mohammed and the inherent political pressures against oppressed Oromo youth like him, lead him to dream of reuniting with his mother, who “took the boat” across the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia in search of work when he was a small boy. He often speaks internally to her as a survival mechanism to ward off his loneliness. Through his eyes, we meet the dwellers of Harar and Mohammed’s friends in the khat farming community who are instrumental in shaping his decision to finally take the treacherous journey to join his mother across the Red Sea.


Jessica Beshir
Jessica Beshir
Jessica Beshir

About the Director

Jessica Beshir is a Mexican-Ethiopian writer, director, producer and cinematographer based in Brooklyn. Her feature debut, 'Faya Dayi', premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and has screened worldwide, including at the Rotterdam Film Festival, New Directors/New Films, Camerimage and Hot Docs, to name a few. ‘Faya Dayi’ won the Grand Jury Prize & FIPRESCI Award at Visions du Reel, the Grand Jury Award at Full Frame Film Festival, and the Cinematography Award at DOC NYC, among others. 'Faya Dayi' garnered nominations from the Gotham Awards, IDA Awards, Cinema Eye Honors, ASC awards and won the 2022 Truer Than Fiction Award at the Independent Spirit Awards. Her early short films, 'Hairat, He Who Dances on Wood' and 'Heroin' have played in festivals and museums, including at IDFA, Kurzfilmtage Winterthur, Eye Film Museum & MoMI. Beshir has been honoured with grant support from the Sundance Film Institute, the Doha Film Institute, and the Jerome Foundation.

Awards and Festival History


World Cinema Documentary Competition, Sundance FF 2021 (WP)


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    Jessica Beshir


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