Updated: May 21
“What moved you to pursue this story?” I asked the filmmaker/director, Christopher Chambers of the documentary, A Fire Within. He paused and then answered, “Do we choose a story or does it choose us?” The response alone was striking. I had to ponder that for a while, and then realization hit that in actuality, for storytellers, our stories do indeed choose us; we don’t choose them. What a revelation. I followed up with the question, “How does it feel to be chosen?” He smiled, taking a liking to my question, and then took a minute, taking in the fact that he had indeed been chosen to tell these Ethiopian Women’s stories, yet not just their story. But the story of so many Ethiopian women who too share this story very similar to these women, so many untold stories. He spoke of how privileged and grateful he was to be the person chosen to help these women to be able to liberate their story.
A FIRE WITHIN chronicles the incredible true story of three Ethiopian women who immigrate to the U.S. after surviving torture in their home country, only to discover the man responsible for their torture is not only living in the U.S. but is also employed at the same midtown Atlanta hotel as one of the women.
“ A Fire Within. A title with so much depth. Why this title? What inspired the name?”
“It was a struggle for me to think of a title.I focused on passion, pride, and reform of three women who had the courage to make the decision to fight for justice.”
- Christopher Chambers
“The narrative led with one the women Edgegayehu “Edge” Taye,” and then followed with the background of Ethiopia. Why did you make this choice? Why not start with the background of Ethiopia?
The story of “A Fire Within began with “Edge,” as Christopher called her for short. “Because the story began with her. I thought back to the beginning of the documentary and recalled when Edge spoke of her encounter at the Atlanta hotel.”
"That voice, I knew this voice.” As “Edge” described the eerie feeling after hearing this man’s voice while at work at the hotel in Midtown, Atlanta, that brought chills down her spine at just the very sound. I then understood his choice more. I admired his style of storytelling in his documentary. Unlike any typical documentary, which can feel more like the news, the way he compartmentalized his story gave us opportunities to have moments when each of these women who were ultimately the characters in this documentary came to life. This choice made it theirs from the start. The documentary ended after this terrifying journey that these women endured with them, expressing the love they had still had for their country. It was alluring to see the transition, as the women often referred to their happy lives before the torturing. These women endured so much and still spoke so highly of their country and laughed as they reminisced on the good times in Ethiopia that were held still a special place in their hearts.
“Telling such a story could not have been easy for these women or you,” I said to Christopher Chambers. “How mentally of a challenge was it for you?” He went on to say, It was the most difficult project he had in life. “Yet even with the difficulties, he stated, I was just privileged and grateful to be able to help them tell it.”
I went on to tell Christopher the documentary made me feel as if it were already on some national platform. I had to remind myself I was observing this virtually at the Atlanta Film Festival. He laughed and thanked me for my appreciation for his project. With it looking so professional, I had to know how long it took to make the documentary, what kind of budget, and how he sought out to raise money for funding? He told me it wasn't easy and did not receive any grants or producers' funds to make the documentary. Yet, he received funds from people who had seen his previous work. He said it took him a total of four years to complete the entire project. I found this to be remarkable, and I admired the fact that he allowed the project to take the time and attention it needed for the masterpiece to be created versus rushing it to get the project out. So many people don't conceptualize; good things take time. A Fire Within is more than a "good thing."
I then went on to ask, “Other than mental challenges, were there any other obstacles while completing the project?” I wasn't a part of the culture, “He stated. "So, I brought on an Ethiopian Producer and Author Elsabet Ademe.”
I also asked, “I noticed that you decided to have the actors who portrayed the women in the film not speak. Why did you make this decision?” He replied, stating he made this decision simply because of the lack of information and that there were so many critical events that there is no footage of. He described how he used the camera to channel the women’s memory, to help them go into a “dream effect,” as he referred to it to help channel the women’s memory.
How incredible, I thought to myself; one wouldn’t fathom that this compelling documentary came with so many hidden underlying layers. I then went on and asked Christopher, “When was the moment you decided you would take on the project, and what inspired the idea?”
“You know when you’re on a plane and you just have so much time so you just start like reading things and looking at things you were supposed to look at or supposed to get done? Well, that’s exactly what happened. I came across a newspaper article and I said to myself I have to meet these women. I have to help tell their story!”
- Christopher Chambers
After getting off that plane, he did just that. He made it his business to find these women and help them tell this story.
“Once you could get in touch with these women and track them down, what was that encounter like?” Christopher smiled as he answered, “The women were cautious about who I was and why I took interest in their story. The women then agreed to meet with me, looked me in the eye asking various questions. And, I knew they were feeling me out.”
Christopher spoke of how people nowadays would be more forthcoming and ask questions over the phone and more than likely not allow the encounter. Yet the women agreed to meet with him. To his benefit, the women who took a liking to his spirit agreed to allow him to be the gatekeeper to help them to voice their story.
The lawyer in the documentary made a statement, “when a private person kills, it's murder, yet the ‘legal’ definition of torture requires it to be done under government authority. So ultimately they had to prove that there was some law violation.” I continued by asking my next question. "With the way society is now with growing technology and the use of cell phones do you think if 'Kelbesa' were to happen in these times it would of been so hard to dig for the information desired to help the such a story be told?”
Christopher Chambers’ eyes lit up immediately and stated that it was a "profound question.” His response, “Because America is in transition with technology growing, people’s civil rights and human rights have become easier to be exposed.” He agreed that in those times if they had such privileges as Americans as they now do in these times, it would have made the exposing of the ‘torturing’ a bit easier.”
Rafia Ansari: What was post-production like, and, “I’m curious to know what it was like in the editing room with the three women?
Christopher Chambers: I didn’t finish until their story was told exactly how they wanted it. I sat with each of the women, they became friends of mine and I wanted to make sure that it was told exactly how they wanted it to be told.”
He then went on to talk about how the three women were brought to tears after first viewing the finished product of their story. Filmmaker Christopher Chambers spoke of after his first viewing, how a woman came to him in tears, saying, “My family has suffered the same torture, now I can show them this documentary and I will be able to have the opportunity to finally talk about what happened to me.”
A Fire Within recently won the Audience Award at the Atlanta Film Festival and is currently still going through the film festival circuit exceptionally well. You can follow A Fire Within on Instagram @afirewithin, and be sure to stay tuned for A Fire Withins’, Journey.