Meet Sara Tracy Meretab. She is a twenty-four years old Eritrean American film maker and creative. She found the love of film outside the field she enthusiastically studied, economics. Sara was here, in Eritrea, this summer to take part in the annual workshop of filmmaking organized by the PFDJ Cultural Affairs. Sara alongside Assistant Professor and independent film maker Ambes Jir Berhe from Howard University and Issayas Tesfamariam of Stanford University taught and shared ideas at the workshop, for a month, attended by Eritrean artists-students.
Sara’s fresh ideas and concepts on creative film making marked and inspired several young artists who attended the workshop. And as workshop continues, Sara has become a memorable tutor that local artists are fondly looking forward to seeing and working with in the future. For today’s Q&A Sara speaks to us all the way from America!
- Let us start with an introduction. And I am also very curious to know what it is like to grow up in an Eritrean family outside of Eritrea?
Hello Eritrea Profile. My name’s Sara Meretab. I grew up in New Jersey, U.S, with my parents and older brother. My hometown did not have a lot of Eritreans in it, so I was really thankful to have a large extended family. My father has 10 siblings; therefore, the holidays we spend with my aunts, uncles and cousins really helped me feel close to my Eritrean heritage.
- When did you know you wanted to do film? Can you pin point a specific moment that made you think you would be able to do films as a passion and business outside of the field of economics which you studied?
The first time that I actually realized I wanted to do film was on my very first trip to Eritrea. I had bought my first small camera to take with me on the trip. After that, I started filming everything – time spent with friends, family gatherings, anything where I could get behind the camera and record people. I think more than anything I was simply afraid of forgetting these moments. It was only much later that I started thinking about pursuing it professionally at the suggestion of a friend. I think that really helped me gain the confidence to value the quality of my work and seek out opportunities to build my video business.
- What are some of your professional activities as a video maker?
Currently, I am working on short promotional video content. These tend to be videos that are one to three minutes in length. They can be a highlight reel, narrative videos, educational videos, client testimonials, or product and service advertisements for larger companies. I love short videos because there’s actually so much that you can fit into a really short time period. All you need is a minute to get people to feel something.
Most recently, with a team of camera and light technicians, I directed and produced the set of campaign videos for a candidate running for Governor of California. These were really fun to work on because the videos were talking about important and challenging issues facing the state – so I also learned a lot while working on this project!
- Was it easy to step out of the field you studied, economics, to follow your passion? How did people around you react? Did you ever feel discouraged?
Actually, I haven’t entirely left my field of economics. I currently work for Visa – a large payments tech company—while simultaneously running my video production business. I’ve actually really enjoyed doing both because they challenge different parts of my brain. One is very quantitative, while the other is very creative. Together, I feel entirely fulfilled, and I don’t think that I would want to give up either one to solely focus on the other. In building my video business, though, I’ve had tremendous support from both my family and friends. Maybe that’s just because the output of this field is so tangible. You can literally see what was created, which didn’t exist before.
- What led you to teach in Eritrea and be part of the annual workshop on filmmaking?
I really fell into this teaching opportunity. Issayas Tesfamariam was my professor of Tigrinya at Stanford University. After I graduated, we stayed in touch by jointly working on a project to interview Eritreans in the U.S. as a way to document people’s lives and stories—so we were constantly meeting up and working together. Then, he brought up this opportunity that he was organizing and invited me to join as a teacher, and I was thrilled to be able to participate. In general, I was always hungry to find a way to connect more with Eritrea. Although I grew up in the U.S., I’ve always felt so close to this country through my family. So, when I got the opportunity to teach here, I was extremely excited because it connected my work passion with the passion I have for my culture and heritage.
- What was your experience of teaching like? What did you teach exactly? And how was your teaching received by the workshop partakers?
I loved teaching here. In fact, it wasn’t long enough and I only wish that I had been able to stay longer. I think that’s mainly because the workshop participants were so incredibly engaged and enthusiastic. They would come up afterwards with insightful questions and comments that’s really the best feeling for a teacher. I focused on teaching how to create powerful emotions and stories in really short videos. So, that involved t a l k i n g through both technical and non-technical topics from b u i l d i n g a strong storyline to actually being able to capture c i n e m a t i c shots and edit them in post-production. A c c o r d i n g to -your e x p e r i e n c e working at the workshop what are the common mistakes that should be avoided by Eritrean filmmakers?
I think the most common mistake is being overly explicit in videos. As directors and producers, we shouldn’t just tell the audience what to think or feel. Powerful videos show you, they don’t tell you. So, I think by building symbols and subtle messaging into our stories, we’ll be able to produce higher quality content that make the audience feel with greater depth.
- What improvements do you think should be made on the local ‘industry’ for better outcomes and for it to be accepted regionally and hopefully, also, internationally?
I think one of the simplest ways that we could help enhance Eritrea’s film and video content is by documenting some of the stories that exist all around us. The country has such a rich oral history, and deep sense of community— even when you just drive 20 minutes out of Asmara into some of the neighboring towns. Eritrean film doesn’t need to copy global styles. Instead, I just hope to see more Eritrean filmmakers taking advantage of all the rich content that the country has. There are stories everywhere, and, I believe, that authentic stories of people will have appeal even in international cinema.
- Do you plan on coming back to Eritrea and work here?
After teaching this class, it’s something that I’ve definitely thought a lot more about. In the near term, I hope to participate again in the filmmaking workshop but in the future, I would also like to explore creating other types of educational programs.
- What are your plans for the future?
That’s a big question! Honestly, I don’t know. I’m still trying to find balance in my life. But, the best part of participating in this workshop is that it helped me discover a passion for teaching that I never knew I had, and that’s helped shape how I think about my future. I’m really starting to explore how I can incorporate teaching into the work that I do. And in the future, I would love for that impact to take place in Eritrea.
- Well, thank you and best of luck!