“Diving into the minds of my characters has helped me understand them actress and director Weini Tewelde
She left her hometown with her family when she was still very young. She was a part of the EPLF’s cultural troupe. Since then, she has remained active in the arts. Today, she is one of our nation’s acting treasures and has performed in many memorable roles. In addition, she has also directed and written several stage dramas, a couple of feature films, and some memorable documentaries. As a director and writer, Weini has focused on many important social and gender-related issues. Today, it is our pleasure to speak with Weini Tewelde.
- -What is acting to you? How do you define it?
Acting for me is nothing more than something that you learn to do as you live. For me, it is a natural thing that I have become accustomed to over the years.
- -You have been an actress since you were very young. Tell us a bit about your background.
I began acting at a young age, but officially took to the stage in 1985 when I was in my late teens. I joined the EPLF’s teen cultural troupe, Keihti Embeba. I have been acting since then.
- -What is the difference between your pre- and post-independence artistry?
The difference surrounds the theme. Our works before independence were very patriotic and often dealt with nationalistic themes. Of course, the social context was a major part of it, but the society then was affected by the war for independence, so one way or another the themes would still be patriotic. Our scope, as artists, widened drastically after independence. There are more issues that we can work upon.
- -It is a known fact that cultural troupes during the armed struggle had many followers in the country and abroad. What do you think?
I think and know so. Even in the field, cultural troupes were touring trenches and liberated areas. Beyond that, we also used to go to Sudan, Europe, and America. In general, wherever Eritreans were our troupes had to go and conduct shows of all kinds.
- -Throughout your long career, you have successfully performed in many memorable roles. How do you do that? Is there a secret to your success?
I am no psychologist and I haven’t studied it deeply either. However, I believe that diving into the minds of my characters has helped me understand them and represent them well. I am the type of actress that loves to question my characters. I love to analyze the story and see where they’re coming from and where they are headed to. It is no secret, really. It is what we actors normally do.
- -If we are to recap your career after independence, we can say that you are a talented writer and director. You have also published some short stories, one of which was recently published in Hadas Eritrea and later broadcast on some radio stations. Could you tell us more about these pursuits?
That is correct. Acting is one thing but after several years of acting you also get curious about writing and directing your own stories. As much as I love acting, I also love being behind the camera and being a part of the production team. I have attempted to write for a while but the first time I put my own work out for the public was in 2010.
Earlier that year there was a research program that was sponsored by the Cultural Affairs institution. I took part in it. We traveled to the Gash Barka region, where I learned about a peculiar point. Generations change in time. The Eritrean context has seen two large periods of warfare: one for independence and one to protect Eritrea’s sovereignty. Therefore, the Eritrean youth have always handled the national matter very seriously. What I wanted to shed light on was the differences between the generations of the armed struggle and that of the post-independence war. Unpretentiously, out of care and regard, the previous generation had concern that they might not have adequately passed on national values and principles to the younger generations. By the way, it is also my concern. But the interesting point is that the older ones always tend to be responsible for the young ones and the young ones don’t feel good about it. I did my research very carefully. To analyze our differences, I even had to explore the slang used by the younger generation. To learn about them, I talked to unit leaders all the way to brigade leaders. All of them talk highly about young soldiers. They call them heroes and selfless. I entitled the work ‘Wures’, meaning ‘to succeed’ and made a stage drama that was performed in different parts of the country. It received positive reviews.
- -What are the differences between young Eritreans and those of the previous generation?
Speaking in terms of young and senior soldiers, the difference is in how they view life. When we were younger and fighting for freedom, we left our homes knowing we possibly wouldn’t make it back alive. Once we were away from home, we were out for good. We didn’t care about our parents or anyone else. We were ready to die and our dream was attaining liberation at all costs. The sad part is that after liberation we had to send our young ones to war.
They are different from us. They want to protect the country for their families. They want to return home and live in peace, fulfilling their personal aspirations. In that sense, then, it is obvious that the biggest and worst fight is theirs. It is obviously not easy for your children talking to you on the phone one minute and then getting in the trenches next. That is the biggest difference.
- -So research-based stories are what you like to do?
Absolutely! I spend a lot of time on it. Conducting adequate research before you write a story helps you shape amazing storylines. Whenever I get a hint or idea for a story, I jot it down and then conduct tons of research before developing it.
- -Why are you so interested in social and gender-related issues?
While making documentaries, especially, I want to focus on themes that I can relate to. Gender-related issues are close to my heart. Therefore, I trace social issues starting from women and going down to young girls’ issues.
- -You have worked with many young actors, directors, and writers. Do you like it?
I do. They are extremely talented. I learn a lot from them and they respect me because I like to share my experiences with them.
- -Are there any difficulties that you face in the local film industry?
To begin with, we need an institution. The talent is there, the stories are plenty, and the passion of anyone involved is beyond ordinary. What we lack is proper investment, which is why we get stuck, even if we have stories ready to be filmed and shown! We face difficulties related to investments. A lot of times, artists have to invest money out of their own pocket in order to make a project come true. And I assure you it is not easy. Often times, we don’t monetize our work. We first work and then later talk about money. We are working because of the passion we have. As hard as it may be, it is really rewarding. Thus, I want to thank my colleagues for their dedication.
- -Thank you for your time.
Thank you for having me.