By: Adrienne Vaught
Edited: Colleen Page
Tea with Dana Ziyasheva is an experience of enlightenment and educational empowerment. On beautiful typical Southern California day I had the chance to sit down and have tea with the truly profoundly gifted female filmmaker Dana Ziyasheva. She is both gracious and compassionate, but even more so when it comes to the social issues Dana Ziyasheva is passionate about. The feature film “Defenders of Life”, Los Angeles based director Dana Ziyasheva’s powerful drama, had just screen at the sixth annual Garifuna International Indigenous Film Festival on Sunday, May 21. Now it was time to reflect on the journey that has brought the filmmaker and the film to this point of appreciation. “Defenders of Life” is a film that highlights the plight of the child brides often overlooked in traditional and indigenous communities. The film is an artistic bridge with political outreach where it showed art could a social impact! The narrative feature film from Director Dana Ziyasheva and Producer Igor Darbo, screened at the Presidential Palace of Costa Rica as the first catalyst of a governmental initiative for the promotion of indigenous girls’ rights.
“With the launch of Law #9406 that took place at Presidential House Costa Rica on Jan 19, 2017, we have just achieved prohibition of marriages under the age of 18 and the criminalization of unions between underage kids and adult partners. Costa Rica now has the strongest legal provision against this form of gender violence in all the Americas. Defenders of Life brought the Paniamor Foundation a step forward in this mission back when we started working together in 2015. We are also proud to have the film’s Director Dana Ziyasheva and Producer Igor Darbo as our partners when walking this walk,” said Milena Grillo, Executive Director of the PANIAMOR Foundation.
Both beautiful and thought provoking, it was my pleasure to have an in depth conversation with the heart and mind behind this film.
Adrienne Vaught: What was your inspiration for the story and characters in this film?
Dana Ziyasheva: For twenty years I have worked for the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization and it has often times been my task as an international civil servant to connect with the most marginalized individuals of an area, of which the indigenous peoples are the most vulnerable. It was in one of these times that I had invited the women of the Ngäbe tribe of Southern Costa Rica to tea. During this meeting I had the opportunity to meet Donna Carmen a matriarch and elder of her tribe. The tea broke the ice and led them to tell their stories. I found that the traditions of many generations of women and young girls were to be married to a much older tribesman as soon as she physically became a woman. How they wanted something different for the subsequent generations. The idea for this film took its roots from this conversation and the many conversations that followed.
A.Z: What were some of the challenges you faced during the filming?
D.Z: First it was a logistical nightmare at times as we were filming in a very remote area. The roads were very primitive and it was difficult getting all the gear and necessities for filming to the location. Finding the actors was somewhat difficult as there were many stereotypes of the Ngäbe tribe to overcome. Those outside of the tribe often label them as lazy over imbibers of alcohol. Many associate them with begging and seasonal work on coffee plantations. It is true that their economy is very limited to selling traditional arts and handmade items as well as some farming. So overcoming these preconceived notions was a challenge in getting people on board. The goal was to giving them a voice so that they would feel empowered from within. Only then can they truly overcome many of the challenges that they are facing. It’s not an easy task.
A.V: There was a lot of symbolism and use of the forest as another character in the film. Can you tell me a little bit about this?
D.Z: The snake is very central in the Ngäbe cosmology: it represents change, the sacred nature of females. The forest is the primary mother the provider of all that the Ngäbes needs. It’s a multi-layered message following a specific set of people experiencing a clash of cultures and traditions. I wanted to show this in the most glorious way possible.
A.V: What are your hopes for this film and what are the reactions you are receiving.
D.Z: Because this is a very universal story I hope this is an eye opener for both the youth and governments about women’s issues and the challenges these young girls are facing. I would hope to bring this message to the wide, wide world. The president in the country where we filmed wanted to see it and thanks to the movie, the women of the Ngäbe community were able to meet with him. Telling their stories and sharing their traditions brings pride in themselves. We have had a lot of very positive reactions however some have very visceral reactions to this first film about the indigenous people in Costa Rica. They feel the film is rather a dark subject. The subject is indeed a difficult one, but a true one.
A.V: How can your film be viewed?
D.Z: You can currently see the film on Flicks premier VOD platform dedicated to independent cinema.
A.V: Thank You for taking the time to speak with us.
D.Z: You’re most welcome
In shining a light on a mostly taboo subject, Dana Ziyasheva opens up the conversation to all who watch this film. Thank you Dana for bringing that light. [TAOM]
To Follow the film go to Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/defendersoflife/
To watch the film go to Flix Premiere: https://flixpremiere.com/film/defenders-of-life