The Well: Water Voices From Ethiopia

The Well: Water Voices From Ethiopia
(56 min) Ethiopia/Italy 
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Thursday, 10/18, 7:15pm (Session I)

Directors: Paolo Barberi, Riccardo Russo


Each year, when the dry season reaches its peak in Southern Ethiopia, the Borana herders gather with their livestock around their ancient wells. Huge hand-excavated craters, known as “singing wells,” allow them to survive during the long annual droughts, when thousands of people and animals move closer in search for survival. Every day, the young shepherds form human chains, allowing them to reach the depths of the well and bring up the water. Their hard work is accompanied by a song, which seems to draw the great herds as they slowly come near, after days of walking across a dry and dusty land. The documentary follows the daily life, which revolves around the ancient Erder wells, throughout the drought until the long-awaited rain comes. Through interaction with several characters from this place, the film introduces us to a unique water management system that allows the Borana shepherds to manage the small quantity of available water as the property and right of everyone. Nobody can be denied to access water, neither the herders of an enemy tribe in need. While we can see all around the world actions towards a privatized control over water resources and the access to drinkable water is still not considered a fundamental human right, the Borana deserve a special attention for the extraordinary way in which they guarantee general and indiscriminate access to water in one of the driest inhabited regions on earth.


Paolo Barberi is an anthropologist and filmmaker, and learned the basics of editing and shooting as grant holder at the Visual Anthropology Laboratory “Diego Carpitella,” Sapienza University of Rome. His research specializes in urban studies and visual and media anthropology. In 2004 he founded the Esplorare la Metropoli Researchers and Filmmakers Association together with Riccardo Russo, co-director of the documentary film The Well: Water Voices from Ethiopia. 

Riccardo Russo, born in 1974, is an Italian independent filmmaker working in the field of social documentary production. With a PhD in Human Geography and a specialization in Audiovisuals for Human Rights, he founded the Esplorare la Metropoli Researchers and Filmmakers Association in 2004 with Paolo Barberi. During the last years he realized several publications and documentary films on socio-environmental themes and human rights, collaborating with Universities and NGOs worldwide.

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©2012 United Nations Association Film Festival (UNAFF)

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