DIRECTOR: Ameha Molla | PRODUCER: Rajal Pitroda
Filmmaker Ameha Molla unravels a long-held family secret about his uncle, a former Ethiopian revolutionary who escaped from prison and fled to the United States. His uncle’s story sparks a deeper quest for answers to the legacy of war and violence, and the meaning of family.
Higher 15 is a deeply personal story about the secrets one family was forced to keep as a result of their experiences during a period of government sponsored genocide in Ethiopia in the 1970’s. The filmmaker’s investigation into his family’s past is ignited by his uncle Kiflu, a former revolutionary fighting against this brutal regime. While many in his family are fleeing the country to find safety abroad, Kiflu is imprisoned at the notoriously dangerous Higher 15 prison. He ultimately escapes, is smuggled into the United States – and 33 years after his arrival in Denver, comes face to face with the vicious prison guard who had tortured him, and others, decades earlier. Kiflu’s story was never discussed in the family, and as Ameha looks further into this secret, he is faced with deeper truths about his family, as well as his place within it. Ameha’s journey into secrecy, trauma and his own belonging is coupled with his hunt to access the prison guard, who has become the living manifestation of his family’s trauma – now in prison himself outside of Denver.
|START OF PRODUCTION:||June 2019|
|EXPECTED DELIVERY:||October 2022|
|SHOOTING FORMAT:||Digital 4K|
|SHOOTING LOCATIONS:||USA (California, Colorado), Ethiopia (Addis Ababa)|
|PRODUCTION COMPANY:||Light on Light, LLC|
|PRODUCTION COUNTRY:||United States|
Secrets have been woven into the fabric of my family. I remember being nine years old, sitting at the kitchen table with my mother, when I asked her what I thought was an innocent question. “The happiest day of my life?” she repeated back to me. “It was the day your uncle Kiflu came to America.” I may have been too young to know at that moment, but this was my first insight into a series of family secrets and stories that had been hidden for decades. In the years that followed, I tried to learn more about my uncle’s story, but answers were few and far between. It wasn’t until a spring day in 2011, that I finally understood the meaning behind my mother’s response. On this day, my mother called to tell me that Kiflu was the lead witness in an FBI investigation against a suspected former war criminal from Addis Ababa, who killed over 200 people during Ethiopia’s government sponsored genocide, known as the Red Terror.
Growing up, I felt the weight of this family secret, and the distance it placed between us. Learning more about Kiflu’s story gave me context to my childhood, my community and my place as a first-generation Ethiopian-American immigrant. But most importantly of all, learning about my uncle’s past connected me more authentically and more openly to my family. It felt like at last, we could truly know each other. I am making this film for families like mine, those who have struggled to confront the trauma of their pasts, and to unburden themselves from the secrets that have forced them to live as strangers for so long.
AMEHA MOLLA is a creative and marketing professional with experience across production, advertising and brand strategy. Ameha directed six short films while working in marketing at Genentech, a biotechnology company. In this role, Ameha led the creative and production teams for an award-winning brand agency, developing and producing content focused on the stories of patients with cancer. Ameha was responsible for creating story concepts, directing animation and motion graphics teams, and managing on set cast and crew. In February 2020, Ameha joined Apple’s marketing team where he works to create content for one of the world’s most respected brands. Ameha is a Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program | Stars Collective grantee and a Fellow of the Black Public Media 360 Incubator Program.
Rajal Pitroda is a producer working between the worlds of fiction and non-fiction film. She most recently produced “Down a Dark Stairwell,” a feature documentary on race and the criminal justice system that premiered at the 2020 True/False Film Festival and was broadcast on Independent Lens. She is a 2020-2021 Sundance Creative Producing Fellow, was a Resident at SFFILM FilmHouse, a Fellow of the Black Public Media 360 Incubator Program and an Impact Producer Fellow with Firelight Media. Rajal is an associate producer of “The Kindergarten Teacher,” a 2018 Sundance selection, a co-producer of “O.G.,” a 2018 Tribeca Film Festival selection and an associate producer of “Driveways,” a 2020 Berlin Film Festival selection. Rajal was the Founder/CEO of Cinevention, a media company focused on marketing and distribution, where she designed and executed distribution strategies for feature films, including “Outsourced,” which was developed into a sitcom at NBC. Prior to starting her own business, Rajal was a partner at Beyond the Box Productions, creating and running marketing campaigns for independent films.
GROUP OF COSTS
|MATERIALS / CONSUMABLES:|
|FOOD / TRAVEL:||$33,990.00|
|PURCHASE OF RIGHTS, RENTALS, LEASES:||$66,000.00|
|EQUIPMENT (RENTALS & PURCHASE):||$41,000.00|
|EDITING EQUIPMENT & POST FACILITIES:||$67,800.00|
|MUSIC & ANIMATION:||$27,500.00|
|PR & MARKETING/VERSIONING||$35,000.00|
|GEN. EXPENSES / INSURANCE, OH||$97,590.00|
FINANCING PLAN | FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTORS