‘Sweetness in the Belly’ Cast & Director on the Importance of Filming in Ethiopia

     September 20, 2019

It’s been a little over five years since Difret debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, kicking off a very successful festival run that included winning a Panorama Audience Award at the Berlin International Film Festival, but now director Zeresenay Mehari is back with a new feature, Sweetness in the Belly. The movie stars Dakota Fanning as Lilly. She was left in a Moroccan village as a child, grew up under the watchful eye of a Sufi master, and then eventually made her way over to Ethiopia. While there, a civil war erupts and Lilly is forced to flee to London.

While in Toronto for the world premiere screening of Sweetness in the Belly at TIFF 2019, Mehari swung by the Collider Lounge along with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II who plays the man Lilly falls in love with in Ethiopia and Kunal Nayyar who plays a doctor Lilly crosses paths with as a refugee in London. The trio talked about filming some of the movie in Ethiopia, the standout qualities of their characters, and also what makes a home a home, an idea that’s addressed all throughout Sweetness in the Belly. You can catch the full conversation using the video player at the top of this article.

nordstrom-supper-suite-tiff-2019We also need to send a big thank you to our presenting sponsor Nordstrom Canada and supporting partners Marriott Bonvoy and Ciroc Vodka for supporting the Collider Lounge at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and helping to make these interviews happen.

Our friends at Heroes & Villains apparel are also happy to give Collider readers a 15% discount on their wide assortment of high-quality clothing and accessories for fans of Star WarsStar TrekBatmanX-Men and more! Click here to check out their products and use the promo code TIFF15 at checkout.

You can find a full breakdown of the interview and the official TIFF synopsis for Sweetness in the Belly below:

Zeresenay Mehari, Kunal Nayyar, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II:

  • 00:15 – What is Sweetness in the Belly about?
  • 01:17 – Mehari on why he chose to make this his next feature after finding so much success with his first feature, Difret.
  • 01:53 – What is it about making a movie in Ethiopia that you can’t do anywhere else?
  • 04:07 – Nayyar and Abdul-Mateen highlight their favorite quality of their characters.
  • 05:45 – What’s the key to calling a place home?

]After an unstable childhood spent travelling with her hippie parents, Lilly (Dakota Fanning) is abandoned in a Moroccan village, where the spiritual teachings of a Sufi master provide her with the discipline to find acceptance in the Ethiopian city where she later settles. Lilly’s orderly life is turned upside down, however, when outrage over the country’s gross disparities spills over into revolution. Lilly is forced to flee to London, where her status as a white Muslim woman makes her far more of a pariah than it ever did in Ethiopia, while at the same time granting her benefits withheld from Black refugees.


Lilly is given a job and a small apartment, which she offers to share with fellow refugee Amina (Wunmi Mosaku), a young mother expecting her second child. Lilly also volunteers with a community association that helps refugees reconnect with family members. The work suits Lilly’s innate altruism, though she has a more personal reason to access its services: she hopes to track down the idealistic doctor (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) with whom she fell in love.


Image via TIFF


Image via TIFF

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