Argo, Difret take honors at America Abroad Media awards dinner
by Karin Zeitvogel
Journalists and filmmakers rubbed shoulders with ambassadors past and present, U.S. lawmakers, State Department officials and movie stars — as well as the ordinary people those stars have played in cinematic roles — at America Abroad Media’s third annual “Power of Film” awards dinner, held Oct. 23 in Washington.
This year’s winners included two films: 2013 Academy Award winner Argo, which tells the story of six American diplomats in Tehran and attempts to rescue them during the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis 36 years ago, and Difret, an Ethiopian docudrama that chronicles a crusading woman lawyer’s defense of a teenage girl accused of murdering the man who forcefully took her as his wife and raped her.
Also honored for their contributions to “independent thought and the exchange of positive ideas” were Turkish journalist Mithat Bereket and Abu Dhabi media executive Noura Al Kaabi.
Honoree Noura Al Kaabi and Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba of the United Arab Emirates attend the 3rd Annual AAM Awards Dinner. Photos: Joy Asico
“In every country, there is so much potential to be a force for good, a force that facilitates honest, civil discussion, the values of pluralism and critical thinking,” said Aaron Lobel, AAM’s founder and president. “That’s why it’s so important for us to be gathered here tonight to honor those who make that possible: outstanding filmmakers, journalists and media leaders. These are people are making an enormous difference every day and they deserve our recognition.”
Bereket received the AAM Partner Award for his “legacy as a fearless reporter and innovator,” PBS Newshour Managing Editor Judy Woodruff said as she handed the Ankara-born journalist and broadcaster his prize.
Honoree Mithat Bereket; AAM President and Founder Aaron Lobel, and honorees Zeresenay Mehari, Mehret Mandefro, Noura Al Kaabi, Neaza Ashenafi and Aberash Bekele.
In more than two decades as a journalist, Bereket, 49, has produced and hosted a news magazine show, Pusula (Compass), and covered — among other major stories — the first Gulf War in the early 1990s and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Now suffering from a form of Parkinson’s disease, Bereket was helped onto the stage by his brother, Ozer, who spoke on his behalf.
“Your real successes in this life are not your ups and downs in your career, it is the collection of people that makes the difference at the end of the day,” he said.
Journalist Judy Woodruff presents honoree Mithat Bereket with an award at the 3rd Annual AAM Awards Dinner.
Al Kaabi received the “Power of Film” award for her work as the CEO of Abu Dhabi-based twofour54, which provides production facilities, training and support services.
“I come from the UAE, a place of tolerance, having more than 200 nationalities among us. How to portray this is important in media and film: to inform, to educate, and also to empower, especially in places where we suffer the agony of misconception,” she said. “I thank everyone who is working to portray an objective, accurate image of the Arab world.”
Jonna and Tony Mendez attend the 3rd Annual AAM Awards Dinner.
Bob Anders, one of six Americans kept hidden by Canadian diplomats in Tehran after Iranian militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in November 1980, said Argo —the movie directed by and starring Ben Affleck — “was even more exciting than the real thing.”
“Every time I’ve seen it, I was on the edge of my seat, even though I knew how it was going to come out,” Anders said, drawing a laugh from the audience.
Also attending were Patricia Taylor, the widow of Ken Taylor, Canada’s ambassador to Tehran at the time, and former CIA operative Tony Mendez, who along with Taylor devised and executed an improbable way to get the Americans out of Iran.
Aaron Lobel, president and founder of America Abroad Media, welcomes guests to the 3rd Annual AAM Awards Dinner.
“We’re grateful to Tony for having successfully shepherded out our six house guests and put them in the warmth of family and friends,” Patricia Taylor told Mendez, who, like Bereket, now has Parkinson’s disease.
Aberash Bekele – on whose life Difret is based – thanked the media for calling attention to her story and that of innumerable other girls in Ethiopia.
“Media had a big role in the case… It helped to mobilize the people to talk about this horrible tradition of girls being kidnapped and taken as wives by much older men,” Aberash said in Amharic. Difret’s director, Zeresenay Mehari, acted as the now 32-year-old’s interpreter.
Pakistani actress Reema Khan attends the 3rd Annual AAM Awards Dinner.
“I’m one of the lucky ones. There are millions of girls who this has happened to,” she added. “Their voices are not heard. We have a lot of work to do.”
Also at the dinner were James Jeffrey, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Turkey, and Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, as well as four Washington-based foreign ambassadors: Azerbaijan’s Elin Sluleymanov, Bahrain’s Shaikh Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Khalifa, Canada’s Gary Doer and Yousef Al Otaiba of the United Arab Emirates. Former Bolivian President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and Afghanistan’s former ambassador to the United States, Said Tayeb Jawad, also attended.
Karin Zeitvogel is a freelance contributor to The Washington Diplomat.