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  Cheryl Halpern: Her Royal Highness Filmmaker

Cheryl Halpern, a female filmmaker whose films have won many esteemed film festivals around the world, was inaugurated with a Royal Nobility Title of the Kingdom of Tallo, South Sulawesi.

Cheryl Halpern is a woman of full charisma. She dedicated her life to humanity. Among them are through her inspirational films (WishMakers, Two Zions: The Living Legacy of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, Natsanat, Fighting to be Free) and through her social activities in the United States. She received this honor in Bali, in November 2017.

Blanketed with humbleness and tears, Cheryl Halpern who was deeply moved by this honor promised to continue working for others and helping disadvantaged children in Indonesia--a country she will always welcome as a family.

This time, the Film Reporter has interviewed her for her winning film, Fighting to be Free, which have been chosen as the Best Film from the Directors Awards.

Cheryl Halpern, is a co-founder and partner of HQ Creative LLC, an Emmy Award winning production company and branding agency serving clients throughout the world.

Mrs. Halpern has a long record of public service in broadcasting, education and international affairs.

Mrs. Halpern was nominated to serve on the boards of America’s international and domestic broadcasting organizations by Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. She served on the Board for International Broadcasting as a director of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Mrs. Halpern also became a member of the newly formed U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors overseeing Voice of America, Radio and TV Marti, Worldnet, RFE/RL, Radio Free Asia, and Radio Free Iraq. She was also confirmed to serve as a director of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and was elected by the board to serve two terms as the chairman.

In addition to her service in public broadcasting, Cheryl Halpern served as a Public Delegate of the United States, with the rank of Ambassador, to the 63rd Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

In her capacity as a Presidentially appointed US delegate to the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe’s Conference on Anti-Semitism, Mrs. Halpern addressed the plenary on children’s programming and textbook development. During the Obama Administration she was confirmed as a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.

Mrs. Halpern has also chaired several NGO’s including the character education program of the Words Can Heal organization; a national campaign to curb gossip, fight verbal violence and promote the healing powers of ethical speech. As the current chairman of the Queen of Sheba Foundation she has partnered in the development of “Midako”, an illustrated children’s book publishing initiative to promote literacy in Ethiopia. Together with her “Midako” colleagues in Ethiopia, Mrs. Halpern is in the process of creating an animated children’s series for Ethiopian television. Expanding beyond Ethiopia, Mrs. Halpern is providing educational support for children from the Batwa tribe in northern Uganda.

As a documentarian, Mrs. Halpern has produced several commissioned as well as independently produced films. Most notably, the government of Ethiopia commissioned Mrs. Halpern and her HQ Creative LLC team to produce a memorial documentary to the late Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi. A special tribute to Prime Minister Zenawi was also produced for screening at the 50th Anniversary of the African Union.
Mrs. Halpern’s independently produced documentaries have provided compelling historical and cultural information to her audiences. Her films embody the spirit of achievement and provide positive visual images and messages for all; regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. Her documentaries have been screened around the world by film festivals and educational institutions. They have also been included in Museum exhibits and library collections.
In 2016, the World Tolerance Awards committee presented Mrs. Halpern with the Tolerance Woman of the Year Award. She also received the A.F.I. World Peace Initiative’s Cinema and Humanitarian Award. In 2017, Mrs. Halpern was awarded the NYC International Film Festival’s Humanitarian Award. She also received the Highest Honor of Peace Prize from the International Film Festival for Peace, Inspiration and Equality. Cheryl Halpern was presented in 2017 with the Royal Highness Nobility Title from the Kingdom of Tallo, on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia
She lives in New Jersey with her husband and executive producer, Fred.


Q: Could you please share with us how Fighting to be Free evolved?
I had been working together with AzebMesfin, the then First Lady of Ethiopia on an educational initiative. During a breakfast meeting, Azeb and several of her friends began reminiscing about their teenage years when they chose to join the fight for freedom. Hence the name, “Fighting to be Free.” I was unaware of what these women had endured during the17 years of the Derg Regime and I felt compelled to tell their stories.

Q: Did you have any unusual difficulties during filming?
There were no “unusual” difficulties during the filming process. There was however a 24 hour delay that we encountered getting our cameras and equipment cleared through Ethiopian customs.

Q: Will winning awards help promote the film? How so?
One never knows what actually attracts an individual to come and view a film. However, having award laurels on the promotional poster for a film encourages greater consideration for an individual to join the audience. In addition, being selected for screening at Film Festivals that have existed for a number of years also provides for a loyal audience. The Film Festival screenings and award laurels allows for a positive review to be developed and received by the potential viewer.

Q: How much money did it cost?
This documentary would qualify as a low budget project. The women were excited to be given a chance to tell their story. Their enthusiasm encouraged many of the professionals, particularly in Ethiopia,to volunteer their time and expertise in order to complete this documentary and share the story with audiences around the world.

Q: Where were the shooting and post-production locations?
The shooting was done on location in various sites in Ethiopia and in the United States.

Q: Any bites yet from distributors?
There has been some interest but nothing as yet has come to fruition.

Q: What has been the feedback so far for the documentary?
The audience feedback has been very positive. During the Q&A sessions following the screenings the audiences have wanted to learn more about these women and their fight for freedom and equality.

Q: What was the best part of the project?
The best part of the project was having the opportunity to engage and learn from these heroic women. These female freedom fighters; literate and illiterate, rural and urban, created a sisterhood that defied cultural norms in a struggle for freedom during the latter part of the 20th century. I am privileged to be called their friend.

Q: Are you pleased with the overall outcome?
“Fighting to be Free” has received accolades from diverse audiences around the world. It has exceeded my expectations.

Q: What are your hopes and dreams for the film?
I hope that the women who are presenting themselves in “Fighting to be Free” will serve as role models for other women who are also seeking to achieve peace and equality.

Q: How long did it take to complete the film?
The documentary took approximately two years to complete.

Q: How do you feel to have won many awards, including the Best Film from the Directors Awards?
It is personally gratifying to be so acknowledged. It affirms for me that I have fulfilled my obligation to the women who trusted me to tell their personal stories responsibly.

Q: Why is this subject important to you? What moved you to make such a brave and inspiring documentary?
My parents taught me through their actions that we all have a responsibility to do what we can to make a difference; regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or religion. I have been guided by these values and the sense that every day is an opportunity to listen, learn, make a difference and celebrate life. During times of conflict women and children are often the first victims. It is important to recognize that women, even teenagers, can stand up against oppression and succeed. As such, I felt a compelling need to share the stories of these remarkable and heroic women through this documentary.

Q: Does this film send the message you intended?
I believe that it is important to support and applaud women who have committed themselves to improving the quality of life both locally within their communities and nationally within their countries. This documentary effectively tells the story of young women who risked their lives to achieve freedom and succeeded to then have gender equality included as an article in Ethiopia’s Constitution.

Q: Do most people just turn a blind eye when they hear of these issues?
No. Quite the opposite.
As I listened to what was shared with me at that breakfast meeting with the First Lady and her friends I was embarrassed by my ignorance regarding the brutality of the Derg and I was in awe of the heroism that these women showed as they fought to bring closure to the “Evil Days of the Derg.” My reactions have been echoed by individuals who have attended the screenings. There is an initial shock felt by the audience when exposed to the murderous reality of the Red Terror. Then there is applause for these young women who left their families and took up arms against superior forces to bring freedom, peace and democracy to their country.

Q: Why the title 'Fighting to be Free'?
The women in this documentary were “Fighting to be Free” for women in Ethiopia then and now. They began as heroic female freedom fighters who created a unique sisterhood of rural and urban, literate and illiterate young women. They then challenged cultural norms and emerged as leaders within the armed struggle for freedom. Finally they were able to champion the inclusion of gender equality in the Ethiopian Constitution and thereby provide a continuing legacy to insure freedom for future generations of Ethiopian women. They were “Fighting to be Free” and they won.

Q: How many awards the documentary has won?
“Fighting to be Free” was released in March 2017. It has been screened and has won a number of awards in film festivals in Asia, Europe and the United States. It qualified for OSCAR consideration as a short documentary. I expect that it will continue to be selected for future screenings.

Q: Are you working on any new projects?
I am currently working on a new project that tells the stories of individuals who chose to put their lives at risk, as civilians, in an effort to stand up against evil. It is a different focus with regard to time and location but can be considered as complementary to “Fighting to be Free.”

Q: Can you share with us your new project? When will it start?
Research and filming for this new project have already begun.

Related links:

  • Yunus Shahul: The Future Assassin

  • Joon Bai: Labor of Love

  • Iara Lee: The Suffering Grasses

  • Ilchi Lee: The Spiritualist


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