Ferenj: A Graphic Memoir in VR

  • Ainslee Robson
  • United States, Ethiopia
  • 2020
  • 9 min
  • Immersive, Linear
  • Dutch Premiere
  • do not touch, IDFA DocLab Spotlight

In this autobiographical VR, carried along by nostalgic Ethiopian tezeta music, the user drifts through Ethiopian-American director Ainslee Robson’s personal memories of both Cleveland and Addis Ababa. The 3D images are made using photogrammetry and are composed of countless colored spheres, so that people and objects slowly become abstract as you get closer.

Floating through the pointillist reconstructions, which form, deform, and disappear, thus merging seamlessly one into another, we experience the fragmentation, elusiveness, and fluidity of both memory and Robson’s mixed-race identity.

Robson counters this in a voice-over addressed to Empress Taytu, namesake of her parents’ restaurant in Cleveland—one of the few places where she feels completely at home—and a proud symbol of Ethiopia. In that country, to her frustration, Robson is addressed as a ferenj, a foreigner. This is an experience she also wishes to share with visitors to this VR—they enter her world as a ferenj and grasp its layers to differing extents depending on their own backgrounds.


  • 9 min
  • Spoken languages: English, Amharic
  • Subtitles in: English
Ainslee Robson
Ainslee Robson, Liam Young
Key collaborator
Kidus Hailesilassie
Wilbur Kosart, Anwar Kedir, Nahom T. Haile, Senait Shiferaw Robson, Carl A. Robson, Sofonias Solomon, Kidus Hailesilassie
Ainslee Robson

IDFA history

Dutch Premiere
do not touch
IDFA DocLab Spotlight

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IDFA history

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