Iranian film culture has a presence in the UK due not least to the annual Iranian Film Festival which has taken place at the Institut Francais’ Lumiere Cinema in London, a venue where international films have been programmed for many years now. Indeed, there has been a major cultural link between France and Iran with many Iranian students choosing to study in France. The Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations Fereydoun Hoveyda played a major role in the French cultural scene and especially in the field of cinema. He was the protégé of François Truffaut whom he befriended and helped create the now legendary film magazine ‘Les Cahiers du Cinéma’ in 1951 that spearheaded the French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave). Another Iranian figure in the French New Wave was Shusha Guppy a singer, writer and filmmaker who was Jacques Prévert’s girlfriend.
Although films like Kaiser and The Cow, directed by Masoud Kimiay and Darius Mehrjui respectively in 1969, put the Iranian Cinema New Wave on the map in the late 1960s, it wasn’t until the 1990s where the country really hit the radar on the world cinema stage with the films of Abbas Kiarostami, Majid Majidi, and Asghar Farhadi. With over 300 international awards since then, Iranian films continue to be celebrated worldwide. At the Berlin International Film Festival in recent years, Iranian films A Separation (Asghar Farhadi ) and Taxi (Jafar Panahi ) won the main prize, The Golden Bear.
Since the 1979 Revolution, Iranian women have had more opportunities in some areas of society. In recent decades, Iranian women have had a conspicuous and significant presence in Iran’s scientific movement, art movement, literary new wave and contemporary Iranian cinema. May Lady (1998) by Rakhshan Bani-Etemad was one such significant film and in 2001, feminist filmmaker Tahmineh Milani made The Hidden Half, which was viewed as presenting the anti-revolutionary protestors in a positive light. Milani was jailed but many Iranian and international artists and filmmakers fought for her eventual release.
Born in the capital, Tehran, emerging Iranian actress, producer and director Azar Faramarzi graduated in Film and TV direction from Symbiosis International University in India (in 2012) and has also been acting in television and films for nine years. Since 2010 Azar has completed four short films; two documentaries and two fictional films. She has also worked as assistant director and planner for various TV projects. With an already varied and combined experience in all production aspects in both mediums, the stage is set for her emergence into feature length film production. After meeting at the 14th Dhaka International Film Festival in January this year where her documentary The Snowy Way played in the Short Film section, and with another jury appearance at the San Francisco World Film Festival this coming July, it seemed the perfect time to talk about her career so far.
1. What made you want to be a filmmaker?
From childhood I liked cinema, and this continued when I grew up. I always took part in the school teacher gatherings on film and acting and when I finished high school I joined the acting institute and initially pursued that rather than film directing.
2. What filmmakers inspired you the most?
Francis Ford Coppola inspired me, particularly his Godfather films.
3. How easy is it to be recognized in Iran and as a female filmmaker?
Actually it’s not easy to be a good filmmaker, not only in Iran but everywhere I think. Working in cinema is so difficult, especially for women. In my country it is definitely more difficult because of some rules here. But despite all the difficulties I love it, and I love to make a new one every year.
4. Tell me the chronological order of your four films so far (two short documentaries and two short features) and also tell me a little about each one.
My first documentary, Holly (Sajena, 2010) I shot in India, in seven cities. I can proudly say it’s the first documentary film about India made by an Iranian. It is about holy historical places and Indian functions and festivals. My first fictional short film Loneliness (2011) was about a woman who is not happy with her married life. She has to work for their expenses because her husband is drug addicted. One day she faced…
My second fictional short was called Orange Dressed Man (2012) and is about the reality of life for a sweeper man who demanded his monthly pay, but he will face…
My second documentary The Snowy Way (2015) focuses on an athletic Iranian girl who is a competitive skier representing her country but she has broken her legs in one of the competitions in Austria and the film depicts this bad luck and frustration after all the dedication and discipline she has given.
5. You have already made short fiction and documentaries. Tell me the differences that you have found in them both. For example, what elements are difficult and what do you enjoy or find interesting in both mediums.
Yes I have made both documentaries and short films, I love them both. I can’t say which one is more difficult because each one has its own difficulties which professional directors have to overcome. All genres of my films are social; I like to leave messages to the audience through my films, so in that aspect all my films are the same. Therefore I am happy, even my new short films are based on true stories.
6. You have also been involved in TV work. Tell me a little about this and is it something you will continue to do alongside your film work?
Yes I’ve worked in TV projects as well. I did it for the experience. I learned many things, such as acting, how to behave as an actress, how to manage the team as assistant, director and so on.
7. You are also an actress in your fiction films. Is it hard to combine both directing and acting or do you like to have complete control over the whole creative process in this way?
Yes it’s difficult to act and be a director as well, but I can do it…
8. You have taken your films to film festival competitions. What have been the best festivals and tell me a little about the experiences.
Yes, all of my films have been in several festivals and they received both screenings and appreciation. I can’t say which one was the best because everyone was nice, with great people, and they were very well organized. I’ve been jury member at the Mumbai Festival (Third Eye) in India, in 2010 and 2014 and I have also just been selected for the jury at The World Film Festival in San Francisco which takes place at the end of July this year.
9. You have just finished editing your new film. What is it about?
It’s about an old man who has Alzheimer’s, also based on a true story. It is what I call a social genre. I have chosen a title but I would rather not say what it is just yet.
10. You are also planning another short production soon. What will this film be about?
I can’t say now, but it will be a great one with a professional crew and therefore good production values.
11. When do you plan to make a feature film and what will the funding process be?
All my aims so far have been to reach this level and I’ll do it soon. I have finished the script for my first feature and will start working on the production as soon as possible. Again, I know how it will be funded but don’t want to talk about it just yet.