Mina and Saeed live a stressful life in the Iranian capital, Tehran. Being a woman in Iran is not easy so Saeed invents a device that places the responsibility for the hijab where it belongs – with the men whose gaze women need protection from.
Hi Kaveh thank you for talking to TNC, how are you handling the lockdown?
Fine, thanks. You? Not too many changes to my schedule except travel to Aspen Shortsfest and Écu. Which has been cancelled. Both festivals have moved online though, so happy to be part of that! We're writing a feature version of The Manchador. So that is happening regardless of the situation. The news makes me anxious, so I try to avoid it until sometime in the afternoon.
As a filmmaker is this experience providing you with some creative motivations?
A creative mind is a relaxed mind. I have been through trouble before, but find that experiencing trouble itself is not stimulating to creativity until after it has passed. So my answer is no. This crisis is not providing motivations of that sort. It is however providing some calm that is useful. The world feels removed from where I am. And working is great to stave off anxiety.
Your film The Manchador has been selected for the 2020 ÉCU Film Festival in Paris, what has it meant to you to be part of this unique film festival for independent filmmakers?
Very happy to premiere the film in Paris at ECU! The Manchador has been sold to France3 TV, also. You have fierce debates about islamic headdress in France, so curious to see how the film plays and hope that your audience is mixed and open-minded!
The Manchador was the Audience Award winner at the 2019 Norwegian Short Film Festival, what has it meant to you to get this type of recognition for your film?
Finding an audience for the film is key. So that made our festival run pick up and more festivals have screened the film.
You shot The Manchador in Berlin & Iran, what was the experience like filming in these two very different locations?
Meeting all the German-Iranians in Berlin was a great experience. I moved to Norway at a young age, so meeting all this Iranian diaspora was an eye-opener. We have so many things in common! The only problem was that the World Cup was happening, so our first AD had to drag Reza, Narges, Arash and Jasmin from Minji Gols make-up room every time Iran was playing. Never mind the German team. Nobody bothered with them. LOL.
Can you tell me a little bit about The Manchador, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
The idea caem from a running joke my partner Sara and I started while visiting family in Iran. We were talking about the male gaze and how women are forced to cover, because men can't control themselves. But if men cover their eyes women would be free to decided is they are to wear a hijab or not. Right? My cousin Parham is a stand-up comedian and we started driving around Tehran making these instagram posts of me with the Manchador. They got a bunch of likes and then I began writing the story of Saeed and Mina.
You also working with two very distinguished leads Narges Rashidi and Arash Marandi, how dod they get involved in the project?
My producer Verona Meier got the script into the hands Sina Ataeian Dena (Director of Paradise (Locarno, 2015) who then passed it on to them. I couldn't believe my luck! Under the Shadow and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night are two of my favourite Iranian films of recent years. They read the script and got in touch. I had lunch w/ Arash in Hamburg and a bunch of calls with Narges. Arash spent time on set and also shot all our pictures from the set and the shoot was a real communal experience.
What was the experience for you making The Manchador?
Connecting with Iranian diaspora in Berlin and fining people to develop new stories with has been the most important take- away. Those collaborations and how we can build on our shared experience of coming from the east, but living in the west.
How important is the collaboration when working on a project like this?
It's the be all and all. I was very fortunate that Verona Meier, who had worked at Razor Film in Berlin brought the project there. Also I should mention DOP Adam Wallensten who was a big contributor. It was great for us to speak Swedish/ English, so we had our own language apart from the Germans and Iranians. That allowed us to have secret cues. Also: He draws storyboards! So we did a lot of drawing for the prep. Clara Gerst production leader was solid as a rock, our costume designer Sepideh Ahadi brought clothes back from Iran, Miren Oller the production designer poured her heart in collaboration with Ehsan Morshed Sefat. It was such a good gang of people!
What was the most challenging aspect of bringing this The Manchador to life?
Re-creating Tehran in Berlin. Fortunately Ehsan had tea with a very sweet man with an old house that he let us shoot in. Ehsan has a sliver tongue. Also shooting in the mosque in Neukolln was a challenge. One day this huge protest broke out in the mosque. They were protesting that we turned their sunni mosque into an Iranian shia mosque. We filmed the debacle on our cellphones and put the footage in the film, for when the Manchador takes off and creates trouble! Anyway: the imam at the mosque stood his ground and we continued filming. He is the real hero of that scene. He is dealing with this anger and fundamentalism in his mosque all the time.
"I'm always looking to learn from other people."
Looking back do you think there is anything you would have done differently?
I always look forward! The film is done. On to the next one!
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
It all came with skateboarding. That's when it started. Growing up my mom was a teacher and really strict. I was never allowed to watch anything growing up. I would always call home and ask: Can I see DELTA FORCE? And my mom would make me read what was on the back of the cover and then always say NO. My parents divorced and then skateboarding became legal in Norway in 1989. Before that it was illegal. So my dad got us skateboards, my mom protested. Anyway: He also bought a videocamera, and from then on I started filming stuff.
How much has your style and approach to your films changed since your debut film?
My debut, 1994, was for me the best process I have ever had. I want to go back to writing and shooting that way. Spending time with the actors and developing the story from them. I'm always looking to learn from other people. Then put their experience in the film. But each film is different. And you also change as a human being and as a filmmaker.
What has been the best piece of advice you have been given when you started out?
Just the DIY spirit of doing it yourself. I miss that these days. Now I have been writing and send applications and pitch a lot. It's a more cumbersome process. But i'm planning to shoot two short shorts this year. To keep the pace up and do small and quick films.
Do you have any tips or advice to offer filmmakers about to make their first film?
Just do it. There is no other way to learn than to practice. And read Paul Cronins book on Kiarostami: Lessons With Kiarostami. It is full of wisdom and insight about making films.
What are you currently working on?
I addition to the two short shorts I mentioned we are developing The Manchador into a weird and wild feature film!
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from The Manchador?
I hope they have a laugh and think about the absurd reality that women in Iran live under. And that these rules are created by men. Not God.