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Sundance Film Festival 2022
North American Premiere

Mahboobeh Kalaee 

Home and family, relationships, desires, wishes and everything are summarised in a kitchen. The stuttering boy is alone there, playing with his imagination. 

Hi Mahboobeh thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?


Hello, thank you for this opportunity to talk. I have to say about this new state of the world, I have always been alone. A kind of distance that I consciously chose and observe the world from this perspective like an active spectator. Something like de-familiarisation through distancing, as Bertolt Brecht put it. The Fourth Wall was the product of this strange period. But at the same time, I have to say that I love travelling and I was sad that I could not see the world directly.


Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration or opportunities?


Yes of course! However, I often resort to creation in all situations. This is a way to reduce the suffering that I suffer. Therefore, in difficult conditions, this shelter will be deeper. During this time I was thinking about the relationship between the components of the house, human behaviour and architectural structure. I basically realised how much I depend on geography to think and live. This was a surprising discovery. I define myself by geography, specifically the characteristics of place and time. It does not matter how much the ideas are abstract and far from the physical structure of this world. I translate it into a location-based reality in a process of creation. The greater the contrast, the more enjoyable this conversion is for me.

The Fourth Wall has already had a great festival run winning Best Film International Competition at the Fantoche - International Animation Film Festival, did you imagine your graduate film would get such a great festival reception?


First of all, the successful presentation of the film in my very favourite festivals and with the professionals in the history of animation that I have always wanted to interact with, made me focus more resolutely on my gaze. In fact, these successful appearances were a great encouragement to me to continue my work. Because sometimes in my country there is a view that thinking differently is not as important as it should be. I knew I was doing a different project, but I did not know that the world wanted to deal with this film in a wonderful way, at least much different from the conservative view in my country. I must say that during the production period I was completely focused on the pleasure I got from the creation process. So I freed myself from any imagination and wanted to be present in my film experience with all my might. Basically, I believe that the amount of faith and courage that exists in the production process of the film will make the film more effective, because in the first stage, the most important person, who is the director, believes in it.


Congratulations on having your North American Premiere of The Fourth Wall at Sundance 2022, how does it feel to be part of such an amazing line-up of films?


Thanks a lot! I have to say thank you to Sundance for their amazing attention to The Fourth Wall. Because I handled the distribution by myself, the correspondence with Sundance was a really exciting experience from the get-go! Very important and excellent films are made by top filmmakers around the world every year, but the fact that Sundance selected my first professional experience as one of the selected films in the animation category has given me such encouragement that it has healed the hardships and bitterness of this time.


Sundance works very differently and seeks difference as well. Also, the wonderful programs, discipline and lovely atmosphere that it seeks to create are truly admirable. I wish there were conditions and I could participate in it in person.


"I also have a background in illustration, graphics and design. I realised that the only medium that values all these capacities and in which I will be able to show the relationship between literature and image in cinema."

Can you tell me a little bit about how The Fourth Wall came about, what inspired your screenplay?


I focused on the concept of moving, leaving family, and the dreams that make it. I looked closely at the relationships of family members. At that time my younger brother had left us for a short time. The house I live in was built by my father with his own hands. And I was thinking about the connection of family members with the home space and the architecture of its components. At that time, I had reached the concept of a Flying Wall. A wall that does not accept stillness and being together. Of course, I have to say that what I did in the film is completely different from what I have experienced in family relationships. In fact, I only started my career with a personal experience, but the concepts represented and the way I process it are different from exactly what my personal experience has been. I can even say that my personal experience is much more rich and intense than the film and that the film is not as pure as the wonderful behavioural patterns of the people in my family. 


However, the capacity of the short film to show a very detailed and very deep form of the relationship does not seem appropriate, so it is better to gain experience in making a feature film soon, I am very excited about this. Apart from this, my hidden interest in deconstructing and leaving structures and finally finding a suitable structure to show this deconstruction led me to choose such a narrative space.


What were some of the biggest challenges you face bringing this animation to life?


It was like walking on water. Very exciting and delightful and at the same time very risky and dangerous. Because I did the whole process on my own, and the movie space was exactly the kitchen of my dad's house, I needed to constantly negotiate with my family members about using a public space, the kitchen. In other words, the film process was an interactive film! In addition to this, I didn’t have enough tools, such as lighting tools, proper lenses and etc., so it made me constantly look for alternative solutions to make images, and this creative process and solving small and large equations gave me a lot of energy.


But my big challenge was to create a highly hybrid image. I wanted to represent a form of the world that exists perfectly, and that is on the fine line between the real world and the world of meaning. Because I think animation is not a medium for representing second-hand worlds at least for me, it is exactly a medium for showing my way of thinking, and the way of thinking is the same way I observe the world and this view is real as much as I am real. Animation for me is a dream the come to reality. And I was trying to promote such thinking through my film.

When working on a film like The Fourth Wall how close do you like to stick to your screenplay, do you allow yourself much flexibility? 


Although I am interested in deconstruction, I live in structures and shape my work with this thinking. The overall structure of the film is a cause-and-effect relationship that I think must work. In other words, I build a general building, but with floors that are very modular and I can change its design while working and add to its semantic space and actually add to its semantic depth. Although I establish the structure, I am flexible enough to for example even incorporate my mood swings from production experience without it seeming it takes away from the overall film.


Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?


I think the purpose of filmmaking is to create a smart space, rather than just telling a usual story. The film, as an intelligent being, will define its story in each case in a special way and based on the lived experience of each one. This definition covers a wide range of filmmaking styles, and of course, as much as the intelligence of the film, it needs a smart and active audience too.


And for me, all the fun of watching a movie is solving an equation. The equation that the filmmaker has devised, and I complete it using data from my own lived experience and what the film shows. So as a filmmaker, I like to do the same. Therefore I think filmmakers should push the boundary of their life experiences.


What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you've taken from making Fourth Wall?


I came to know myself during the making of the film. I understood the mechanism of my thinking and observation. In addition, I realised that the hybrid world is alive and exists, and only seeing eyes are needed to cite it. I realised that I had found access to the immortal part of the world, which in my opinion is the truth of the world. And that is the esoteric meaning of things and their semantic relations with each other.

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?


Yes, it was about six years ago that I realised how much I was interested in this medium. Because I love writing and I am very interested in literature and of course I write. I also have a background in illustration, graphics and design. I realised that the only medium that values all these capacities and in which I will be able to show the relationship between literature and image in cinema. And in the meantime, the animation is a great concoction of the way all arts are treated. An infinite capacity for creating beauty.


Is there any advice you would offer someone wanting to get into animation?


First of all, congratulations to all those who are interested in animation! And then I invite them to observe the world. Animation in the sense of moving things is the soul of the world. Observing the ever-changing things gives them the power to realise the value of the animation.

And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from The Fourth Wall?


The first and foremost thing I want is for them to understand the importance of the hybrid world and the semantic space, and to experience this way of thinking in their lives. Paying attention to the general form and structure of the film and the relationship between form and meaning can also be attractive to the audience. More than anything, The Fourth Wall is about another dimension of observation.

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