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Saeed Jafarian
Toronto International Film Festival 2018
NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE | Iran, 2018, 15 min

Tensions in Saeed Jafarian's spellbinding drama inexorably rise as a young woman goes into the nighttime streets of Tehran to search for her inexplicably missing lover. There she finds a disturbing reminder of the limits of her freedom.


This is going to be your North American Premiere, are there any nerves ahead of the screening?

Well, every screening is a little bit stressful. Especially if this screening will be for the first time and where you do not have any information about the taste of audiences. As a filmmaker you have seen your movie over and over again and seeing your movie definitely has no special excitement for you. You go to the cinema to see the reaction of audiences. Even though a good movie can take more or less the same reaction from its audience around the world, however, there are some differences. These differences make each screening an exciting and more or less stressful experience. 


Well, I don’t know the taste of North American audiences and hope Umbra will work here!

What does it mean to be screening Umbra at TIFF?

TIFF is one of the greatest festivals all around the world. Definitely, the presence at this festival is a wish of many filmmakers. But for me, this presence has a special meaning. After the Cannes Festival, this is the second major festival in which Umbra is present, and this is very exciting for me. It shows me that the Umbra works very well, and it's nothing more exciting for a filmmaker than to realize that his film is impressive.

Tell me a little bit about Umbra, how did the film come about?

Before anything, I saw an image. A young couple is returning from a party at midnight. The girl opens the home’s door and goes to the kitchen quickly to drink water. A little bit later, he calls the boy. But there is no answer from the boy. He's gone!

This image has been with me for a long time. Until I decided to write a script on this basis. I knew that this script was completely about the girl, not about the relationship: a completely feminine script. So I went to Fatemeh Abdoli to write the script with her help. Fatemeh is an excellent novelist who deals with women's issues and, in general, femininity as one of her main concerns. These things made me very proud. Writing of the first version of the script took about 3 months. But we were not satisfied. When I decided to make the movie, a week before filming, I decided to change the script. So, in a crazy decision, and in just two days, we rewrote the entire screenplay. 


The second script was completely different from the first version. For us, the second version was deeper and its metaphorical and symbolic approach brings us to the excitement. Until the moment I started filming I was very doubtful about using the second version because everyone who read the first version did not like the second version. I finally made my decision and, unlike many others, I made the second version. Now that I think of the past I see the decision was the correct one. The first version was not my movie, but the second version is completely mine.

What was the most challenging part of making this film been?

In two words; night and budget. We did not have much money to make this movie; just only about $4,000. It made us very hard because the whole movie was filmed on the street and at night. Other than that, I wanted the entire film filmed on a steady cam that moves along with the girl. With this budget and these decisions, it seemed like no film could be made. But we finally found our way. We decided to make the movie with a small camera and a very small steady cam. A super risky decision. We used a Sony Alpha 7 camera and a few bottom lights. After the filming, I saw that the result of our works was very bad in color. So, we spent a whole month trying to correct the color of the film and painted almost the entire film! Now, due to budget, I am satisfied with the result.

How much has your approach to filmmaking changed since your debut film?

Maybe not so much! From my first film, I wanted to create an atmosphere that, while real and natural, seem a little bit magical. In fact, I always liked to make films that have some magical elements in them. To achieve this, I needed to experience this magic, which is why I do not like my early films. I have made 7 films so far but only three of the theme has been what I wanted. My films try to create a mood more than they tell the story. Also, I love suspense. Not the suspense in the form of the classic movies like Hitchcock, the suspension I like for my films is a suspension due to ignorance; you know that there is something annoying, but you can not exactly say what that thing is. Perhaps the most complete movie I've created with this mood is the Umbra.

"I can not think of anything other than that, I spend most of my time talking about cinema."

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?

Of course! This passion has been with me since childhood and has continued so far. I was studying Electronics in university, but I was so passionate about cinema that I left my education halfway, and went to filmmaking. Although this decision was initially accompanied by a strong opposition from my parents, this passion was so intense in me that nobody and nothing could stop me. From the very first day I left the university, I have never regretted this decision. Filmmaking is vital to me. I can not think of anything other than that, I spend most of my time talking about cinema. I even talked to Fatemeh, my wife (and also one of the Umbra’s screenwriter), about art and cinema. Filmmaking is as vital to me as much as breathing is.

How would you describe Umbra in three words?

Fear along the freeness.

Do you have any advice or tips for any fellow filmmaker?

Nothing should stop you. Neither money nor the lack of facilities nor even the lack of experience can’t stop you. Be crazy, stumble and make movies. Even with your mobile.

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?

I really do not know what is the effect of Umbra on the audience, exactly. But I like they see the film out of borders and times and think about absolute freedom.

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