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Entries in Iran (2)

Wednesday
Sep062017

WINDOW HORSES: THE ANN MARIE FLEMING INTERVIEW

Canadian multi-media artist Ann Marie Fleming has been on a three-decade journey with her creation, the indefatigable Stickgirl. The latest incarnation of the character is Rosie Ming, a mixed-race 20-something poetess who faces a new life experience when her fledgling work gains her entry into a poetry competition in Shiraz, Iran. Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming is Fleming’s debut feature, a beautifully humanistic journey of discovery bought to life by vibrant animation styles and the voices of Ellen Page, Shohreh Aghdashloo and, as Rosie, Sandra Oh, who calls the film, “Pro-girl, pro-tolerance, pro-diversity and pro-art.”

The softly-spoken Fleming (pictured, above) chatted to SCREEN-SPACE about poetry, Persia and the little stick girl that allows her a booming, creative voice…

SCREEN-SPACE: Where is your relationship at with Stickgirl? After decades together, how would you describe the life you and your creation share?

FLEMING: She’s very much who she has always been. She’s my avatar, sort of a braver, more together version of myself. She is somebody who is able to step into situations and not judge them. Having worked with her for thirty years, this is the first time she has this must exposure and the first time she has had someone els’e voice. A lot of people now associate her with Sandra’s voice, and not my own. So this is a time where she needs to go on a walkabout, reassess who she is, re-evaluate her goals.

SCREEN-SPACE: What does a ‘stick figure’ design allow you to explore about Rosie Ming?

FLEMING: Because she is just a stick character, you can put anything on her, allowing her to develop into anything you want her to be or that she wants to be. She’s an actor in this film; she’s not really Persian, her mother didn’t really die. Yet her experiences are more alive to so many people because so many people can understand and wonder about her. She is such an excellent way to enter different worlds.

SCREEN-SPACE: Was it easy to see this film to fruition? Was a humanistic portrait of Iran and its people as tough a sell as it sounds in today’s climate?

FLEMING: Many years ago, I did get development money for the film, working with my artistic collaborator Kevin Langdale, who did a great deal of the design for the film. Then, in 2009, the Iranian election happened and there was all that violence, leading to Canada cutting off ties with Iran. Suddenly, financiers and sales people were saying, “Wow, great project, but could you make it in China?” (laughs) But it was important to me to have Iran as the setting for her story, not just for political reasons but because this is a film about poetry. It is about being connected over millennia and about how deep and relevant this poetic tradition is. There aren’t too many countries where poetry is such a part of everyday life. (Pictured, above; Fleming, far-right, with voice actors Shohreh Aghdashloo and Sandra Oh).

SCREEN-SPACE: What are the benefits of animation as a platform for your narrative and the film’s message?

FLEMING: Animation is perfect for showing the imagination. So much a part of what this film is the representation of so many different points of view. Having so many different artists do the different poetry sections, coming with there own backgrounds, from different cultures, with their own skill sets, was so important. And setting the film in Iran was only possible through animation.

SCREEN-SPACE: In a world so divided by nationalism, and an administration in The White House setting such a divisive tone, are international audiences likely to be open to Rosie’s journey?

FLEMING: This story started 20 years ago, and has survived through many administrations (laughs). That’s part of the story, evolving through change. I don’t dwell on it too much in the film, but if you look at the lives of each of the poets, they each survived many different regimes or leaders or conflicts. That seems to be the story of so many artists; you are in or you are out, depending on what you say and who is willing to hear it. There have been so many wars and strifes yet through it all, poetry shows us we are still the same people, still looking at the same moon, still caring about the same things. Different software, same hardware, right?

SCREEN-SPACE: Window Horses is ultimately a film that transcends its setting, that goes beyond the borders of Iran…

FLEMING: For at least the last thirty years, most of what we hear in western society about Iranian culture is not positive. This is not a political film, but I did want to convey that point in every society where we come together as people. The poetry festival in the film is really just my experience at film festivals, where you get to listen to what artists from all over the world have to say, which is crucial if you want to converse with them. It is an environment where you can have respectful discussion, actually talk about ideas and be open to them. It is pretty special.

Wednesday
Jul152015

SOUTHLAND TALES: THE NIMA JAVIDI INTERVIEW

Two upwardly mobile Iranian students are hours away from departing their Tehran apartment for a new life in the titular Australian city when, asked to briefly care for a sleeping infant, their destinies take a harrowing turn. Debutant writer/director Nima Javidi’s complex, harrowing morality tale, one of the most anticipated films at the 2015 Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), plays out as both a tragic drama and riveting psychological thriller in its dissection of two lives altered in an instant. Despite a fine grasp of English, Javidi spoke to SCREEN-SPACE via a translator ("I want to concentrate on the answers, I don’t want to worry about my translation.”), only hours before being awarded the Best Screenplay honour at the 2014 Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) last November…

“It took me about 11 months to write the script,” says the 35 year-old filmmaker (pictured, above), eager to chat despite feeling the effects of jetlag, having only arrived in Brisbane for the APSA ceremony the morning of the interview.  “But before I even sat down to write, I spent a great deal of time on the structure of the story and how to create my characters. There any many layers to this film, both narratively and in the lead characters.” He cites a personal experience as the inspiration for the premise; six years ago, while staying at a mountain retreat with friends, he was left alone with a newborn and found himself gripped with anxiety while the child slept motionless.

As Amir and Sara, the couple whose lives are irrevocably altered by both fateful circumstance and desperate rationalization, Javidi sought two of Iranian’s most talented and bankable stars, Peyman Moaadi (About Elly, 2009; A Separation, 2011; Camp X-Ray, 2014) and Negar Javaherian (Tala va mes, 2011; Howze Naghashi, 2013; Tales, 2014). Each bought nuance and detail to the protagonist roles, working with the first-time feature director to flesh out the dark but very human dramatics of the story. “The characters undergo experiences that are universal – fear, doubt and the responsibility of being an adult,” notes Javidi.

Leading man Moaadi’s experience working with Iranian filmmaking great Asghar Farhadi on the international hit A Separation was particularly useful; critics have noted the similarities between Farhadi’s everyman protagonists and Javidi’s single-setting character study. Says Javidi of his actor, “He liked the script from the early stages and collaborated with me from very early on. (He was) especially aware of how best he could help a first time filmmaker. He is particularly strong when you need a very realistic presence in your film; he brings a grounded, very human quality to his characters.”

The presence of Moaadi and Javaherian was also a commercial coup, their profiles helping the film find a domestic and international prominence that a first-time director may not usually find forthcoming. “When you have a star name, the doors do swing a little more easily with regard to financing. But I never considered casting (them) as a means to get the film financed,” reassures the filmmaker. “I needed (actors) who could serve the characters and tell the story I wanted to tell.” On the back of universal acclaim (Variety praised the “gripping premise, craftily orchestrated”), Javidi has travelled with his film to Venice, where it opened the prestigious International Critics Week strand, as well as festival slots in Stockholm, Tokyo, Cairo, Lisbon and Zurich ahead of it’s MIFF showing. (Pictured, right; the director with his 2014 Best Screenplay APSA)

One key aspect in creating the intense drama is the rhythmic soundscape conjured by Javidi and his masterful sound designers, Vahid Maghadasi and Iraj Shahzadi. As the clock ticks towards the character’s departure time, ambient sounds begin to clip the actor’s dialogue and seep into the real world tension with shattering effect. “Most of those sounds – the mobile phone noise, the sound buzzer, the sirens – were written into the script, specifically complementing my intentions with the scenes,” says the director. “There was no music soundtrack in the film so it was crucial to use the detailed sound effects to convey the story in the best possible way.”

Finally, driven by the fiercely parochial Sydney-based mindset of the Screen-Space office, we had to ask Nima Javidi why he settled on the admittedly cosmopolitan but decidedly chilly climes of Melbourne as the dream destination for his young Iranians. The director laughed, finally explaining, “Two reasons. First, some surveys came out over the last ten years that nominated Melbourne as one of the best cities in the world, a title that I think it maybe earned a couple of years ago.* And then, I just like the way you guys pronounce it! The way you drop the ‘r’ and make it ‘Melbun’. That’s funny to me. Why waste all that ink!”

*"Melbourne named world's most livable city..." - ABC News, August 2014

Ticketing and venue information for all 2015 Melbourne International Film Festival sessions can be found at the official website here.

Read more about Melbourne in 'The SCREEN-SPACE Ten: Our Favourite Films of 2014'.