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Entries in Sydney Film Festival (8)

Friday
Jun162017

HOLY AIR: THE SHADY SROUR NTERVIEW

Set in Nazareth, Holy Air is the story of a Palestinian named Adam, striving against the socio-political barriers he faces everyday, to achieve his full potential and a meaningful happiness. His entrepreneurial vision inspires him to bottle and sell ‘holy air’, small jars of the very atmosphere found at the most spiritual of places, Mount Precipice. Writer/director Shady Srour, who also stars as the forlorn but determined protagonist, has crafted both a wonderfully funny satire that tackles faith, oppression and gender roles, and a deeply etched portrait of a man at an existential crossroad. Ahead of the long haul flight that will bring him to the Australian premiere of Holy Air at the Sydney Film Festival, Shady spoke to SCREEN-SPACE from his home in Israel… (SPOILER ALERT)

                                                                                                                  Photo credit: Sofyan Zhalka

SCREEN-SPACE: The very notion of 'holy air' is so wonderfully absurd yet entirely believable in this age of fanatic beliefs and blind faith. When did the concept of 'bottled holy spirit, weighing one gram' first come to you?

SROUR: When I started to write the script, I wanted to create a trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit - so I modeled it along three lines. The ‘Father’ is the story line with the father; the ‘Son’ is the story with the wife and fetus, which is also connected to the annunciation; and, the ‘Holy Spirit’, which is the selling of spirituality as a commodity, like the toilet paper scene. And, of course, in writing and developing the script over eleven years, all the other ideas started to be built within this frame.

SCREEN-SPACE: Your hero, Adam, is so disconnected from all that surrounds him. The traffic jam opening suggests his life is in motion, but not really moving at all. There is universality about how lost he truly is; that moment many men feel as youth fades and adult responsibility beckons...

SROUR: Nazareth is one of the most densely populated Arabian cities in Israel, with no space to expand. It’s part of an occupation plan to suffocate the Arabs inside their villages, places that look like refugees camps. So the traffic is part of our reality. The traffic jam is a motif, a symbol to say that our life here is stuck, its not moving anywhere, not politically or socially or religiously. It’s going to hell. And when Adam, who is smart and ambitious, can't fulfill his dreams and his goals because of unfair situations - because he is Arab, Palestinian - he is like everybody else, very tired and exhausted. His disconnection from his surroundings is like a self-defense mechanism, so he won't go crazy. That’s part of the character's development; starting from that disconnection from reality, he gets the annunciation that he is having a baby, so his fatherhood seeds begin to grow. He has to be rational in this crazy land, face a more rational reality. This is the tragedy; he has nothing to do but accept the reality of fatherhood. (Pictured, above; Srour, second from left, as Adam in Holy Air)

SCREEN-SPACE: Your script finds shading in the relationship between the various ethnicities and religions of Nazareth. Was making all these characters as 'human' as possible part of your plan?

SROUR: To be honest, I think I have so much anger here regarding Israel\Palestine. Every side – Judaism, Islam and Christianity - is getting more fanatical; that’s why no one is safe from my satire. I tried to make it in a smart way, because here every one is so sensitive about anything to do with religion. It’s dangerous to my life; I was boycotted and threatened for different projects in the past and I'm expecting tension for Holy Air as well. When Dante wrote the Divine Comedy, he went against the Pope but he wrote it in a smart way so the church wouldn't get rid of him. And, as you mentioned, the warm moments were intentional, because my main target was to bring the human being to the front and push back the political aspect. I wanted to challenge the audience to look at my main characters as human being and not through the stereotypical Israeli-Palestinian conflict they know from the news. (Pictured, above; Shady Srour as Adam)

SCREEN-SPACE: There is something slightly askew about the film's reality. Adam keeps disappearing into the bath, at one point for a long time as his wife talks about their baby-future. It can be theorised that your film exists in a dream-like state?

SROUR: Since the whole idea of Holy Air is trippy, I was trying to play with the reality, or what’s called magic-realism. You can ask yourself is it for real or not, and I wanted to give the film a hallucinatory aspect. That’s why Adam gets into the bathtub at the beginning and at the end there is a shot of the bathtub empty; does Adam stay in the bathtub from the beginning till the end and all of what happened to him is only in his head? In scenes where Adam smokes weed, and drinks whisky, I was playing within a thin line between reality and not reality. By the way, rarely has the audience taken it this way but I wanted them to instinctively feel it.

SCREEN-SPACE: As ‘Lamia’, Laëtitia Eïdo has a wonderful chemistry with you. As issues such as politics, history, religion and patriarchy unfold, what did her character ‘Lamia’ convey about gender in modern Nazareth?

SROUR: In general, the stereotypical Arab women in Nazareth are the women wearing hijab, but the modern Arab woman doesn't get much representation in cinema. So imagine in a conservative society such as the Arab society there are also Palestinian women like Lamia. Politically speaking, the society expects Palestinian women to sacrifice and be strong, filled with pride so she doesn't collapse. I wanted to convey that it’s legitimate to show her weakness sometimes, as it is something that makes her even stronger. (Pictured, above; Srour with co-star Laëtitia Eïdo)

SCREEN-SPACE: Superbly timed, often very small moments provide big laughs - the 'confessional sales pitch'; the 'papal banner'; the 'take 10%' sequence. Whose comic sensibilities have influenced you?

SROUR: Oedipus by Sophocles, Macbeth by Shakespeare, The Wild Duck by Ibsen, Tartuffe by Molliere, Divine Comedy by Dante and the Bible, are mostly my inspiration. I came from a theatre background; I did my B.A in Theatre Acting, and my M.F.A in Cinema, and I'm a university lecturer in theatre analysis. I believe in the continuation of theatre, so my inspiration comes from theatre. My big inspiration was Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, so this film has the existentialist conflicts, circular principle and forced pairings between all the characters of a tragi-comedy. ‘Lamia’ was inspired by Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, while Adam was designed as a ‘Hero’, employing elements from old Greek theater. For instance, he has kind of supernatural powers, that’s why he speaks five languages. Like a ‘hero’, he focuses on a target and he goes for it until the end. There is also the conflict between Rationalism and Idealism. Adam is spacey but uses the corrupted system in a rational way, while Lamia is a feminist, a humanist so idealistic that she wants an abortion. Hers is a destructive idealism. And of course, this is a story happening in Nazareth, so there are some references from the bible; it’s a kind of a new annunciation after 2000 years. When Jesus said he was the Son of God and was kicked out of Nazareth, he fled to Mount Precipice. So for Adam, it's a place where he can get fresh air and be a little spiritual, away from his negative city. My inspiration for the story has many layers that don’t have to reach an audience with this clarity of vision, but I was trying to have it in the background so that the audience had a sense of it.

HOLY AIR screens June 17 and 18 at the Sydney Film Festival. Session and ticket information can be found at the event’s official website.

Wednesday
Jun072017

WHITNEY CAN I BE ME: THE NICK BROOMFIELD INTERVIEW

2017 SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: From the moment Nick Broomfield arrived in the US, the British documentarian has dug deep into the darkest recesses of American society. From the juvenile detention system (Tattooed Tears, 1979), to the mind of a psychopath (Aileen Wournos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, 1992), Broomfield has sought truths with a fearless, occasionally reckless, sometimes controversial eye for factual film. Some of his most acclaimed works have been dissections of doomed celebrities, including Monster in a Box (1992), featuring the late Spalding Gray; Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam (1995); Kurt & Courtney (1998); Biggie and Tupac (2002); and, Sarah Palin: You Betcha! (2011).

His latest is Whitney: Can I Be Me, a heartbreaking work that charts the meteoric rise and addiction fuelled decline of America’s Pop Princess, the late Whitney Houston. The film is a combination of fresh interview footage and archival content, the most remarkable being concert and backstage footage shot in 1999 by the great Rudi Dolezal. From his car, sitting immobile in the daily traffic gridlock of one of Los Angeles busiest motorways, Nick Broomfield spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about his unauthorised exposé of one of pop culture’s sweetest, saddest talents…  

SCREEN-SPACE: Was a Whitney Houston project in your plans, or did Rudi’s footage give it impetus, a fresh focus?

BROOMFIELD: Rudi’s footage certainly gave it more focus and impetus, but I was working for a year without his footage. I’d done my interviews and got all the music together and was thinking about my edit when I met with Rudi this time last year and we decided to amalgamate our forces. I did not know going in I would have his footage but I was completely delighted when I saw it. It was unique and intimate and never been seen before. I have a profound respect for what Rudi managed to do. It was the luck of the Gods that it all worked out this way. (Pictured, right; Whitney I Can Be Me co-director, Rudi Dolezal)

SCREEN-SPACE: The chasm between her soaring talent and beauty and the depths of her addictions and mental health issues is heartbreaking. How do you perceive of her rise and fall?

BROOMFIELD: She was an incredibly sweet kid, who was funny, funny, funny growing up on the streets of Newark. She was someone who wanted everyone around her to be happy, so went along with the flow to a big extent. In that regard, she was malleable, which I think is what Clive Davis had been looking. She had talent but, unlike Aretha Franklin or Dionne Warwick, was very new to her career and talent. She was the perfect vehicle for Clive’s vision. But she paid an enormous price for that because, like most creations, they fall apart, when they want to be themselves. They don’t want to be something they know they are not.

SCREEN-SPACE: Having been devoutly involved with her neigbourhood, the backlash from the black community clearly left scars…

BROOMFIELD: It was increasingly hard for her to be ‘Whitney Houston’, particularly with the whole racial thing in the United States, which was so powerful. It was very hard for her to not be accepted by her own people, by the black community, who thought she was sell-out. They called her ‘Oreo Cookie’ or ‘Whitey Houston’, and that was pretty devastating for her. She couldn’t understand where that was coming from. I’m sure Bobby Brown had much more influence than he would have done if these things hadn’t happened. As soon as she stopped being the ‘angel’, the American Sweetheart, which took awhile to happen, and she became the target of ridicule on the late night talk shows…well, I think she was very thin-skinned and that response drove her deeper into her addictions. It was a sad downward spiral. (Pictured, above; Whitney Houston)

SCREEN-SPACE: It is fascinating to view her in hindsight, of her place in 80s pop culture. There was Madonna’s rawness, Michael Jackson’s ‘King of Pop’ status, Springsteen’s working class man persona. Whitney was the 'Princess', an innocent who just wanted to dance with somebody. In the end, it was all that was shitty about the 80s – drugs, corporatisation, race issues – that claimed her…

BROOMFIELD: That's very true. It was decade where all the black artists wanted to make the crossover to this big white audience, and I think the degree of sacrifice they had to make to achieve that was enormous. Not only in what they sang, but how they had to portray themselves. It was very much about forgetting or ignoring where they came from (to become) something that was acceptable in this country. In the same way that O.J. Simpson kind of ended up in a no man’s land that cast him as neither black nor white, Whitney went through not dissimilar things for a long time. When she decided to get back to her roots, she did it with a vengeance, with real defiance.

SCREEN-SPACE: Your film is typically insightful and thorough, but there’s a softer edge to how you approach her story as opposed to your portraits of Kurt Cobain or Tupac or Heidi Fleiss. Did the nature of her story demand that or are you getting melancholy in your old age?

BROOMFIELD: (Laughs) Well, it might be both. I think the film I did before this one, Tales of The Grim Sleeper, was also tender and more loving so, yes, maybe that’s true. Maybe there is more heart in it (pause). You know, I was definitely moved, unexpectedly moved by Whitney’s story. The editor and I would often have tears welling up as we cut it, and we’d both seen it I don’t know how many eyes. It is a very moving, very tragic story.

SCREEN-SPACE: Looking back at your portrait films, those that have featured the likes of Spalding Gray, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur, and now Whitney Houston, can you see a through a line in these character types that your films address?

BROOMFIELD: People who give what all those artists give in a performance, who feel things so deeply, who are that charismatic…well, it’s very hard for them to fly so close to the sun and not get burnt. They so celebrate life, are so life affirming, that when we are in their presence you feel alive. Because they are so alive, they make incredible film subjects; they have that elixir. We are excited by the shiniest star and all those people have that, don’t they? Also, they are the icons of our time in history, of the culture we are part of. Portraits of people who have significance to our time and place are fascinating and speak volumes.

WHITNEY: I CAN BE ME screens June 7 and 9 at the Sydney Film Festival before a nationwide release on June 15 via Rialto Distribution. Festival session and ticket details can be found at the event’s official website

Wednesday
Jun072017

POP AYE: THE KIRSTEN TAN INTERVIEW

2017 SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: The melancholy and deeply affecting tale of a middle-aged Thai man, an elephant and a pilgrimage to reconnect with childhood memories, Pop Aye has been the darling of the 2017 festival circuit. After a long gestation period in the script lab environment, the debut film from Singapore auteur Kirsten Tan has both wowed critics (earning the World Cinema Screenwriting Jury Prize at Sundance) and been adored by patrons (scoring the Big Screen audience-voted trophy at Rotterdam). “The notion of time passing, wherever you may go, is pretty universal,” says Tan, who spoke to SCREEN-SPACE from her New York home ahead of her film’s screenings at the 2017 Sydney Film Festival…

SCREEN-SPACE: How did the project’s passage through the ‘Festival Lab’ process – the Berlinale Talents initiative, the Torino Film Lab, Cannes Atelier, then Sundance – influence and impact the story you wanted to tell?

 TAN: The script changed a lot from the very first draft. The entire process took about two and a half years, during which we lost several characters. With the help of all these mentors and the ‘lab process’, the themes emerged. It was slow, chipping-away to clarify what I really wanted to say. And just before Torino, I went to Thailand for about three weeks, just to live with and research elephants, to study their movements and personalities so that I could write an elephant character with authenticity. I needed the elephant character to be as real as my human ones.

SCREEN-SPACE: Was the script locked down by the time you arrived in Thailand?

TAN: Once we got to Thailand for the shoot, it took about four months of preparation. I kept adjusting the script to make aspects more real; certain songs that I wanted, for example, were taken out because I learned that they were not appropriate. So many aspects of the script changed right up until we started filming, and then it evolved further as actors began improvising, which I wanted to incorporate as much as I could. (Pictured, right; Thaneth Warakulnukroh and 'Bong', in Pop Aye)

SCREEN-SPACE: Your cast of characters present such a rich cross-section of humankind…

TAN: I tried to paint a realistic story, which for me is one filled with pathos and humour, with beauty and brutality. I didn’t want to present a one-sided story, but rather one that offers a full spectrum of life experience.

SCREEN-SPACE: The casting of Thaneth Warakulnukroh in the leading role ensures a warm empathy is at the heart of your story. His performance is a subtle, sweet everyman figure…

TAN: In his younger days, he was this really edgy Thai rock star. It was insane; in his old photos, he literally looks like Mick Jagger (laughs). At the height of his fame, he just quit the music scene and disappeared. All these years later, I’m searching for a lead actor and my friend recommends him to me. Now he looks so gentle, so reserved. That juxtaposition of who he was and who he is intrigued me. I could see he was someone who had experienced the extreme highs and extreme lows of life. When I got him to audition before the camera, he proved a natural. Then he put on 10 kilos for the part, he was that committed. (Pictured, above; Thaneth Warakulnukroh and 'Bong', in Pop Aye)

SCREEN-SPACE: Does a location shoot in a place like Thailand influence the creative process?

TAN: We shot in what would become the hottest Thailand weather in four decades. Now, I don’t know if you’ve been to Thailand, but it’s already pretty hot (laughs). But that heat added something to the journey; if you see Thaneth in pain or discomfort, he’s probably not acting. The climate pushed us all to extremes, which must have influenced what we created. We actually charted his path from Bangkok to Loei, to study the kind of landscape and terrain he would pass. Then we shot around Loei, matching locations with what we had seen on our own journey. Most of the shoot took place only an hour or two away from the city centre.

SCREEN-SPACE: One of the film’s greatest assets is its refusal to anthropomorphise the elephant, to play for any kind of cuteness in it’s portrayal…

TAN: In their presence, you can’t not respect these animals. I just tried to bring some truthfulness to the depiction of Pop Aye. I didn’t want to milk the cuteness or the exotic aspects; I didn’t want to mould them into what I, or an audience, might want them to be. I just wanted to show him as he really is, because that is what is most beautiful about him. (Pictured, right; Tan, centre, with crew on location during the filming of Pop Aye)

SCREEN-SPACE: As Pop Aye, your elephant Bong pulls off one of the most evocative close-ups in recent memory…

TAN: We shot that using a crane, to give us the slightest elevation, and there was some slight movement on his part that captures such emotion. Actually, just out of frame, we were filling his mouth with bananas just to keep his head still (laughs). We were finally able to cut the sequence so that, yes, it is imbued with a great deal of meaning.

SCREEN-SPACE: Why is this little Thai film playing so well internationally? What about it is so appealing to audiences from Rotterdam to Sundance to Sydney?

TAN: It was important that the film spoke to a larger humanity. To me, the film is about time and its inevitable passing. This notion of inevitability, of the passage of time, is really universal. As is the bleak humour in one’s existence, which I tried to capture. I was born in Asia but have spent most of adult life in America, in New York, and I do see people on both continents employ humour to cope with life’s tragedies.

POP AYE screens June 16, 17 and 18 at the Sydney Film Festival. Full session and ticket information can be found at the event’s official website.

Thursday
Jun012017

THE SUN AT MIDNIGHT: THE KIRSTEN CARTHEW INTERVIEW

2017 SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: The vast, magnificent country of Canada’s Northwest Territories is home to the Gwich’in people, an indigenous population whose relationship with the flora and fauna of the unforgiving landscape dates back many centuries. In The Sun at Midnight, director Kirsten Carthew utilises the backdrop of the land and its people to tell a deeply affecting coming-of-age tale, in which a teenage girl of Gwich’in ancestry (played by Devery Jacobs) must reconnect with her heritage to survive in the Arctic Circle wilderness. “Immersion in nature supports self-discovery and mental wellness,” says Carthew, whose semi-autobiographical narrative and stunning imagery represents a remarkable debut feature. Ahead of her film’s Australian premiere at the Sydney Film Festival, Kirsten Carthew (pictured, below) spoke with SCREEN-SPACE from Berlin, where she is accompanying the film on its international festival rollout… 


SCREEN-SPACE: It is such a unique premise for a film - the archetypal teenage coming-of-age story, but one melded with a survival drama. What inspired the narrative?

CARTHEW: The story comes from my own life, growing up as a teenager, feeling like a fish out of water, dealing with an intimate personal loss. I have moved locations many times and have always found solace and comfort in nature. Anyone who has suffered loss or felt disconnection can relate to the personal journeys of Lia and Alfred. These are the personal themes and they are universal, because as people we are so similar in our wants and needs. Additionally, themes relating to the need for greater environmental stewardship and the importance of connectivity with nature can be embraced by universal audiences, and told in The Sun At Midnight through specific references to champion protection for caribou populations, as well as for the lands and waters in the Arctic and Subarctic regions.

SCREEN-SPACE: I don't imagine the people of Fort MacPherson see a lot of film industry types. How willing and accepting of you and your crew were the population? What did you need to convey about them to ensure authenticity?

CARTHEW: The Sun At Midnight is the first feature film from Canada’s Northwest Territories. I am from a township there called Yellowknife. A feature film shoot was a new experience for Ft. McPherson, which is located at the Arctic Circle and has a population of 750 people. In 2009, I approached the Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute; they shared an earlier draft of the script with elders and community members, who gave great feedback and decided to collaborate. Their participation was essential to both the story’s authenticity and the realization of the film. It took us six years to secure financing and our Gwich’in partners actively supported and contributed to the project throughout. The film was only made possible with the participation of the community of Ft. McPherson and the Gwich’in Tribal Council, who helped crew the film with locals. We held the premiere at the high school gym and had a feast for community members, who were thrilled to see people they knew on screen. The Sun At Midnight is the first film to feature Gwich’in characters, land and values and Indigenous audiences and fans of Indigenous cinema have embraced the film. We are proud of our collaboration and relationship and continued support for the film. (Pictured, above; Devery Jacobs as Lia)

SCREEN-SPACE: Your leading lady, Devery Jacobs, is such a compelling screen presence; visually, of course, but also a personality that evokes both teenage angst and an 'old soul' spirit...

CARTHEW: I was immediately struck by Devery’s screen presence during her auditions. ‘Compelling’ is exactly right. Devery is the ideal collaborator, a total pro whose acting process includes in-depth character analysis and mindful reflection. She invested fully in the role and it was easy to trust Devery to embody the role of Lia. Once Devery was cast in the role, there were some aspects of Lia’s character that organically changed now that we were co-creating the story. I loved working with Devery and value how invested, professional and just truly exceptional she is. (Pictured, above; Duane Howard as Alfred)

SCREEN-SPACE: Lia's growing respect for and unlikely friendship with Alfred is the heart of your story. How did you, Devery and the wonderful Duane Howard create the chemistry and balance in their story?

CARTHEW: We had a tight shooting schedule and little rehearsal time. I did my best to organize the shoot chronologically so that the real life relationship between Devery and Duane would develop in line with the on-screen relationship of their characters, Lia and Alfred. It was important for the performance to drive the camera-action, which meant that the camera would follow the actors’ lead. To this end, I worked alone with the actors on set to feel out the scenes before the key crew was invited to watch. I also gave the actors alone time on set before key scenes so they could be as present with each other as possible. Devery and Duane also genuinely connected and developed a friendship as individuals, which was great. I think part of their on-screen chemistry reflects their genuine respect and care for each other. 

SCREEN-SPACE: It looks to have been a physically demanding shoot, utilising locations that have been largely unseen by film cameras. What disciplines did you and your production have to master to adapt to the conditions?

CARTHEW: Over 90% of the film was shot outdoors. That’s a huge challenge because regardless of budget or location, you operate at the whim of the weather. We shot at a time of the year that should have provided the ideal filming conditions but that definitely was not the case. Instead, we experienced temperatures ranging from -5 to +22 Celsius and rain, fog, snow and sunshine. We filmed the “in town” scenes first, when it was sunny and 22 degrees.  Then, just a week later, when we started to shoot the outdoor scenes, the temperature dropped to below zero and all of our locations were suddenly under two feet of snow! We didn’t have any choice but to continue filming and incorporate the snow into the film. We had to scout new locations everyday and move quickly to stay warm, but also move more slowly to accommodate so many new technical and logistical challenges. Devery and Duane were total troopers and handled the cold with total grace. The crew was often wet, cold and, by virtue of our location along the Arctic Circle highway, forced to suck up the discomfort and plough through. We have several “war stories” from the shoot, which were a little painful at the time, but now bring us together and we laugh at! (Pictured, above; Carthew, far left, on-location with her actors)

THE SUN AT MIDNIGHT screens Sunday June 11 and Saturday June 17 at the Sydney Film Festival. Further ticketing and session information can be found at the event’s official website

Thursday
May252017

WOLF AND SHEEP: THE SHAHRBANOO SADAT INTERVIEW

2017 SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: Shahrbanoo Sadat was 20 years old when her story treatment for Wolf and Sheep earned her a prestigious Cinéfondation residency at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. She was the youngest recipient of the honour in the festival’s history. The film, a slice-of-life drama about the villagers living in the mountains of Afghanistan that combines stark realism with local mythology, is told through the experiences of Sediqa, a determined young woman living an outsider’s life in a tight communal structure. It is Sadat’s recollection of a period from her childhood, so vividly realised and emotionally resonant, it earned her the 2016 Festival de Cannes C.I.C.A.E. Award for cinematic artistry. Ahead of the Sydney Film Festival’s Official Competition screening of Wolf and Sheep, Shahrbanoo Sadat spoke with SCREEN-SPACE from her home in the Afghanistan capital, Kabul…

SCREEN-SPACE: Describe your vision for the character of Sediqa and how the casting of the wonderful Sediqa Rasuli helped realise and develop the character.

SADAT: I was an outsider as a child, living in rural central Afghanistan in an isolated village between the mountains. I grew up with an observational point of view, as I couldn’t make any friends. I still keep this observational outlook, allowing me to better study the Afghan community. Wolf and Sheep is a film about a community and I needed a character like Sediqa, an outsider, to take us up to the mountains and into the village. She is just a part of that community, not carrying any specific story or judging those around her, but she helps the viewer understand the place, atmosphere and village life. Unlike her role, our actress Sediqa was a very social girl, becoming friends with almost everyone. When I met her at her school, I asked her to take off her scarf, something that every other girl had refused to do. But she didn’t refuse. She smiled, and took off her scarf for me. (Pictured, below; Sediqa Rusili as Sediqa in Wolf and Sheep)

SCREEN-SPACE: As the title suggests, there is a great deal of conflict central to your narrative - male vs female; young vs old; interpersonal conflict amongst the boys and girls - all set in a land rife with conflict. How would you describe the role that conflict has upon your narrative?

SADAT: I’m impressed by the power of nature on human beings. Afghanistan is a mountainous, rural country; a dry and tough environment (that) influences the nature of the people, who live in the valleys between mountains. This creates distance between people, many of whom come from various ethnicities. They mostly don’t like each other, instead believing they are different and better than others. But if you study their every day lives, you will see all have the same life, suffer from the same pain and have the same kind of problems. But they don’t see that as the wider picture. For me, such conflict is simply organic to the story; there was not a specific thought behind it. When I am talking about the everyday life of these people, it was just normal to put it in. 

SCREEN-SPACE: The film is a celebration of the art of storytelling, with characters both old and young conveying imaginative, thoughtful stories. What importance does 'the storyteller' have in Afghani culture and how does that tradition manifest in your directing?

SADAT: Afghans are very good storytellers. We like talking and we talk so much. We drink a lot of tea, because it gives us the opportunity to sit together and talk about almost everything. Sometimes when I listen to people I don’t understand if they are talking about reality. Their stories are a mixture of fantasy, wishes, lies, fiction and everyday life. I like this mixture. In a society where people are not allowed to dream, it’s so powerful to be able to express yourself through the stories. In the rural villages, I was very impressed when I saw almost every man talking about fairy tales, I connect this wish and desire for telling and listening to fairy tales to the love for women. It is a love that the society doesn’t really allow to grow. The community places limitations, tells us what our life should look like. We follow this thinking like a flock of sheep, because we are scared of being alone. We are told that if you choose your own way, there is the danger of  ‘the wolf,’ which scares us even though none of us have seen the real wolf. Oral stories are the best material to learn about communities, especially the rural parts where stories and tales have such power in the life of people. People come to believe stories that have been made up. Our history has been influenced by stories that mix reality and the fantasy; the border between the two is so pale. (Pictured, above; Sediqa, right, with co-star Qodratollah Qadiri)

SCREEN-SPACE: The fantasy imagery in Wolf and Sheep - particularly, the night visitations of the Bull and Fairy into the village - is beautiful. Are you a student of fantasy cinema or is that imagery an integral part of your upbringing and culture?

SADAT: I am so much in love with cinema verite, with the relationship between film and reality. Those scenes are the most ‘documentary’ part of the film, as they relate what the people in that community believe exists, even if it is a supernatural being. Many people have had that experience, of seeing the fairy or the wolf at night or early morning. For many audiences, those sequences convey magic realism, (but) for Afghans they are pure realism. My stories convey what those people believe to be true. They are more than stories. They are the mysteries of their lives. (Pictured, above; Patricia Alexandra Aparicio Dias as The Green Fairy in Wolf and Sheep)

SCREEN-SPACE: How are young filmmakers progressing in the current social climate of Afghanistan? Does an industry exist that allows them to explore and grow their talents?

SADAT: Our cinema industry is so poor. We have almost zero annual production of feature films. The cinema community is corrupted and the space for filmmakers like me, with no connection inside Afghanistan, is so small and narrow. There is no funding system, no co-productions with other countries, no producers. No one takes cinema seriously, as there is no money in it and no effort to make money with it. Stories are too shallow and reflect nothing about Afghanistan. Films about Afghanistan made by international filmmakers take the western touristic point of view, which has influenced local filmmakers, which bothers me a lot. Afghanistan is such a rich country in terms of story and we do need storytellers who can share these stories with the world.

WOLF AND SHEEP will screen June 11 and 12 at the 64th Sydney Film Festival. For ticket and session information visit the event's website.

READ our Sydney Film Festival Preview here.