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Barbara Wurm: Faraz, since when have you known that you’re a director, and not just a cinematographer? And why did you as a cinematographer decide of all things to make your first film from video excerpts of Skype conversations?

Faraz Fesharaki: I still don’t know if I’m a director. And I also don’t know if I’m a cinematographer. The word I’d prefer to use is filmmaker. I see myself as someone who has a passion for cinema and wants to engage with it in whatever way that might be. You somehow always find a way. If I’m honest, starting out with cinematography was more of a question of practicality. I started studying in Iran and was asking myself how I’d be able to work there and earn money as a director in relation to censorship and dependence on state financing. Then I studied cinematography and noticed how much I actually enjoy it. I really like transferring other people’s ideas into a visual language, like a translator. But the sort of obvious category where you say that this person directs and the other does cinematography hopefully doesn’t exist for me.

Carolin Weidner: And yet you’ve actually been very successful as a cinematographer. Your last work RAS VKHEDAVT, RODESAC CAS VUKUREBT? [2021] by Alexandre Koberidze showed in the Berlinale Competition, for example. Does that make it frightening or intimidating to present a film of your own, particularly one about such a personal subject?

FF: Yes, and I regretted that many times while I was editing the film. I had that feeling of fear, of intimidation the whole time. Not really of how I would be perceived as a cinematographer turning to directing, but more in general – how was the film going to film turn out, particularly in relation to how personal it is? That accompanied me for a very long time. The editing process lasted five years and without the unbelievable support, both emotional and in terms of content, of my producers Luise Hauschild, Ewelina Rosinska and Mariam Shatberashvili, I would never have finished editing the film.

Again and again, there were moments of this everyday life that I thought I should make a note of and then maybe stage in a film some time

CW: When did you start recording the conversations between you and your family? Or did you do that from the beginning?

FF: From the beginning. When I came to Germany to study in 2012, I installed some software that automatically recorded our conversations. And then I told my parents and asked them if they had anything against it. They didn’t. Afterwards we forgot that the software was observing us. Now and again my hard drive filled up and I realised that there must therefore be many videos. But the software was running by itself, and I had no intention of making a film out of that material. I more saw it as a sort of diary for me to record that first period in Germany, which was very special. I could have also written about it, but I’m not the best of writers.

CW: How did you arrive at the decision to make a film from all that material? And how often did you speak to your family?

FF: Every day at the beginning, but then it became less and less. It was really fascinating, as I was actually speaking more to my parents than when I was still in Iran and living in a different city. We really shared everyday life in a way we’d not done before. Again and again, there were moments of this everyday life that I thought I should make a note of and then maybe stage in a film some time. But when I watched the footage for the first time, I thought: why should they be restaged in another context if they already exist?

Certain things in a parent-child relationship are already established by then and can no longer be changed. But then several things did actually turn out to be flexible for us

CW: Were you able to engage with each other on a new level in these conversations or get to know each other in a different way? Were other subjects possible? I had the impression that your mother was particularly open.

FF: From the pandemic, we all know that feeling that communicating via video is more uncomfortable, but also easier at the same time, because you’re not physically present. Certain boundaries can be crossed as a result of that distance. The communication is at once real and abstract. And that really helped with things, particularly in relationship to my mother. I started with the Skype conversations when I was 26. Certain things in a parent-child relationship are already established by then and can no longer be changed. But then several things did actually turn out to be flexible for us. When I watched all the material, a lot happened for me again. I had 80 hours of it, and suddenly you discover things you simply didn’t notice while actually in the situation. You also see your own parents with a degree of distance.

CW: What was it that surprised you during this audio-visual recap?

FF: A lot of things. I noticed how open and flexible my parents were in trying to find a level of communication with me and adapting to the situation. And how closed-off I was in reacting to that, while still claiming that I was the one who’s progressive. But another important insight for me – and that also has to do with what has happened in the last year in Iran as a result of the women’s movement – was to notice just how much the patriarchal hierarchy still endures within our small family, even though my father thinks of himself as a left-wing intellectual. In this respect, I see myself as much further on than he is, but watching the footage, it became clear to me that I don’t treat my mother much better than he does. I realised what her role actually is and how this is accepted at home as a matter of course. I saw that as really problematic.

I should actually go back a bit here. My original plan was to make a film about my father, who studied in London as a young man, was a Communist and travelled through Eastern Europe. I wanted him to repeat this trip 40 years later, we even did that and shot it! While editing, I decided against doing it, also because I noticed that my mother is the more fascinating person within our family. She had to sacrifice a lot. And she was the one who was in prison.

Somehow we always had to exchange experiences with one another, also in order to protect ourselves

CW: Your mother is also given more and more space over the course of the film. There are many decisions that I find interesting, such as the zoom onto her when she’s sitting in the background by the window, or your conversation where she’s lying down and talking about the encounter with the woman from prison. Did you start working with stage directions from a certain point?

FF: No, or at least there weren’t any explicit stage directions being given while the conversations were being conducted. It was only during the editing process that I started to manipulate certain things and build new conversations and moments from the material.

CW: We don’t just see your parents, but also your cousin Rahi. Did you record other people too?

FF: The problem with the software was that it couldn’t differentiate between different people – it just recorded everything. I often had to think about what I was supposed to erase, also because not everyone knew they were being recorded. My parents and Rahi emerged as the constants. Rahi isn’t just my cousin, he’s also my best friend. We came to Europe at the same time, we grew up together – we’re almost like siblings. He went to Vienna, I went to Berlin. And somehow we always had to exchange experiences with one another, also in order to protect ourselves. We had to give each other the feeling that we were experiencing similar things in this new life. Because of that, the moments with him were just as important as the ones with my parents.

Watching the entire collection of Skype conversations also had a therapeutic dimension

CW: There are two recurring musical motifs in the film, a particular melody and then the sound of a gong, which for me was reminiscent of a boxing match. The scenes between you and Rahi in particular also seem like an exchange of blows.

FF: Yes, the gong is inspired by Abbas Kiarostami’s TEN. There’s also a scene that begins with my father actually standing in a boxer’s pose in front of the camera and saying “Do you really want to fight? Then get over here!” The communication with Rahi and with my father had that sort of feeling the whole time, I don’t want to use the word “fight”, but I don’t know how else to say it: it was a fighting exchange of sorts.

CW: Locking horns, as it were?

FF: Yes, maybe.

CW: In a banal way, you could also say that it’s a typically male form of communication when it’s not so easy to speak about feelings, and connection occurs on this level instead.

FF: Yes, unfortunately. Although during the editing process, I was also astounded by how directly and courageously feelings were sometimes spoken actually about. But watching the entire collection of Skype conversations also had a therapeutic dimension. To notice that many of these typically heteronormative ideas of masculinity did actually sit pretty deep in me and still do today.

The way the girl does it, with total belief in what she’s doing, is special. She feels it so much that those kitsch words become genuine.

BW: So there are thematic lines in the film, about feminism, for example, or the discovery of the significance of your role within the family. In addition, you use the powerful video footage of the little girls singing and reciting poems, which also enables you to bring the past – your childhood – into the frame. At what point did you decide to include it?

FF: This material with the children is from my kindergarten. I myself was in the children’s choir that sings the song about America. And the girl that recites the poem was also at our kindergarten. What I found really interesting about that material is that it’s actually totally kitsch. But the way the girl does it, with total belief in what she’s doing, is special. She feels it so much that those kitsch words become genuine. When I watched it for the first time, I had goosebumps.

CW: In addition to the Skype footage and the videos we just talked about, literature enters the film too, such as through the brief excerpt from a text by poet Amir Afrassiabi and the letters later on. The film has two parts anyway, whereby the second part has a stronger focus on the written word. How did that come about?

FF: The honest answer is that I’d already finished the film some time before, but wasn’t happy with the ending. I couldn’t find one. And at exactly that time, I was nursing a broken heart. I’d actually preferred to have put WAS HAST DU GESTERN GETRÄUMT, PARAJANOV? aside and made a film about love. But I couldn’t do that, because everyone was expecting me to finish off this film. And then I had to somehow combine those two levels. It ultimately became clear to me that the first part is about the love these people have for one another and why couldn’t I just expand that a bit and then have the second part relate to the first? Ultimately, this love is the only thing that keeps us together right now, when we are so far away from one another and the world is in such a terrible state – it also keeps us alive. I wanted to write and/or shoot the letter to my mother anyway. And then it became the end of the film. In the end, it came together very quickly, even if everything else lasted a really long time.

I find grain and pixels mysterious and poetic

BW: Did your parents try to interfere with how you directed the film?

FF: My mother didn’t at all, she trusts me. My father is very doubting, however, and sees my films as pointless. The good thing about Skyping was that no one knew that a film was being shot at that moment. But when I had to reshoot or record particular things, he protested a bit. But by that point it was too late.

CW: On the films that you made before, you worked with a wide range of different cameras. Now you used a webcam. What effect did that have on you?

FF: As a cinematographer, I’ve always tried to sabotage that sort of crisp, direct, digital encounter with reality. I feel more active as a spectator when you can’t immediately see everything clearly and there’s space for secrets in the images. I find grain and pixels mysterious and poetic. In this film, it was also a relief to a certain extent to leave myself out of things as a cinematographer and simply see how the aesthetic could be reduced in such a way that this task no longer exists. How can you find poetry in pre-existing images you didn’t create yourself? Another challenge was that I had to narrate the entire film via shot-countershot with images of a very poor quality and a camera running entirely at random. Yet I still enjoyed looking for poetry there and finding it. That’s also what I usually do as a cinematographer.

CW: I was also fascinated by the different backgrounds, such as the huge painted heads on the wall? What’s the story with them?

FF: My parents Skype in two rooms. The first belongs to my brother, the second, the one with the heads, to me. As a teenager, I wanted to make a short film and that was a leftover setting from it.

CW: When you just mentioned poetry, I had to think of the elegant intertitles. The film comes across as more playful because of that, but also very composed. It’s a wonderful typography on a red background.

FF: The typography also only came right at the very end and contributed a lot. A good friend in Iran, Farhad Fozouni, made it for me, he’s an outstanding graphic designer. He lived in Berlin for two years and was the first person to say that I had to do something with the Skype material. That’s a long time ago now. We laughed about it over a beer. When I sent him the film and asked him if he wanted to do the graphic design, it was really exciting for him to see what became of that joke from back then. What he added to the film with his work is really important, I think. He knows me well and understands very well what it means to be in this in-between realm between two cultures and languages, sounds and aesthetics. The red backdrop already existed – funnily enough it actually comes from one of the kindergarten videos. When the event was over, this red backdrop could be seen for two whole minutes. I thought it was really beautiful and I had the feeling that it fit well.

CW: What role do the recurring dreams play for you? They even found their way into the title.

 FF: I write down my dreams and already have several notebooks full of them. For example, the dream that appears in the film as a text comes from one of these books. And with the people close to me, I always speak about my dreams. The title of the film came right at the end, it’s also to do with the fact the when the film was finished, it seemed to me like one long dream – because of the quality of the images and the music, because of the people changing over a period of eight, nine years.

Translation: James Lattimer


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