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Tue 26 May 2015 04:37 PM

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Five minutes with… Iranian-born filmmaker Babak Anvari

UK-based, BAFTA-nominated director has been classed as one of the 'rising stars in the world of film and media'

Five minutes with… Iranian-born filmmaker Babak Anvari

Babak Anvari is an Iranian-born, London-based filmmaker. He has directed and worked on several movies, including his short film ‘Two & Two,’ which was nominated for a BAFTA in 2012. In the same year, Anvari was selected as one of the eight “rising stars in the world of film and media” at the Cristal Festival Europe’s Young Directors Forum.

Today, Anvari is working on a Farsi psychological horror film called ‘Under the Shadow.’

The movie, which was filmed in Jordan, depicts the lives of an Iranian woman and her six-year old daughter during the Iran Iraq war.

When an unexploded missile crashes into the duo’s home, the mother starts to believe that the missile carried evil spirits into her home that have in turn possessed her daughter.

Talking to Arabian Business, Anvari tells of the inspiration behind his movie, the expectations he has for it, and what he hopes the audience will take from it.

1. You started filmmaking at a very young age. How did that happen, and why did you choose filmmaking?

“Ever since I was a child, I’ve wanted to tell stories through images. I was obsessed with movies and I used to make up my own stories inspired by the films I loved. I was also a big fan of comics when I was young – mainly European comics rather than Marvel or DC superhero comics. So creating stories and telling them through images made sense to me. My older brother is also a cinephile so when I was growing up, we used to talk about films daily. I naturally gravitated towards filmmaking. At around the age of 11 I realised that making movies is what I truly want to do in life. When I was 16 I made my first short film, which was a 10 minute animation but took me a year to complete. The film had some success in a local short film festival in Tehran and encouraged me to stay focused on the path of filmmaking.”

2. Your upcoming film, Under the Shadow, is horror. Why did you decide on horror out of all genres?

“I’m not obsessive about the genre like some people. But I really enjoy a smart horror film and some of my favourite films like ‘The Shining’ or ‘The Exorcist’ are horror films. 80s Iran was a dark and horrific time, filled with fear and paranoia, because of the Iran-Iraq war and what the country was going through. It was a tough time for almost all Iranians. So it made sense to me to choose the genre of horror based on the setting. But to me Under the Shadow is more than just a horror film. I hope that it goes beyond the genre conventions. In fact, when I was writing it I was thinking of it more as a character based story that would hopefully capture the essence of that time in Iran.”

3. How did you come up with the storyline? Does it have anything to do with your personal life or the personal lives of those around you (family etc.)?

“Both my brother and I were timid children. I used to have trouble sleeping at night and I was scared of anything and everything. Once I was having a conversation with my mother about our childhood fears, and my mum blamed herself. My dad is a doctor and it was mandatory for him to serve at war for one month every year when I was a child. My mum confessed that she was very afraid during those months that my dad was away – being left alone with two children in the midst of the surrounding chaos – that she must have subconsciously passed on her fears to us. This was the spark of the idea. So even though Under the Shadow is not an autobiography, it does have a few elements of my own personal life. These elements are combined with stories from the personal lives of other people I know, mixed with a heavy dose of fiction and drama.”

4. Why did you decide to film in Jordan out of all places? Why not Iran, your homeland? Is it because of the restrictions on the industry there? Or is there another reason? Please explain.

“It is true that there are restrictions on the film industry in Iran. But one should remember that despite all of these restrictions, there are many great filmmakers in Iran who make amazing films each year. But the main reason that I chose not to film in Iran was because of the nature of the story. It would have been very difficult to shoot this film because of the above-mentioned restrictions. For instance, my film is primarily focused on a woman and her private space, and how this private space becomes contaminated by the forces that are out of her control. It would have been nearly impossible to portray my character’s lifestyle in a believable way if I were shooting in Iran. There was no way the Iranian authorities would have given me the filming permit. Also, living in Britain has spoiled me and I’d like to have as much creative freedom as possible when making my films. These are a few reasons that I chose to film in Amman. And I must admit that it was the right choice. Many aspects of Amman reminded me of Tehran, which made me feel nostalgic. There are not many restrictions from the authorities on filming, or at least I did not become aware of them. Also the crew were amazing over there. Everyone was so nice and hardworking and it felt like we were one big family. I feel blessed and lucky that I had such a great crew on my first feature film.”

5. Do you have future plans to film in Iran? Why or why not?

“Maybe, if one day I have a story that I can make in Iran.”

6. There are many horror films about possession. What makes yours stand out from all the rest?

“This one is hard for me to answer. I think it’s up to the audience to decide once the film is out. But as I mentioned before I tried to explore different underlying themes in Under the Shadow rather than telling a straightforward genre story about possession or haunting, etc. I hope that I have succeeded. Only time will tell.”

7. Your short film, two and two, was nominated for a BAFTA award. Do you have great expectations for ‘Under the Shadow’?

“I think any filmmaker would have high hopes for their film. But I think my biggest hope is that people find it engaging.”

8. What should the audience expect from Under the Shadow? A surprise ending? A plot twist? Anything you can reveal?

“I prefer to leave this for the audience to find out.”

9. Can you name one of your favourite horror movies?

“I can name many: The Innocents, The Shining, Ring, The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, Poltergeist, Let the Right One In, The Others, Don’t Look Now, etc. The list goes on!”

10. How do you get inspiration for your films? What or who inspires you?

“Anything and everything inspire me. I like to observe my surroundings and listen to people’s stories – I actually sometimes think I don’t do this enough! I’m nosy and curious. Things that seem irrelevant today can become a big source of inspiration later.”

11. Lastly, as a successful filmmaker, do you have any advice for young upcoming filmmakers from the Middle Eastern region who are looking to make it on an international level?

“First of all, I am very flattered that you consider me as a successful filmmaker. I think I am only at the start of a very long journey. But I am grateful that you have such high opinion of me. As corny as it sounds, my advice for young, up and coming filmmakers is to be tenacious and do not give up easily. Rejection and failure is part of the industry. Have faith in yourself and your vision and keep on pushing. Take one step at a time in order to achieve your goals.”

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