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A conversation with Maryam Keshavarz director of “Circumstance”

Love & Lies by Ari Siletz Iranian.com 01-Sep-2011 I had the opportunity to talk with director/screenwriter Maryam Keshavarz about her new film Circumstance, which won the 2011 Sundance Audience Award. Fortunately, one of the lead actors, Reza Sixo Safai, was also able to join us to add his perspective in a three-way discussion. We began with the scene where the characters are trying to dub the gay themed movie Milk to distribute in Iran: Ari: Was this a reference to your own movie, because you are hoping Circumstance will be illegally copied and distributed in Iran? Obviously they won’t allow a story involving lesbian teenagers to be legally distributed. Maryam: (laughs) Hoping or not, it’s going to happen. I made the Color of Love and it wasn’t allowed to be shown in Iran, but it was broadcast all through Europe, so people in Iran watched it. Interesting how stuff gets back into the country. All the underground is really into movies. I remember when I was there Brokeback Mountain was really huge. It was like, oh my god, forbidden love! It was number one. Nihilistic forbidden love is part of Iranian culture. Reza: Yes, it will be copied. Last time I was in Iran Pearl Harbor was out and I hadn’t seen it, but everybody there had seen it and they were saying you’ve gotta see this movie. Maryam: And we get hundreds of emails and Facebook messages from Iran. Kids are smart; they google the contacts. Especially since the trailer came out, everybody was saying we want to see this movie. Ari: The trailer is what made me want to see the movie. Who did you imagine your audience to be? Or do directors even think that way? Maryam: I have to say, we are selfish. For me personally—especially when I write—it’s like a cathartic experience. In fact I didn’t really want to write the script. Do you know why? Because I thought my God it would get me into trouble. I love to go back to Iran. I used to go back every year. But these characters started becoming more and more real and almost against my will they forced me to write their story. Some of the story is based on my own experience, some on the lives of people I know. The story was very different originally; it came out very self-censored because my family was in Iran and I was afraid. Everything was vague, allegorical or symbolic. It was a different story. But when I went to the Sundance class I had these great mentors and we talked about the fears of writing it the way I wanted to write it. We worked out so many of my own issues regarding the process of telling the story in my head. I’m sure you know that when you’re a writer some things become trapped in your mind and they almost become an obsession until you write it, or in the case of a film, until you make it. And I couldn’t move on…that’s the artist impulse, you can’t move on with your life until it’s out of you. But once it is out, it no longer belongs to you. Even when I watch the film now I forget that I made it because the impulse is in the making of it. Now I feel like it belongs to the audience, and I’m one of them. You can even ask me questions like, what do you think of the film? The process is all about what you include and don’t include. Once you get past the self-censorship, you ask yourself does this scene speak to me as someone who lives in the United States and as an Iranian? Does it work in both of the milieus that I grew up in? When it does, I feel like OK, that’s a universal thing. That’s when I know it works both for me and the audience. Mehran’s character is somewhat based on one of my family members who is very religious. I didn’t hate him. I wanted to understand him. Maybe that’s my struggle; trying to understand people. Family members that are really Baseeji or Hezbollah, or whatever, why, why are they this way? I love them, I am close to them, but we think so differently. How did this happen? So I’m very sympathetic towards all the characters. Maybe it’s because I’m older now, have studied more Iranian history, and know more about what really happened in the revolution that I get the sense that even the most amazing people become trapped at some level. Even the strongest individuals. Reza: What really drove me to want to do the film when I read the script was that I could sense this truth. I feel terror and I’m scared but there’s also something really beautiful about the way the family interacts with one another and how each is looking for expression of personal freedom within the family. It was really true to my experience, even though I didn’t grow up in Iran. But I related to trying to handle both cultures, having to find my own way to express my freedom in my family. My parents weren’t really used to this culture. So how do you break out of things that your family doesn’t want you to break out of? Normally, as an actor, I concentrate on my part. But in this film I got so wrapped up in the story and the love between the women that I wanted them to be set free and live their lives they way they want to live it. That’s when I knew I have to be part of this film somehow. To view entire article, please click on the following link: http://iranian.com/main/2011/sep/love-lies.html