Posts Tagged ‘Farshad Mahoutforoush’

Just off the back of its theatrical release in the United Arab Emirates (via MAD Solutions) and one of the most intriguing entries at the 2016 Dubai International Film Festival – and recipient of the festival’s Muhr Emirati award – is the stylish, taboo courting, arthouse melodrama Only Men Go To The Grave.

The debut feature of 30 year old Emirati director Abdulla Al Kaabi, who previously made a name for himself in 2010 with The Philosopher starring Jean Reno, Only Men Go To The Grave tells the story of a group of women trying to deal with the loss of their blind mother and a secret she kept from them. Set following the Iran-Iraq war, the film introduces us to an ensemble of bold, complex women; it is a film that recalls the radical cinema of Fassbinder & Almodovar and hints at great things to come from the director.

Independently produced over a 5 year span and shot in Iran, with a cast made up of Iranian and Iraqi actors, Only Men Go To The Grave is a film made of many bold decisions. As director Al Kaabi explained, the challenge of making his first feature pushed him to tackle themes that he initially felt uncomfortable exploring, as well as to shoot in a neighbouring country he thought he might never visit.

We spoke to Al Kaabi about making bold Arab films and finding peace through cinema.

There is something of Pedro Almodovar in the perspective of this film. How did you develop the story and what inspired the central character of a blind woman?

I came to learn later on that Pedro Almodovar draws inspiration from Douglas Sirk, who is a fantastic ‘mood film’ director. I love his movies very much. During the period when I came up with this story I was watching a lot of his movies, I got the DVD collection. I got really obsessed by him and that’s how my movie came together. I was just looking for that story: where would I find this story that would be very much inspired by his movies? I was on a flight coming back from Spain to Dubai and next to me was a blind lady and I could have sworn that that lady could see, because half way through the flight she woke up, grabbed the menu and looked at it and put it back and then when the flight landed she was blind again. So she stayed with me that woman and I started to think: why would she do that? And then slowly, slowly, I found myself having a story that I could work on and that’s how the idea of Only Men Go To The Grave came about. I knew I wanted to shoot it in Arabic. I just wanted to show powerful women and I love how Pedro Almodovar portrays his women; they are extremely powerful. Arab women, in my opinion and the way I see them, from my perspective, are powerful individuals too. That’s why we came to do that.

As an ensemble the characters are really strong. How did you go about casting them? I know you had Iranian and Iraqi actresses…

If you would have told me 5 years ago that I would be talking to you right now about a movie I shot in Iran – a feature film, my first and all of that – I would say you’re out of your mind. I didn’t think that would ever happen, let alone for me just to visit. But it came about because I thought I had the opportunity to do whatever I can with this movie. We can talk about financing later. This movie was self-financed, so I had the freedom to do whatever I want and I wanted to explore the Arabs over there in Iran. I have a lot of Iranian friends who are fantastic individuals, I love Iranian cinema very, very much; one of my greatest filmmakers and mentors that I was fortunate to meet was Abbas Kiarostami. So that’s how it came about. It’s a country that’s just an hour away, films are there to bring people together and despite of all the disagreements and all of the problems that we might have with the Persians, I believe my film echoes a beautiful message to the world which is that cinema only understands one language: it’s peace. It is bringing people together despite everything. Not only that we also had Iraqi actresses coming into Iran and shooting this film, so there was a lot of firsts in this movie I believe and I think that’s why it’s so talked about in the festival this year, in addition to the themes that we’re exploring.

The film looks at certain taboo issues and i’d be surprised to see issues such as transgender in many films. What was it like dealing with those themes? Did you have any limitations or were you completely open?

You know when I first started off I didn’t have much courage to explore these themes. They were there but they weren’t so bold and over the years, as it started to get harder for me to finance the movie and to get it on it’s feet I started to push the boundaries even more and more and more. By the time I was ready to shoot and had got the project green lit I had reached the point of no return, so I was sure I wanted to shoot these themes. I wanted to explore transgenderism, I wanted to explore gender identity in the Arab world and I wanted to explore alternative love in the Arab world. I wanted to expose these themes through the storytelling of an Arab filmmaker. So because today that’s the only thing that people want to watch: they want to watch something original. Nobody wants to watch a replica of a Hollywood movie, because they’re doing a great job themselves, why should we copy? So I think that’s the only thing that sells today. If you have an original, unique perspective I think this career is great for you and it’s my first feature you see and I wanted to create my own mood and universe and introduce myself to the film industry, that this is my style.

And in terms of the practicalities of doing that, this took 5 years, which is not a strange amount of time for a first feature, but it’s a long time. I’m wondering how that was broken down, so what kind of period did you shoot in? Or was it a long protracted shoot?

Well the script took almost two years and that I think – and i’m so glad I took two years to work on the script because it’s the foundation of my story – so that took a long time, I didn’t think it would take such a long time. And then after that I started to shop around the script and it was really hard for me. I think it was too daring and, not only with the themes it has, but also too daring with the plot. I had a protagonist who was dead and yet alone she was the hero of the film, so a lot of people didn’t get that and I thought why couldn’t we get that? In the end we screened it last night and I heard that most of the audience were completely gripped by the story until the end of the movie, so that’s a good sign. We were able to do that with such a bold, unique plot. So then I went into a period, honestly I can say I was very discouraged, depressed, so I completely gave up on the film for a period and shelved it and I was quite sad for a while until I met a producer, actually an art patron, who was very much in the art world, who had the means. He loved the script, he’s in the contemporary arts scene, his name is Farshad Mahoutforoush, he’s in the credits in the movie as a producer and he said “lets shoot it.” He had no experience in film and I think the universe gave me that.

How long was the actual shooting period?

We took a long time preparing for it, because as I shot it in Iran most of my actresses haven’t spoken Arabic. They were Arabs, but they haven’t spoken Arabic for a very long time, so we had to train them for a while to bring back their language. A lot of people yesterday were actually shocked that my actress didn’t speak Arabic because she speaks Arabic so well in the movie. Well you know I’m a perfectionist, I had to take twenty takes [laughs.]

Did you have to go phonetically?

No, no, she worked on her Arabic. She was actually speaking Arabic. I haven’t seen her for a year since we wrapped up and I think during this year she might have forgotten a bit [laughs.]

What are your plans for your next project after this?

Well my plans right now, i’m really focused and invested in this one. I need to get it distributed, it needs to be screened across the Middle East. In Europe I think it’s going to do big. I’ve also got the festivals going on. Probably I am going to be travelling a lot for another year. Hopefully during these travels I will pick up inspiration for a new script, but for the time being i’m really invested in this one.

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