Maryam Khodabakhsh was born in 1987 in Iran; she is a director, screenwriter, and editor. She is a Jury of WUIFF festival and flow film market festival and WaterSprit Film Festival. She is also the director of the “World Cup” short film and her new short film “Spider-Zan”.
She believes that each of us has a voice and that our mission as human beings in this world is to find our unique voice and deliver it to people to help them. One of these ways is cinema.
How difficult was the night lighting of the streets of Tehran for filming Ehsan Eskandari?
Our location was not Tehran, but was the village of Maraq around Kashan city. And since our film had a small budget, we had to use cheap lights and Ehsan Eskandari was able to skillfully manage these lights and I asked him that the atmosphere of the film should be strictly in the form of a documentary film, and these lights showed the atmosphere in a documentary manner. And I wanted that there would not be many lights in the alley because it would create a state of purgatory for my characters so that in some places their faces could not be seen and only a black shadow would be drawn on their faces.
How was the direction of actors with the child Kian Zarei in a short film with so much drama and intensity?
Working with children and non-actors is very comfortable and amazing for me! First of all, Kian was chosen from among several children, and I think if you choose the right child actor, you are halfway there. Kian was a very sociable, intelligent, talkative and talented child, and the tone of his game could be increased or decreased, The only problem with Kian was that he behaved and talked maturely, and I had to use a series of techniques to make her look younger than her age. And in order to make him behave more like a child, I had to tell him to count in his heart so that his lips move and growling like a baby. One day I saw him lifting a doll with his feet and I asked him to do the same with the TV remote control.
Kian sometimes made additional dialogues of his own and I liked it so much and encouraged him to give suggestions to me as director about the scenes he plays.
The architecture of the house with its floors, labyrinths, gardens, roofs and pools are perfectly used in the film. Did you already have the house in mind before writing the script? How did the idea for the film come about?
We looked everywhere for the right location and finally found this house. We were looking for a location that was very mysterious and scary and had a lot of places to get lost.
The idea of this movie was exactly when I was going home from work in the car, I saw a boy in my mind suddenly who fell down on the underground stairs, then I came home and wrote the whole script at once! And it took several months to edit.
Zahra Aghapour has an incredible performance in the film, what instructions did you give her in the film? How was the casting of the actress, what were you looking for in her?
First of all, I chose Zahra from many actress who I had seen because when I gave her the script, she was very eager to read it, and then I auditioned her to read the script with Ali Tabe Imam loudly, and when she started to read it, she was so engrossed In the dialogues and atmosphere of the film, his eyes were wet from sadness and he showed me exactly what I wanted. At the beginning of each sequence, I reminded Zahra what exactly happened in her personal life outside of the film at this moment, and she entered the sequence with this view and also had useful comments.
I spend a lot of time with her before going on set, reminding her exactly what I want from her and both of us had mentally agreed on this role and Zahra worked hard for her role, and this was another reason for my choice.
Ali Tabe Imam’s character has a certain latent and implicit aggressiveness in certain gestures and attitudes such as the clenched fist that he keeps watching television for several seconds. How was the creation of this complex character?
Honestly, Ali is my husband, and because I had seen his acting in the theater I felt like he is the best choice for this character in the movie. And according to the knowledge I had about Ali’s inner characters, I wrote and edited the screenplay from one of Ali’s inner states. And he was very aware of this aspect of his existence.
It was very easy to work with him, and he knew exactly who the character of the film is and what he wants.
He is very comfortable in front of the camera, even though he was mostly active in the field of theater acting, but he knew the camera very well and expressed his emotions and voice in a controlled manner in the film. That’s why he remains like a clenched fist in the movie, trying to be a good person.
The most intense sequence of the film has a very good location in a stifling and claustrophobic cobbled alley. How was the choice of this place?
In order to show the feeling of fear and narrowness, stress and darkness of the feelings and lives of the characters in the film, we needed such a location, and finally we were able to find this alley, which fortunately was close to the main location.
You cleverly use simple elements such as a light on and off, a toy airplane, the name Omid or a suitcase hidden in it. How was the creation of these elements in the script?
I believe in the filmmaking process a film, in addition to its apparent meaning, has an inner meaning that inhabits the audience’s subconscious and helps them understand the atmosphere of that event and the mood in the film better. This is why these symbols were used, and you can draw the Iranian society out of these symbols and get to know the current atmosphere of Iran better.
On the other hand, we have to use these symbols in our films to indirectly convey our political criticisms in a country full of restrictions.
This year at FICIMAD, we have received many films about the difficulties and problems that a woman in Iran faces today to get pregnant. How is the life of a female filmmaker in Iran?
The life of a female filmmaker in Iran is full of restrictions and secrecy. We might be interrogated for every film or word or move or appearance we have. But I have always tried to think without any limitations in my mind when I write my scripts. I feel like living in Iran persuades us to live in two aspects of ourselves.
The first one is our authentic true self, who after getting discovered must try not to be contaminated by the dictated expectations of society and politics. I mean we must live our true self in privacy. And the second one is a public aspect that we must live according to the patterns of the Islamic Republic as far as possible otherwise, we will be condemned in case of disobedience. It sounds really painful but it makes parts of human existence and self-knowledge flourish for people who expand their vision.
It is so like a person who lost his eyes but has to use the rest of his senses to be alive and happy. Many couples in Iran today are not interested in having children because they do not want their children to suffer the same problems in this country.
In your opinion, who are the best Iranian directors today?
I think Asghar Farhadi and Saeed Roustayi are the best.
Very good Iranian films always come to FICIMAD, very clever in terms of story and technically innovative, films directed by women are the most amazing. Is there a special film education or film school in Tehran?
Yes, the Young Cinema Association and Soureh University have trained good people for filmmaking.
Do you know any Spanish film or any Spanish director?
Yes, I have seen some good Spanish films like “The Others (2001) Alejandro Amenábar” and “The sea inside (2004) Alejandro Amenábar”.
We have promised to personally deliver the Don Quixote Award to you around 2025, we hope to see you there and all goes well for you. Are you currently planning to make a movie or a project?
Thank you very much for the beautiful award and it is my honor that our film “World Cup” was screened in your festival.
Yes, I have made another short film that is on the way to festivals, and I have several short and long scripts that I plan to make, God willing.