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Persian tale in Sweden

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Mani Maserrat-Agah| • Director

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Mani Maserrat-Agah| • Director

The 32 year-old Iranian-born Mani Maserrat-Agha, who arrived in Sweden almost two decades ago, has drawn from his personal experience to make his feature debut Ciao bella, based on a script by Jens Jonsson. The coming-of-age film was selected for the Generation 14+ section at this year’s Berlinale, where it was picked up by the UK-based international sales company Spiers Films.

Cineuropa: How did you get into filmmaking?
I fled from Iran when I was 13. As soon as I arrived in Sweden, I had this urge to tell my story. Also, looking at Sweden and Iran, those are two countries with a strong cinema tradition. Plus, my father was a great storyteller, and film is about telling stories. All this drove me to filmmaking.

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But you started by studying economics …
Yes because in a Persian home there is a strong tradition of getting a proper education to get a “real” job. But I didn’t like that environment. One day, I met an old acquaintance who asked me, “So what do you want to do in life?” I said I would really like to work in film. He said, “How exciting. I have a nephew who works as assistant director to Bille August – Daniel Lind Lagerlöf.”

The following day, I rang him. I dropped my economic studies and joined a film school, to my parents’ dismay! My studies got my foot into television so today I already have ten years of experience in television.

How did you meet Jens Jonsson?
We first met at a party, then at a cinema. When we finally sat down at a table I submitted to him a formal idea for the film I wanted to direct. We worked together for four years on the script. Then we went to three production companies, all of whom wanted to work with us. We closed a deal with Göta Film and used the Gothia Cup – the youth football competition in Sweden – as a background. It took another three years to finance the film, which I thought was quite tough.

You’ve had difficulties finding foreign distribution because of sex scenes between the two 16-year-old characters. How do you feel about that and would you consider cutting another version for the international market?
Unfortunately, the film has not found foreign distribution outside of Norway. I do find really sad that in 2008 we still can’t discuss youth sexuality in film. If someone came to me and said, “Twenty territories will buy your film if you agree to cut some scenes, then I would probably consider it. But that hasn’t happened. There is also a strong pro-abortion line in the movie, which would be hard to edit. I do believe that the film in its current form has a real edge and I wouldn’t want to change this to make it more mainstream.

What do you think of the current filmmaking environment in Sweden?
I think it’s great that there are so many new voices in Swedish cinema winning awards at top international festivals, such as Jens Jonsson’s The King of Ping Pong [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
at Sundance, Daniel Alfredson’s Let the Right One In [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: John Nordling
interview: Tomas Alfredson
film profile
]
at Tribeca, and Ruben Östlund’s Involuntary [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Erik Hemmendorff
interview: Ruben Östlund
film profile
]
in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard.

In terms of state film support, I think that the Swedish Film Institute should have a clearer goal of the types of films they want to support. It’s a bit unfair to fight for the same money if you want to make an arthouse film or a commercial film. If Roy Andersson wants to make a film, there shouldn’t be a discussion about his film’s commercial potential. His films are typical festival films and should be pushed in that direction. You can’t have everything.

What’s next for you?
I have a new idea that I’d like to develop again with Jens Jonsson. It will be a comedy about physical illness.

What does it mean for you to be selected at Karlovy Vary?
After Berlin and the positive review we received from Variety, the most influential film trade magazine, I feel very proud and excited about going to Karlovy Vary.

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