Arash T. Riahi • Director
"My film is about respecting human values"
Moving, poetic, realistic, entertaining, and political, young Iranian-born director Arash T. Riahi’s For a Moment, Freedom [+see also:
film profile] by evokes varying emotions: smiles, anger and tears. Having fled Iran for Austria in 1982 with his family, Riahi made this autobiographical film on exile after his 2006 documentary Exile Family Movie.
"My father fled Iran after being tortured. When I was 18 I started wondering what my real identity was and I realised that I’d have to continue my parents’ commitment to making the world aware of respecting human values and the condition of refugees, of those who flee their country when it is no longer democratic,” the filmmaker told Cineuropa.
Produced by Austria’s Wega Film and French company Les Films du Losange, For a Moment, Freedom won the Golden Zenith for Best Debut Film at the World Film Festival in Montreal. It went on to pick up awards at other festivals as well (including Zurich, Amazonas and Lecce) and was released in Austria and France last January. Its German release is set for September of this year, and the film certainly deserves wide distribution.
Cineuropa: It took you seven years to make this film.
Arash T. Riahi: I began writing it in 2000. I thought it would be a good idea to tell a story I knew well. Only part of the film is autobiographical, the rest are events that were told to me or that my sister lived through.
In fact, For a Moment, Freedom tells the odyssey of three different groups of Iranian and Kurdish refugees, stuck in Ankara as they wait for their requests for political asylum to be accepted.
I wanted to depict three stories of different people with different experiences and of different ages who find themselves in the same situation, to make a universal film on anyone seeking freedom. Refugees are always “political” and while these characters have different degrees of political activism they are united by the same desire to fulfil their dreams.
Did the situation before the UN office for refugees that you describe in the film actually happen?
With respect to when I arrived, it’s much harder today for a refugee arriving in Europe. You register in the UNHCR office in Ankara, Istanbul or Van and if they grant you political asylum status you have to wait for them to assign you a country of destination, according to quotas. You might end up in a country different from the ones in which your parents live, as they wait for you to join them. Two of the actors in the film are actual refugees and one waited for 10 years for a country to accept him.
How did you cast the film?
Only half the cast is made up of professional actors. Choosing was difficult, it took us over a year and a half, and we travelled between Berlin, Stockholm, Paris, London, Vienna, Leipzig and Frankfurt. There aren’t many Iranian actors around and naturally anyone wanting to return to Iran will have problems if they appear in a film that criticises that regime. It was also difficult to understand their political ideas, I didn’t want any right-wing people in the film.
We were looking for people who spoke Farsi without an accent, some had to be at most 20, and we also needed five-seven year-olds. Navid Akhavan was the first to audition and we ultimately chose him. There’s also Fares Fares, a Lebanese actor who lives in Sweden and is a wonderful person, two Iranians also from Sweden, seven from France, and Cengiz Bozkurt, who is a star in Turkey. Three others came from England and Johannes Silberschneider and Michael Niavarani from Austria.
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