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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2023 New Directors

Farhad Delaram • Director of Achilles

“My film is a call for artists to engage more profoundly with real-world challenges”


- The independent Iranian filmmaker talks us through his storytelling inspirations, Iran's sociopolitical backdrop, his love for road movies and his experiences with European collaboration

Farhad Delaram  • Director of Achilles

Cineuropa sat down with independent Iranian filmmaker Farhad Delaram, known for his celebrated short Tattoo, which won the Crystal Bear at the 69th Berlinale and was showcased at over 70 international film festivals. Delaram accompanied his feature-length debut, Achilles [+see also:
film review
interview: Farhad Delaram
film profile
, to the New Directors section of San Sebastián following its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The filmmaker discussed his storytelling inspirations, Iran's sociopolitical backdrop, the challenges of navigating censorship, his love for road movies and poetic cinema, and his experiences with European collaboration.

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Cineuropa: What persuaded you to tell this particular story set against the backdrop of the current Iranian sociopolitical climate?
Farhad Delaram:
In 2019, despite winning the Crystal Bear at Berlin, I grappled with the purpose of my filmmaking. Observing the societal unrest in Iran, I felt a disconnect between artists and the genuine struggles of the masses. This inspired a script where an artist, mirroring my own dilemmas, learns from the everyday person. My film is a call for artists to engage more profoundly with real-world challenges.

As an Iranian filmmaker, how do you navigate the challenges of censorship and political scrutiny in your storytelling?
In my view, many independent filmmakers, including myself, have felt restrained. There are topics we shy away from for fear of reprisal or censorship. While we've lived under censorship for over four decades, there's an innate desire in us to contribute value to our nation's narrative. In making this film, I decided to approach it with the utmost honesty, bypassing the subtle metaphors we often use to navigate sensitive issues. But I believe I approached this project as authentically as possible, coming close to a vision unobstructed by censorship.

Why did you choose a road movie as the genre?
I've always had an admiration for them. Films like Badlands or those by Andrey Zvyagintsev come to mind. Initially, my script wasn't a road movie; my aim was to build a nuanced relationship between characters, somewhat romantic yet grounded in reality. Through this journey, I wanted the artist character to rediscover his purpose and once again utilise his art to reflect and have an impact on society.

Another reason for the road-movie approach relates to my personal experiences. In my early twenties, I'd travel with my brother, visiting various parts of Iran. Despite the cultural and linguistic differences, I observed a shared sense of disillusionment among the people. They yearned for societal and political change. I wanted to highlight these shared sentiments by showcasing various parts of Iran.

Wasn’t it hard to shoot a road movie in Iran?
Creating the film was an immense challenge, primarily due to our tight budget. The production faced more hurdles when, three weeks into shooting, significant demonstrations erupted nationwide. This led to frequent interruptions; every couple of days, we'd be stopped and questioned about our activities, leading to delays. The 2,000 km journey, coupled with the external distractions, was certainly demanding.

Why are you drawn to creating poetic cinema?
My preference has always been for more poetic cinema, focusing on atmosphere and mood. While “poetic” might not be the precise term, it stems from my deep appreciation for cinema and literature. Michelangelo Antonioni, for instance, has always captivated me. Whenever I feel disillusioned with modern cinema, I turn to classics like Antonioni's L'Avventura or Robert Bresson's A Man Escaped. These films aren't heavy on dialogue, but they immerse you in their settings and atmospheres. Contemporary directors like Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Carlos Reygadas similarly influence me. This affinity might also mirror my personality; outside of discussions about cinema or familiar topics, I'm often more of a listener than a speaker.

Was there any room for improvisation on set?
I'm a bit of an old-school filmmaker. Some might even call me strict because I always have a detailed storyboard, which I embed directly into my script. It shows exactly where I intend to cut; I don't just keep the cameras rolling because we're in the digital era. However, when it comes to my actors, especially the leads, I prefer to spend two months with them before we start filming. It's not just about rehearsing; it's about letting them get to know me and their characters. We spend a month in formal rehearsals, focusing mainly on achieving the right chemistry and rhythm between them. During this preparatory phase, I'm open to improvisation. But once we settle on the final approach, that's set in stone.

How did the European collaboration on your project start?
In 2019, I quit filmmaking. When I returned to it, I started writing Achilles in Iran. By the end of 2019, I was invited to an art residency at the Berlin Academy of Art. This felt like the perfect moment to return to filmmaking, especially with the distance and perspective Berlin would offer. However, just three weeks into my stay, the pandemic hit, limiting my networking opportunities. Despite these challenges, I still managed to produce two independent short films during my year in Berlin. These projects introduced me to two German producers. When they saw the rough cut of Achilles, which I had funded with personal contributions from myself, my brother and friends, they were quite impressed. Ultimately, all post-production took place in Europe. Now, I find myself splitting my time between Iran and Berlin.

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