Iranian auteur's passion project

Something for the IFFA scrapbook - The Australian article by Justin Burke - Thank you to our fabulous publicity team at P4!

By Justin Burke for The Australian

Next year the American-born Iranian actor will star alongside Kristen Stewart in Camp X-Ray, a film in which he plays a Guantanamo Bay prisoner who befriends a female soldier. And he recently has been cast with Robert De Niro in Criminal Justice, an upcoming seven-part HBO miniseries. 

But far from being dazzled by his recent success in the US the 43-year-old is making his directorial debut with a black-and-white passion project titled Snow on Pines, which will headline the Iranian Film Festival Australia, opening tonight in Brisbane.

"With numerous opportunities, I think an artist is actually even more challenged and at risk of making more - and bigger - mistakes too," he says.

"One has to remain more focused, practise even harder and, most importantly, not let success breed complacency."

Snow on Pines, shot in Tehran, is about "the differences between men and women", Maadi says. The film stars the Iranian actress Mahnaz Afshar as a piano teacher who discovers her husband's infidelity. Maadi took four years to write the screenplay, which was inspired by observing the people who visited his father's legal practice. "It is the story of a woman who is facing her problems in a country filled with taboos ... this was the main reason why I decided to do the project," he says.

The film was lauded at the 2013 Iranian Film Critics Guild Awards, with Afshar winning the award for best actress and Maadi winning best film and best script.

But, like many Iranian films, it did not escape official sanction.

"I can tell you, I have faced difficulties in every single one of my projects," Maadi says.
"Despite the film being produced legally, it was banned for almost two years, and only following substantial efforts were we finally able to screen the film in a limited number of theatres."

Maadi chose hand-held photography to lend the desired "poeticism" to the cinematography.

"This style enabled me to depict the coldness of life," he says. "It was a big risk, yet as we got closer to the end of the production I became more and more certain that the film could not be portrayed in any other way.
"Mahnaz Afshar was determined to portray her character as best as possible, so we rehearsed for more than two months."

Despite making films in one of the most culturally restrictive countries on earth, Maadi is undeterred about pursuing his craft. "Filmmakers ought not to abandon their efforts or the pursuit of their projects, whether in Iran, or in any other country," he says. 

The IFFA is curated by Anne Demy-Geroe, former director of the Brisbane International Film Festival, and Iranian-Australian filmmaker Armin Miladi.

The program includes the romantic comedy Meeting Leila, with Maadi's co-star from A Separation, Leila Hatami. It is directed by Adel Yaraghi and co-written by Abbas Kiarostami.

Another highlight will be the Australian premiere of controversial filmic essay The Gardener by exiled director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. It focuses on the Baha'i faith and questions the role religion plays in matters of peace, war and politics, via a dialogue between the director and his son Maysam.

The program concludes with Bahram Beyza'i's black-and-white pre-revolutionary film Downpour (1972).

Maadi is proud of the attention Iranian film is receiving from audiences and attributes it to "the depth and richness of Iran's literature and culture".

"I believe that in recent years a new movement in Iranian filmmaking is beginning. It's a source of national pride," he says.

Maadi says he intends to carry on acting and directing. "Storytelling is truly my calling," he says.

He is more eager, however, to emphasise the potential of film to develop cultural understanding than to talk about his success or awards.

"The most important 'award' is the support of the people around me," he says.
"They have always been the reason why I do what I do. Travelling around the world with A Separation made me realise that people are not so different from one another. This came as something of a surprise to me, given the nonstop attempts by the media to magnify the differences between nations."

The IFFA is in Brisbane from today until Sunday, then tours to Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide until November 10.