Zar Amir Ebrahimi, a best actress winner at last year’s Cannes for “Holy Spider,” is ready to move into directing, currently developing a feature debut under the working title of “Honor of Persia.”
“It has been years and years that I am writing. It’s about my last year in Iran,” she told Variety at Sweden’s Göteborg Film Festival where she has served as head of its Nordic Competition jury.
When a scandal derailed her career back in 2006, she fled the country, fearing for her life. But she is ready to come back to these difficult moments, she says.
“With any trauma, whether it’s rape or war, you start to dissociate. You bring another character into your life, but it’s not you. I never fully realized how traumatized I was by that whole experience. By developing this idea, I could finally admit it.”
Ebrahimi will also star in the film.
“I am obsessed with the idea of ‘doubles’ and, by accident, I found it in my own story. It will be present in the film, and then I will also perform [double duty] on set. It’s crazy, but sometimes I really feel like I am observing my life from afar.”
She adds: “I always wanted to make films, but a teacher of mine told me: ‘If you want to be a good director, go and learn acting.’ Then, when I couldn’t work in Iran any more, I started to learn how to edit, to shoot. As an emigrant, at one point I became this multi-functioning person. I need all this to be alive.”
Ebrahimi, inspired by “Holy Spider” helmer Ali Abbasi, Gaspar Noé and even “Mulholland Drive” (“It’s one of my favorites,” she states) will play with horror elements in her debut.
“These filmmakers just go further, they risk. I want it to be confusing, surreal. That’s the kind of cinema I like.”
Ebrahimi has experienced a real whirlwind following her best actress win at Cannes. She recently presented a new feature at Sundance – Audience Award winner “Shayda” about a mother fleeing an abusive relationship – and will be next be seen, and heard in Berlinale titles “My Worst Enemy” by Mehran Tamadon and Steffi Niederzoll’s “Seven Winters in Tehran.”
“It’s about Reyhaneh Jabbari,” reveals Ebrahimi. After spending seven years in prison, Jabbari was executed after killing her alleged rapist, a former agent with ties to the government.
“It’s a very touching movie, revealing a lot of swept-under-the-carpet information. I will be her voice, reading out letters she wrote while in prison.”
Ebrahimi keeps on speaking out against the Iranian government and the current situation in her home country. At Göteborg alone, she led a protest, publicly reading out names of 173 artists and cultural figures, imprisoned or harassed. But that role comes at a price, she says.
“I was never meant to be a spokesperson for the entire nation. I want people to see my art, too.”
She admits she felt “limited” during the recent Oscar campaign. While “Holy Spider” was shortlisted, it wasn’t nominated.
“The Q&As were mostly about the situation in Iran, which was good at the beginning, but no one was asking us about our artistic choices. We had so many stories to tell and we didn’t. I think I got confused at one point.”
She will continue to be politically engaged, however, inspired by what she sees.
“First of all, it’s not only me – the whole diaspora is very involved in it. But there are these pictures of girls who lost their eyes [in the uprising] and they just make victory signs and smile. I can’t imagine myself being so brave. The turning point has happened already. It’s just a matter of time,” she says.
“It’s as if the government got more scared now. They didn’t expect this award in Cannes, they didn’t expect ‘Holy Spider’ to be a good movie. These are, I believe, their last days, so they just try to grab onto anything they can. But we have reached this point when we want change.”
Ebrahimi also commented on the recent incident at Iran’s Fajr Film Festival, with several notable directors, including Alice Diop and the Dardennes Brothers, demanding for their films to be pulled from the fest.
“Everyone was shocked. How could this happen?! It’s a permanent fight against a clever system. They manipulate Western governments, artists and festivals. That’s why it’s important to stage protests like the one we did here. You have to be aware of these games.”
While she noted the importance of festivals making a stand – with Berlinale boycotting companies with direct ties to Iranian (and Russian) governments – she also keeps wondering about the future of the local industry.
“All my colleagues are in this big prison called Iran now. So how can I, Zar, help them create, stay alive and stay strong? This is the biggest question I have for myself right now. The least I can do is to say their names.”