An interview with Maryam Keshavarz

AE: One of the other things is that there is a huge intersectionality of so many things whether it’s tradition, culture, identity, sexual orientation –

The layers of who we are.

AE: Exactly! And it would be terrible for people to sort of boil this film down to one thing.

And that was important to me that a.) it would not be about one issue, because I think that even if you peg these women or say that they are queer, that is one of the many identities that they embody in the film. They are also part of a family, they are also part of a school, there is multiple aspects of how they interact in the world and how they’re forced to interact in the world. I didn’t want the film to be just about the girls, I wanted it to be about the family and how they struggle. I think it provides a sort of richness in to who they are.

AE: There were some really timely moments in the film, and you talked about this in the Q&A. Like for example, where they’re dubbing over Milk. You touched on the importance of dubbing and how things fit together with the Arab Spring.

It’s interesting how that happens. Obviously, all this film was made before that is happening now in the Arab World. It was made after the Green Wave in Iran, although the film takes place before the Green Wave in Iran. But for me, there is this sort of disconnect even between the Gay Movement, because I lived in San Francisco for a period of time. It’s like “Oh, there is the Gay Movement” and then there is liberation ideology. And for some people that is so separate.

It’s funny because one of [Harvey] Milk’s friends interviewed me in San Francisco and he was saying that Milk would be really happy about this movie because he really saw that the Gay Movement was really tied to liberation movements around the world. He really had a worldview of civil rights and of human rights. It’s unfortunate that it’s like us against them, when really if we’re talking about human rights, it should be something on a much greater scale, but that’s not necessarily the dialogue that happens because we’ve become so polarized, especially ‘cause it’s the Western World and the Muslim World. Well, what does that mean? The Muslim World? We have within the Muslim World, we have such a wide variation. Someone asked me does this represent Iranian culture, what’s happening in Iranian culture? And I’m like wow, I don’t think any film can do that. A film can only be about one particular person or one particular person’s story, but in reality there’s multitudes.

AE: Right. So then could you —

I mean, could you imagine American cinema without Spike Lee, without Ang Lee, without Kelly Reichardt, I mean other voices? What if it was only Hollywood?

AE: Right. Would that be representative of American cinema?

In some worlds it is because that is the only view there is because maybe that’s the only cinema that reaches most of the world. They have a certain viewpoint, which maybe is not the reality of American cinema, too.

AE: One of the things you mentioned was that you filmed in Lebanon. And I remember in the Q&A, you had talked about the feeling in Lebanon and how it feels similar to Tehran. Could you talk about that?

Well it’s a tiny country compared to Iran in both population and size which actually was a bit attractive for me because I could have the sea, and the ocean all within, like, an hour of each other. The people, we look alike ethnically. There are very few Shi’ah Msulim populations, the biggest one being Iran followed by southern Iraq and Lebanon. And culturally, they’re similar, there’s a lot of attraction between Iran and Lebanon. And also Lebanon is a very liberal place especially if you’re not shooting a film. [Laughs]

AE: [Laughs]

But once you start doing something like making a film, then the parallel between Iran and the U.S. — I mean Iran and Lebanon comes closer and closer. Because you know, we had to have a fake script to get it approved. They have a censorship board.

AE: Right. I remember you said it was originally 120 pages.

We got it down to 60. They were like, “Take out any reference to sexuality or religion.” And then the fact, you know, that military can come on your set at any time and question what you’re shooting, they can hold your film. All those things are, you know, things that people face when you’re shooting in Iran. It was quite difficult. And interesting enough, Lebanon is a battleground between the U.S. and Iran in terms of the politics. So part of Lebanese government and people are very on line with the United States, part of them are in line with Iran.

AE: So there’s that duality.

It was perfect because in some neighborhoods I would say I was American. In some neighborhoods I would say I was Iranian. Whatever was the benefit of the production. Even in the production, we had people from all over the world.

Circumstance will be released in New York and LA on August 26 and in select cities in the weeks following.

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