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Winner of the Orizzonti Award for Best Film in Venice: WORLD WAR III by Houman Seyedi


Arabian Moda x Houman Seyedi
All eyes were on Iranian Filmmaker Houman Seyedi at the closing ceremony of the 79th Venice International Film Festival. His film World War III (Jang-e Jahani Sevom) was called twice; for Best Film in the Orizzonti Award category, and for his lead cast Mohsen Tanabandeh as Best Actor. In an exclusive interview, Seyedi discussed the behind the scenes of his prize-worthy project.

AM: How did you start the writing process of World War III (Jang-e Jahani Sevom)?
I wrote the first few drafts of the screenplay by myself, but I wasn’t happy with the results. So I asked two of my friends - Arian Vazirdaftari and Azad Jafarian - to join me in writing the screenplay. The brainstorming sessions and talks that followed yielded a screenplay that let us start preproduction. During preproduction we did a few more rewrites until we came to the final draft days before production began.

AM: And did you face any difficulties during the filming process?
We had to build a World War 2 film set for the film within the film. Our production designer Mohsen Nasrollahi started building everything in northern Iran two months prior to production. Once we were there the challenge for me as the director was not only to get the tone right, but also to not get distracted by the big set pieces and to stay focused on my main character. Because I had decided early on that I wanted the camera to always stay with my lead, which is easier said than done. I kept having to remind myself that I am not making a World War II film like the director in my film is, I am making a film about a troubled hero who happens to find himself on the set of a bad World War II movie! For the big ensemble scenes, me and my DP Payman Shadmanfar choreographed a series of complicated single shots that required the entire cast and crew to stay laser focused to hit all their marks. It was challenging but very much worth the group effort to pull it off.

Arabian Moda x Jang-e Jahani Sevom

AM: The conversation about a new world war seems recurrent in the news. How much would you say your film is pessimistic about the status quo?
We wrote the screenplay and chose the title months before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A conventional war that has made the possibility of a world war at least appear to be more plausible in the eyes of the international community. However, we didn’t have a conventional war in mind when we came up with the title. A third world war may not necessarily be countries or governments going to war with one another, but rather a war between the haves and have-nots. A global response of some sort to the rise in inequality. Which is something that is not limited to any country or region. So, in that sense we are in fact pessimistic about the status quo. But then again, maybe we’re also optimistic about being able to change the course by having this film serve as a warning shot.

AM: Describe your feeling about the success story of your film in Venice
It was truly a pleasure to be present at this year’s Venice Film Festival. Winning Best Picture and Best Actor of the Orizzonti section made our stay all the more wonderful. I hope this means that our film and the films I make in the future find a wider audience abroad.

Synopsis: Shakib is a homeless day laborer who never got over the loss of his wife and son in an earthquake years ago. Over the last couple of years, he has developed a relationship with a deaf and mute woman, Ladan. The construction site on which he works today turns out to be the set of a film about the atrocities committed by Hitler during WWII. Against all odds, he is given a movie role, a house and a chance at being somebody. When Ladan learns about this, she comes to his workplace begging for help. Shakib’s scheme to hide her goes tragically wrong and threatens to ruin his newfound status and what seemed to be the opportunity of a lifetime.