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Venice Film Festival: The Power of Animated Films with IN THE SHADOW OF THE CYPRESS

In the Shadow of the Cypress (Dar saaye sarv)
 The animated film In the Shadow of the Cypress (Dar saaye sarv) follows the story of a former captain who suffers from post- traumatic stress disorder and lives with his daughter in an isolated house by the sea. Despite the captain’s deep desire to be a devoted father, he has a difficulty connecting with his daughter. On a life-changing day, an unexpected event happens that brings the uncertainty of hope or despair to the heroes.

We spoke with directors Hossein Molayemi and Shirin Sohani about the strength of animation and the creative process of their Orizzonti-nominated project.

AM: Tell us more about the research process that preceded the execution of the film
HM & SS: We spent a lot of time on the story, engaging in brainstorming sessions and conducting extensive research. Over the course of more than a year, we delved into every detail, discussing and refining our ideas. We chose to rely on our own creativity and didn't seek external consultation to avoid confusion. Additionally, we conducted careful research on various topics such as PTSD, veterans, beached whales, traditional launches, seagulls and their behavior, war, and traditional customs in the south of Iran. This research was conducted simultaneously with the script development process. At times, our research provided us with new insights and ideas that influenced the direction of the story.

AM: How was the experience like once production started?
HM & SS: Making this film was like playing chess. Since we live in Iran, we had to face and deal with numerous challenges every day. Some of these challenges were directly related to the technical aspects of the film, while others indirectly influenced its production. For instance, the impact of sanctions and the devaluation of our currency constantly exerted pressure on us. We had a limited budget, restricted access to facilities and equipment, and a shortage of full-time animators. Therefore, we had to carefully manage our crew and budget to ensure efficiency, while also being meticulous about maintaining quality and coherence.

From a technical standpoint, one of our primary challenges was maintaining the overall coherence and consistency of the film. We worked with different self-taught animators who had distinct styles, which posed a challenge in terms of achieving a unified visual aesthetic. We employed various techniques to ensure the film's unity and consistency. While it is impossible to mention all of the challenges we faced, it is clear that we encountered numerous obstacles throughout the production process.

AM: In your opinion, how is an animated film more impactful?
HM & SS: When it comes to the impact of an animated film, there are certain aspects that make it unique. While making an animated film poses its own set of challenges compared to a live-action film, it also offers fewer limitations. For instance, by making our film in animation, it was easier for us to dive into the depths of the ocean or depict the whale, the rotating fighter jet or the sinking launch. Animation allows for greater freedom in visualizing and stretching the boundaries of imagination, enabling filmmakers to create visually stunning and captivating worlds.

However, the impact of an animated film ultimately depends on the story and how it is narrated. As filmmakers, regardless of the medium used, our primary focus is on crafting a compelling narrative. Animation is just a technique that can be employed to enhance storytelling. Sometimes, animation may be more suitable for a particular story, while other times it may not be the most appropriate choice. The effectiveness of an animated film lies in its ability to engage the audience emotionally, deliver a meaningful message, and create a lasting impact through its storytelling, regardless of the medium chosen.

In the Shadow of the Cypress (Dar saaye sarv)

AM: And why did you choose to have no dialogue?
HM & SS: The decision to have no dialogue in our film was driven by the desire to establish a direct and unfiltered connection with the audience. However, we were initially concerned about the potential for the film's atmosphere to feel artificial, as this can be a common challenge in "no-dialogue films." We wanted to avoid any forced or contrived elements in our storytelling.

Fortunately, as the story unfolded during the development process, it naturally evolved in a way that rendered dialogue unnecessary. The narrative progression and character interactions felt organic, convincing, and true to the essence of the story we wanted to tell. By eschewing dialogue, we aimed to create a visual and emotional experience that would resonate with the audience on a deeper level, allowing them to interpret and engage with the film in their own personal way.

AM: While you started working on this film a couple of years ago, does the story align in any way with the situation in Iran the world is currently witnessing?
HM & SS: It is important to note that the current situation in Iran is not a recent development. It is the culmination of decades of war, sanctions, economic challenges, and political repression. At first glance, our film may not appear directly related to the current situation in Iran. However, it is essential to acknowledge that many families in Iran continue to endure the consequences of war and the various problems mentioned.

The focus of our film is on human relationships, which have been profoundly impacted by the social and political circumstances in Iran, particularly after the revolution. While we may not explicitly address certain symbols and themes, we intentionally incorporate elements that allow viewers to discover and interpret them in their own way. Approaching the film from this perspective, you may find similarities and connections to the current situation in Iran. We firmly believe that this film is a distinctly Iranian production and can only be created by an Iranian filmmaker. It reflects the unique experiences, perspectives, and cultural context that shape Iranian society. While the story may not directly align with the specific events of the present day, its underlying themes and the influence of the social and political circumstances in Iran make it relevant and reflective of the Iranian experience.

AM: Finally, why did you decide to participate in Venice? 
HM & SS: The Venice Film Festival holds the distinction of being the oldest film festival in the world and is one of the three major A-list film festivals. We are very grateful to have our film showcased at such a prestigious event. The exposure and recognition garnered from participating in the Venice Film Festival can provide a valuable visibility for our film among industry professionals. It offers an opportunity for our work to be seen and appreciated by key figures in the industry. However, the extent to which this opportunity will contribute to our individual careers remains to be seen and is subject to various factors.

In addition to our personal aspirations, the inclusion of Middle Eastern cinema in a renowned festival like Venice has broader implications for the overall industry. It helps to promote diversity, representation, and the visibility of new voices and perspectives in the global cinematic landscape. By showcasing Middle Eastern cinema on such a prestigious platform, the festival contributes to the recognition and appreciation of the filmmakers from this region and their contributions to the art form. It can inspire and open doors for other non-European and non-American filmmakers, fostering greater opportunities for storytelling and cultural exchange within the industry.