Farnoosh Samadi was born in Iran and graduated in Multimedia Arts from the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, Italy. She started her career as a filmmaker at the Iranian Youth Film Society and made several video installations earlier in her career. She has directed and written scripts for several noticeable short films. Her script for the short film “More Than Two Hours,” directed by Ali Asgari, was a great success and vied for the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and screened at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. During her next working experience with Asgari, she wrote the script for another short film called “The Baby,” which premiered at the 2014 Venice Film Festival. As co-director and co-screenwriter, she made her first short film, “The Silence,” in 2016. It also competed for the Palme d’Or at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. On her own, she directed her second short film, “Gaze,” which had its world premiere in Competition at the 2017 Locarno Film Festival and qualified for the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film in 2018, when she also became a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Tara Karajica talks to Farnoosh Samadi about her debut feature, “180° Rule,” that premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
How did you get into filmmaking?
Farnoosh Samadi: There was a time when I had no special interest in Cinema or filmmaking and, of course, that’s history now! I studied Architecture and Design in Iran and worked in my field, too. My only real connection to Cinema those days were a couple of friends of mine who made short films. One day, very accidentally, an idea popped into my head, which was very tempting, so I discussed it with those friends and they encouraged me to go for it. Since I had no previous training, I started reading books on how to write a screenplay and I made that experimental work. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to pursue filmmaking and so, I left Iran to study Cinema in Italy. Leaving Iran was not only a new path of education for me, but also mostly a shift in perspective.
How did 180 Degree Rule come about? What was your inspiration for it?
F.S.: The main idea of the plot is based on a true story that happened to a friend of mine some years ago. While writing the screenplay, I tried to change some parts to make it more cinematic. Earlier, when I decided to make my first feature film, I thought of making a trilogy about lies, secrets and their consequences on the lives of people. This is also the main idea in my short films and it’s such an important concept for me. The story of 180 Degree Rule has been with me for a long time and I thought it would be perfect as the first episode of the trilogy.
With 180 Degree Rule, you continue with characters trapped in horrible situations, much like in your shorts, but you also continue in the tradition of contemporary Iranian Cinema where films tend to focus on personal or even small moments that end up making big differences and maybe even changing lives. Here, you take an intimate, apparently trivial moment and turn it into a display of female oppression. Can you talk about that?
F.S.: Yes, as you correctly mention, in my first feature film, I have continued what I have previously created in my short films or screenplays. The truth is, I had no idea what kind of filmmaker I’d be or what form of storytelling I’d choose, and I still don’t! I only follow what my heart and soul want. You might not believe it, but I was organizing my stories the other month and was astonished to discover that all my screenplays or all the long and short stories I have ever written are all based on lies and secrets. All the main characters of these stories have something to hide. What unconsciously made me follow this subject is the malfunctioning culture in my country today. I think the Iranian society needs to hide away many of their feelings due to the strict and dominant governing regulations and so, the people and especially women, have no other choice but to hide many of their stories and ideas, and even their true selves.
Sara faces physical and emotional abuse and yet she never revolts; she never fights back and never wants revenge. She is driven by fear more than by personal justice, which is a result of being accustomed to an unfair life that has become escapeless. In making the film’s protagonist unwilling to stop playing by society’s rules, you intentionally make us root for a passive but entirely believable character that unfortunately represents the reality of millions of women. Can you elaborate on that?
F.S.: Sara’s character is a reflection of the women of the world who struggle between tradition and modernism. They are trying their outmost to gain their rights and their circumstances are so confusing and complicated, especially for themselves, as they are striving to uncover the other shades of their personalities and lives. Building up a persona based on the characteristics of the younger generation feels less challenging to me, as they have moved past such duality.
There is no happy ending or moments of justice because moral and social systems are very rooted and therefore harder to change than the fate of women. You provoke with this film. Can you comment on that?
F.S.: I wasn’t planning on highlighting all the issues you have just mentioned, but knowing that 180 Degree Rule is a social drama and such important matters are my own personal engagements as well, it seems they have found a way to appear in my work. I was brought up in this society and have lived among these people with all those cultural malfunctions. The story of 180 Degree Rule is a reflection of myself and the people I know.
Can you talk about the character of Sara? How did you craft her?
F.S.: Sara is caught between traditions and modernism of her home and society. To understand such a character, I didn’t have to look far, as there are so many women, of the same age and with the same dilemmas; I just needed to pay detailed attention and figure out the hidden layers and that was painful. I needed to act as a therapist and, at the same time, not get involved emotionally. Even so, I truly enjoy collecting the pieces of each character. I believe that we humans change dramatically in certain situations. Our reactions and decisions are based upon the nature of incidents. Sara is under a drastic shock and she feels guilty and suffers greatly, and that’s how she ends up in the series of unfortunate events. I feel as if Sara was trying to ignore and prevent acceptance by doing what she did.
When you were writing the character of Sara, did you always have the leading actress Sahar Dolatshahi in mind? What was it like to work with her?
F.S.: Sahar Dolatshahi is one of the five most professional actors in Iran and I am honored to have her in my film in the leading role. Sahar played Sara as if she were reading my mind and it was amazing. Unfortunately, due to time and financial problems, I did not have the chance to rehearse with the cast and I just used my experiences from making short films. With them, I always tried to choose my cast based on what I felt was the closest image to my film’s characters. For 180 Degree Rule, I did the same and I was really lucky to cast Sara’s parents who are both very fine and experienced actors, too. I had to keep Sahar in isolation for most of the time as she needed to act her sad and happy moods in one location and she really needed her focus and alone time. One of my challenges in casting was with the actor who plays the character of Hamed. Pejman Jamshidi is an Iranian comedy actor and ex-football player, and 180 Degree Rule was his first drama, but it was an interesting transition; to break an actor’s type was one of the many firsts for me and it was amazing.
Can you talk about the shooting process of the film? What were the main challenges?
F.S.: Being a director is difficult anywhere in the world, but being a female director, especially in my country, Iran, is ten times harder. Now, imagine it’s the production of your first feature film, too! Even though I have a very strict working face, on various occasions, I felt I was not taken seriously just because I was a woman! Although, I have to admit that most of my colleagues were professionals, but it seems it’s a cultural issue. The violence towards women in some people seems to be within their bones and blood; it’s way harder to change their mindsets, but it’s possible. On the other hand, making a film in a country like Iran, which in all aspects such as economy, is influenced by the world’s traumas and outcomes, was also influenced by sanctions and the soaring rate of dollar and oil.
Will the film be released in Iran? How do you think the film will be received there?
F.S.: Like all other filmmakers, I do love to watch my work with my own people and have the chance to discuss it with them and get their feedback. I really hope I can screen my film at the Fajr Film Festival, the most prominent film festival in Iran. I have no idea what the reactions to my film will be, but I am very hopeful it affects everyone deeply.
Can you talk about the title, “180 Degree Rule”?
F.S.: To find the title of the film, I thought about many things and discussed it with many people but, in the end, this title satisfied me more than others because it was multi-dimensional. First of all, the woman is creating a new reality from what had happened, the reality that she wishes to be in, so she is interfering with the reality and is changing in the way that she likes. This is what Cinema is doing. “Creating the reality in a different way and in a way that filmmakers want.” That’s why I decided to use a cinematic term for that. Apart from that, if the same situation happened to the man in the film, would the woman forgive him? It means that if we went 180 degrees to the other side, would the situation be similar? And, finally, as in Iran the father has more rights than the mother, could the woman sue the man? These were the questions that led me to this title.
There has been so much talk about the situation of women in film in the past three years. What is your opinion on the subject? How is it like in Iran?
F.S.: It seems there are some changes occurring, but it definitely takes time. One of the main campaigns that has been noticed in the film industry was the 50/50 by 2020 one. Festivals are now required to choose equally between male and female directors’ works and, as a result, women have a fair share of being seen and attracting more sponsors. The truth is, there are fewer female directors and maybe it’s a new trend, so the industry should receive and recognize them with open arms, and one of the best solutions is through festivals or events where funds are given. Cinema is in need of new blood, female perspectives, fresh insights, and the other side of life less told. The most important thing is to not get daunted and to make things happen if you have faith in them. There’s no doubt that if we women keep on supporting each other and stand by one another, then everything is possible. Maybe one of the best solutions is to elaborate women social issues and struggles while telling their stories in our productions. In my films, I prefer to attract attention without spotlighting the issue itself.
Do you have a favorite female filmmaker and a favorite film by a female filmmaker?
F.S.: One of my favorite female filmmakers of all time is Andrea Arnold. I watched her film Red Road many years before I got into the world of Cinema and I felt attached to it for a very long time. The fact that her main characters are always women is my amusement. Her style of directing and her ways with her actors and actresses is always encouraging.
What are your next projects?
F.S.: Right now, I’m going through the next episode of this trilogy. This episode is a psycho drama with a male in the leading role. He is keeping a secret and causes enormous incidents in people’s lives. The main plot is already done and I am preparing to start writing the screenplay.
Photo credits: Arash Vakilzadeh.
This interview was conducted at the 2020 (virtual) Toronto International Film Festival.