Since 2010 Writer/Director Fateme Ahmadi has been taking the documentary and short film world by storm. Current Film London Lodestar 2019, she has also taken part in the prestigious world-renowned Berlinale Talents, Edinburgh Talent Lab, as well as being selected for the Tunisia Factory project which screens as part of Cannes Film Festival in their Directors Fortnight section with her film Leila’s Blues.
In 2017 she was chosen as part of Film London’s London Calling Plus slate where she wrote and directed BIFA nominated short Bitter Sea. I am so happy to be able to chat to her about her mammoth achievements so far and find out what she’s up to next!
Thank you so much for having this chat with us Fateme. Tell us about yourself and what influences you as a Writer/Director.
I was born and raised in Shiraz, Iran and studied Persian Literature, Cinema and Linguistics in Tehran. In 2010, after winning MOP Scholarship, I moved to London to study filmmaking at the London Film School. And ever since I’ve been making short fictions and docs in different countries of the world in languages I don’t understand!
You know, the plight of refugees is currently one of the world’s biggest crisis since the World War II and women and children are more vulnerable to the aggressive and cold conditions of host societies, but their stories have not been told much especially in short formats.
Bitter Sea’s story was inspired by several true events and real people I knew. When I first decided to write a script based on them, the main reason was that as an Iranian in the UK, their stories simply resonated with me. As I was revising each draft, things were quickly falling into place and becoming more meaningful. For instance, I knew the main characters were immigrants but in early drafts, there was not much on their reasons to leave Romania and come to the UK. Or the Language barriers or domestic violence, which both could easily overshadow the main themes of the story, they all gradually and subtly found their way into the script.
How important are short films when first starting out?
Well, very important. At least to find out what kind of films you enjoy making and to explore the worlds you can create. You might even fall in love with short films and decide to make shorts forever! It’s like falling in love with writing shorts stories. No one would expect you to become a novelist necessary.
What was it like to be selected for the Tunisia Factory where you created the very powerful short Leila's Blues (together with Ismaël Louati)?
As a co-directing project, it wasn’t an easy one, but it was a great opportunity to meet and work with some very talented fellow filmmakers from that part of the world and make a film in a language I don’t speak. I had a great time working with the cast and crew in particular and with the HODs who were mostly women. We had a few men in each department too. I hadn't seen so many women on a film set before!
It is needless to say how beautiful Tunis is and you can't not love how nice the people are. I want to add that I’m eternally grateful to Dominique Welinski who selected me to be a part of this experience.
You were also a part of 'Berlinale Talents 2017' and 'Edinburgh Talent Lab in 2019' - how helpful were these talent labs to you as a filmmaker?
I think they can be very influential. You’ll network, you’ll gain support from the professionals who have more knowledge, skills and experiences than you and most of the time you’ll also meet filmmakers who are trying to overcome the same challenges you are experiencing now. To see that you are not alone and it is just a transitional period for everybody have been very useful and reassuring to me.
The actors in your shorts have given some powerhouse performances. How do you work with actors on film?
It varies. Depending on the project and how many prep days we can get. We always have rehearsals and table reads. It can never be enough though! I also want the actors to be comfortable in their new skins and that requires time. So, I’d rather write a role for a specific actor, study them before working with them and then try to help them with personalising their roles for them without losing the main features of the character.
A good reference for this could be East of Eden, which I recently re-watched thanks to the lockdown! Marlon Brando was a finalist for the part of the main character, which eventually was played by James Dean. According to Elia Kazan, it was Dean's idea to do the little running dance in the bean field, and Kazan said he kissed him for that valuable contribution. He also noted that the far more contained Brando would never have been able to do a scene like that. So working with actors depends on many factors including time, budget, personalities of the actors and definitely successful casting!
What's next for you?
I am currently developing my first feature with producers, BAFTA-nominated Jack Tarling and BFI Vision Award recipient Pietro Greppi.
Do you have any advice for new Writer/Directors coming up in the industry?
The best advice I've been given was written on a fortune, one of many, from legendary Walter Murch. It was a quote from Robert Bresson: "Make yourself be believed. People whispered about Dante that he went to Hell when he chose and brought back news from there."
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Vimeo: Fateme Ahmadi