Directing through WhatsApp & other challenges: Iranian filmmaker Farbod Ardebili's wondrous short is Oscar eligible

Ardebili's short live action film 'Forbidden to See Us Scream in Tehran' is eligible for consideration for this year's Academy Awards and is a beautiful example of determination and talent always winning out over borders and politics.
Directing through WhatsApp & other challenges: Iranian filmmaker Farbod Ardebili's wondrous short is Oscar eligible

That Iranian filmmaker Farbod Ardebili is also an animator and a musician doesn't surprise. His cinematic vision is stunning, visually and sound-wise. In his 2020 short film Forbidden to See Us Scream in Tehran he piques our interest in a story that could easily become a feature film. In fact, it begs to.

Shima (played by the beautiful Mohadeseh Kharaman in her film debut) is the lead singer in an all-male metal band. This would be difficult enough anywhere in the Western world but Shima lives in Tehran, Iran which makes her aspirations criminal. Not only is she a woman singing but she's surrounded by men while doing so.

Shima's sister is little Sherin (played by Sarina Amiri who is also at her screen debut) and she's deaf and mute. Her future is uncertain in a country that doesn't allow for handicaps and Ardebili does a great job at showing us why in one haunting scene. So we are presented with Shima's difficult decision, to both follow her dreams but also help her sister, who is in her sole care.

It's important to add that this film is barely 17 minutes long and yet, as a viewer I walked away feeling like I'd watched a feature in the way I felt the characters' plight and felt them in flesh and bone, and passionate metal blood running through their vein, on the big screen. So I wanted to catch up with their creator, Farbod Ardebili, in a short Q & A from Los Angeles, where the Sundance Fellow and award winning filmmaker has been residing since 2014.

Filmmaker and writer Farbod Ardebili

It says at the start of your film that it was inspired by a real story, can you talk about that?

Of course! This film is inspired by my own experience as an underground musician in Tehran, Iran. I had a metal band over there named OFF. As you may know, metal music is not an accepted form of music by the Iranian government, and all the metal musicians in Iran are forced to work in the underground scene.

For our second album, we had an amazing female vocalist, which is another sin all by itself. Singing solo in any genre is illegal for women, let alone metal. And it was always a struggle for me to understand why half the population is not allowed to follow their dreams and share their creativity and talent with the world. That whole experience is what inspired the film.

Where did you film it?

I live in the US, but because of our limited budget, I knew that I had to shoot the film in Iran to keep it authentic. So that's what we did.

How difficult was it to film?

It was extremely hard, especially because I was not able to travel back to my home country, Iran. Therefore, I decided to direct the film through WhatsApp, which was quite challenging. But I had an exceptionally talented and brave team behind me, and thanks to their determination and dedication to sharing this story with the world, we made it work.

How did you find your leading lady? She's such a fascinating character but also played really beautifully.

We held auditions. Many of them. And Mohadese Kharaman absolutely killed it. It might be interesting for you to know that she wasn't initially very familiar with the rock and metal genre, but by the end of the production, it all changed. She was really terrific to work with.

Have you thought about making this into a feature?

Yes. We are actually in the talks to make that happen. We even already have a screenplay that very recently was one of the four finalists at the Sun Valley Film Festival.

And what is your own experience with deafness?

The character of Sherin is not based on any real person. I just loved the contrast between someone whose voice is taken from her by society and someone who is born without a voice. However, we were fortunate enough to find a real hearing-impaired actress to play the role, and working with her was incredible. It was her first experience as an actress, and I couldn't be happier with her commitment to the role and the results.

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