Not many years ago, a young Iranian girl would act in front of mirrors and talk to herself as characters she imagined herself to be. She was in love with cinema and wanted to be an actor, but the social circumstances meant she had to take the conventional road – find a job to support her family. And then something magical happened.
Her uncle, the filmmaker Ali Asgari, auditioned her for his film Disappearance, which went on to world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 2017. And the rest, as they say, is history. That young girl, Sadaf Asgari is today one of the most influential young faces in Iranian cinema, having already won a Special Jury Award for Acting at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival for her role in the short film Exam (2019).
Addressing youth jurors at the Ajyal Spotlight section of the Special 10th Edition of the Ajyal Film Festival, Sadaf said building an acting career is not easy. “There are hundreds of people out there, who attend acting classes, and have immense talent. But what matters is your passion for acting. If you are passionate, you will follow it, and it will get you going.”
Thankful to her uncle, who cast her in a break-out role, Sadaf said: “No doubt, my uncle supported me, but it is your real passion for cinema that will define your career. Acting classes help you in understanding the techniques, but, to be honest, acting comes from deep down. You have to be in touch with your emotions and feelings and be the person you are portraying.”
In Asgari's latest, Until Tomorrow (Iran, France, Qatar/2022), which screened for Ajyal Jurors in Doha, Sadaf plays the lead role. She portrays a young mother, trying to hide from her parents her two-month-old baby. A compelling portrait of the millennial generation and their often clashing relationship with traditions, Sadaf captures the vulnerabilities of her character impeccably. She said the film is closest to her heart now.
“I really like all my films and even when a film doesn’t turn out to be what we expected, the experience we gain is invaluable. With every experience, I was learning more and more,” adding that she likes short form content more so because it fits with her approach to acting.
“When I did my first film Disappearance, I didn’t really get into reading the script. Even today, typically, I don’t spend too much time reading scripts because the more you read, the more your approach to the character becomes ‘technical’. I like to go before the camera with raw emotions, by deeply getting involved into why the character behaves and responds in a particular way. I like to get under the skin of the character and their environment.”
Sadaf has also starred in Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness by Massoud Bakhshi, a stunning character study featuring a duo of extraordinary performances which was won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2019 and marked its MENA Premiere at Ajyal Film Festival in 2020.
The actress said she was overjoyed and excited after winning the award at Sundance in the beginning, but “unfortunately in Iran, these recognitions do not have the same kind of impact as in other countries. Of course, I got congratulatory messages and was offered jobs and positions, but, for me, the real impact is when I know the films touch people. At several screenings, women come to me and say they have gone through similar experiences as the characters I did. I feel honored I can do work that move people.”
In recognition of her outstanding work and for being the inspiration for young people by being the change they want to see in the world, Sadaf Asgari was presented a special ‘Ajyal Honorary Award’ by the youth Ajyal Jurors.
The Ajyal Film Festival screened a specially curated program of important stories from around the world to 613 youth jurors from over 50 countries. They also took part in the Ajyal Talks and Spotlight sessions in addition to several lively discussions on cinema.
For more information, check out the Doha Film Institute website.