‘Translator of both worlds’
As a young girl, Maryam Keshavarz vividly recalls the racial-profiling that her and her family were subjected to in the early 1980s during the Iran hostage crisis.
Then, on Sept. 11, 2001, the all-too-familiar memory of her older brothers being hassled and beaten up for being Iranian came storming back.
"It kind of felt like déjà vu," she said.
A week after the unprecedented attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Keshavarz set out with nothing but a camera and some incentive. She would go on to make a 16mm surreal fantasy film entitled "Sanctuary," a movie about an Iranian woman living in New York City post-9/11. The piece earned her a scholarship to New York University.
"I felt like, again, the media had images of people from the Middle East that were so monolithic and were caricatures," she said. "I’ve always been interested in cinema and storytelling."
Fast-forward a bit and Keshavarz is now being featured in the 2011 Sundance Film Festival dramatic competition with her feature "Circumstance."
The film, which was shot in Lebanon, focuses on a freethinking, affluent family in Iran’s capital city of Tehran and the relationship of a brother and a sister. The story delves into the underground world of art, music and sexuality.
Having visited Iran on an annual basis for most of her life, Keshavarz’s film isn’t autobiographical, but it’s certainly close. Much of the script was written based on what she’s seen during her visits and her overall experiences in Iran, she explained.
"It resonates with me because there’s something about the story that connects. It’s also my experience, because I am that younger generation. I went to those parties. It’s also my culture. That’s what I grew up around."
The narrative is based on the teenagers Atafeh and her best friend Shireen, who explore areas unbeknownst to them.
Once Atafeh’s brother, Mehran, is released from a drug rehab facility, his personal struggle to maintain a stainless image within the family takes a toll on his relationship with his sister. Soon, the two are entwined in a censorious and edgy relationship
"Within family dynamics, there’s always a sense of power or disempowerment," said Keshavarz of the siblings’ faltering kinship. "It’s both a mix of fear and love."
Once Mehran becomes a self-appointed spy on his sister, he becomes obsessed with making the wrongs he sees right and begins down a course of treachery and fascination.
For Keshavarz, it’s all about the story; the story that is seen, but not told.
"The center is always same for me," she said. "I’m interested in stories about families."
The insight she provides is unique because she’s lived in both the U.S. and Iran.
"I’ve always felt as a translator of both worlds," she said. "I feel very fortunate."
As a young Iranian-American, her vision of what Iran is today is undoubtedly different than what many Iranians themselves have; being of a younger generation, Keshavarz sees the generational gap in everything from political ideologies to filmmaking.
"We have a very different relationship to Iran," she said of her generation.
Keshavarz began writing the script for the film at a Sundance script-writing lab a few years ago and couldn’t be more pleased with the 360-degree experience.
"For me, it’s the perfect circle, because I started the script development at the writers lab and then the directors lab," she said. "They’ve been great; they’ve given me great feedback and it sort of feels like I’m coming home on some level.
"I feel like it’s the right place to launch the film."
"Circumstance" will be screened at these times during Sundance:
Saturday, Jan. 22
Park City Library
Sunday, Jan. 23
Holiday Village / PRESS SCREENING
Tuesday, Jan. 25
Tower Theater SLC
Wednesday, Jan. 26
Thursday, Jan. 27
Friday, Jan. 28
Saturday, Jan. 29
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Park City leaders on Thursday released a two-page statement addressing the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and describing that “bias and systemic racism exists in our community.”