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TORONTO '08 DISCOVERY INTERVIEW | "The Stoning of Soraya M" Director Cyrus Nowrasteh

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire September 2, 2008 at 1:5AM

EDITORS NOTE: For the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival, indieWIRE will be publishing interviews with filmmakers in the Discovery section of the festival, which TIFF describes as a showcase for new and emerging filmmakers from contemporary international cinema.
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EDITORS NOTE: For the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival, indieWIRE will be publishing interviews with filmmakers in the Discovery section of the festival, which TIFF describes as a showcase for new and emerging filmmakers from contemporary international cinema.

Cyrus Nowrasteh's "The Stoning of Soraya M." will be having its World Premiere in the Discovery section of the Toronto International Film Festival. Starring Shohreh Aghdashloo, the film follows a woman falsely accused of adultery in a remote Iranian village. Based on the book by Freidoune Sahebjam, TIFF describes "Stoning" as about "voiceless women, armed with only their innocence and dignity, [who] are no match for the overwhelming primal forces that overrun their town." Nowrasteh talked to indieWIRE about the film and his hopes for Toronto.

What initially attracted you to filmmaking and did that interest evolve while making your film?

As long as I remember I've been interested in filmmaking, going back to my childhood
watching greats like "Lawrence of Arabia." My interest in it is ceaseless, so I can't say it
evolved while making this film, however my knowledge, preparation, approach, and skill evolves
with each film I make.


Please discuss how the idea for your film came about...

It's based on the book by Freidoune Sahebjam which my wife and I read in the early 1990's.
It's a dramatic gem in many ways, and it stuck with both of us. A few years ago when its
relevancy seemed greater than ever, we decided to try to get the rights to the book and write it
independently.


Please elaborate on your approach to making the film, including your influences as well as your overall goals for the project.

First and foremost we wanted to be as authentic as possible down to the dress details, village
customs, interiors and so on. It's the reason we opted to do it in Farsi with Farsi speaking actors,
and to shoot it in the Middle East, despite the fact that that requires subtitles which discourage
some audiences. It's a tough movie to watch in many ways, but it deserves an unsparing honesty,
which the realistic style enhances. Soraya's story is one that has happened to countless women,
and continues to happen. It would be a disservice to them and their suffering to sanitize it.


What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?

Shooting a low budget film in the Middle East where Arabic is the first language, (though
many also spoke English) is a challenge to say the least. Compounding that, the film itself was in
Farsi which nobody except the cast spoke... and even some of them had to learn their lines
phonetically. Also because the film community there is young, there are few experienced crews.
The cultural differences, like the call to prayer five times a day coupled with language barriers,
made everything not just slower, but open to extreme misinterpretation. Overriding all of that is
of course being a Westerner in a part of the world that has very mixed and very strong feelings
about us.


What is your next project?

I'm presently writing a film about the Plantados, who fought with Castro, then became his
political prisoners once they objected to his dictatorship. They have never stopped resisting his
tyranny, despite horrific torture and privations suffered in Cuban prisons.

What are your goals for the Toronto International Film Festival?

The Toronto Film Festival is a great outlet and testing ground. We know how bold this film is,
and we are eager to see if it connects with the audience. We expect a range of reactions, some of
them likely to be quite strong. It will be telling in many ways.

This article is related to: Features, Interviews