Samereh Rezaie • Actress and director of I'm a Happy Actress
“Many Afghani refugees coming to Europe are actually born and raised in Iran”
by Valerio Caruso
- We chatted to Afghani filmmaker Samereh Rezaie at the Fajr International Film Festival about being an Afghani woman filmmaker living in Iran and why many refugees are coming to Europe
Samereh Rezaie won several international awards with her movie I'm a Happy Actress, including Best Documentary at the Afghanistan International Women Film Festival. We caught up with her at the recent Fajr International Film Festival.
Cineuropa: Why did you choose to become a filmmaker?
Samereh Rezaie: I first decided to become an actress, against the wishes of my family. As it is extremely difficult to work as an actress when you are the daughter of Afghani refugees, I decided to study filmmaking. I have not become a filmmaker for the sake of cinema; I found cinema the best way to present social issues.
What was your motivation for directing I'm a Happy Actress?
I wanted to speak about the situation of Afghani refugees in Iran, and to tackle the issues of identity and the future. The idea of making the film came to me after I took part in a casting. When I showed up at the casting agency, I discovered dozens of Afghanis like me – people caught in administrative and cultural limbo, people seeking an identity and gratitude.
Iran is home to almost one million registered refugees, the vast majority of whom are from Afghanistan. The Afghani refugee situation is one of the most serious and most protracted in the world, with many people having been in the country for as long as 40 years, like my parents. This means that many young refugees are third or even fourth generation, born and raised in Iran, but with no Iranian passport, just like me. What makes Iran's case particularly interesting is how successful it has been at hosting vast numbers of Afghanis with dignity and respect, even though there have always been some restrictions. Lately, however, the situation has deteriorated, mainly due to recent restrictions, to the extent that many Afghani refugees coming to Europe are actually born and raised in Iran. While Europe is complaining about the refugee crisis, Iran has been left totally on its own by the world community to manage this situation.
What do you think of the Iranian movies made by Iranian filmmakers?
Some of the most high-profile movies about Iran over the past few years were directed or co-directed by women. And the Iranian New Wave that has been livening up world cinema over the past 20 years has been notable for a string of strong feminist films, some of them directed by men.
Have movies changed your life, and do you think they can change other people’s lives?
Definitely, yes. Making the movie was a kind of therapy – but not only for me. After the premiere of the film in Iran, many Iranians came up to me and apologised for the situation that Afghani people find themselves in. Many people were crying. The film has played a role in reconciling Afghani refugees and Iranians.
How do you see your life in five or ten years’ time?
I want to make my second documentary, but I first need to find peace. I want to find my identity, but I do not think this is possible while staying in Iran.
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