Hamy Ramezan finds the Oasis of Now
by Marta Bałaga
- The director is readying the tale of an Iranian family seeking asylum in Finland, which is being produced by Aamu Film Company
Produced by Aamu Film Company, which was behind the Cannes revelation The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki [+see also:
interview: Juho Kuosmanen
film profile], Hamy Ramezan’s feature debut, Oasis of Now (the winner of this year’s Best Project Award at the Finnish Film Affair), will tell the story of an Iranian family seeking asylum in Finland. This is a topic that Ramezan knows only too well, having fled persecution in Iran and experienced life in refugee camps as a boy. “It was the foundation of this project,” Ramezan tells Cineuropa when we talked two days before he wrapped the shoot, tired yet surprisingly bright-eyed. “It has been very personal, without me actually knowing how much it has affected me. I always remember my childhood as very happy and full of warmth. But when I started to write, the refugee crisis happened, and from a very intimate story that I remembered so fondly, it all started to take a very negative turn.”
Luckily, producer Jussi Rantamäki helped him find the right tone. “I got involved in the politics and in the media, I started going to Iraq and to refugee camps, and I became very cynical. I was writing many different versions, to the point when even Jussi couldn’t read them. He said: ‘Hey, I think you should see a shrink. There is something wrong here’,” laughs Ramezan, already lauded for his shorts Listen, co-directed with Rungano Nyoni, and Keys to Heaven. “I was ready to do whatever it took because I wasn’t having any fun. I found out, and now it sounds so simple, that I was writing about my own traumas. And there is no truth in trauma. But it was a journey I had to go through in order to write this story.”
Stepping away from his own memories certainly helped a great deal. “There were always different names and different nationalities, but that wasn’t my problem – the problem was that my mind was polluted. I was in a dark place, where I just had characters going through disturbing things. There was a certain point when I gave up – my child was born, and I basically just stopped. Only then did I start to connect with the characters of the father, the mother and the sister,” he says of the film, which boasts the participation of The Salesman [+see also:
film profile]’s Shahab Hosseini, cast in one of the leading roles. “I felt like I needed to address all of the wrongs, but there was no value in my writing. Now I can stand behind it. I was too involved in the whole aspect of being a refugee, as a concept. But when I started to write about actual human beings, that’s when I felt this was true.”
Although the film is no documentary, Ramezan already knows everything about the whole process of applying for asylum and its specific inner workings in Finland. Nevertheless, he never wanted to focus on it too much. “I have done my research starting from Iraq, and in Finland, I even made this documentary called Refugee Unknown [completed in 2016]. I saw everything, I know everything, but my camera won’t show it,” he states. “In Oasis of Now, I don’t show who brings the bad news; I just show the result. There are no politicians and no officials, and even the letter that arrives at the beginning of the movie doesn’t have a face. It’s this higher power that tries to control and dictate people’s lives. I am not giving the so-called antagonists any screen time.” Instead, he is making people his main point of interest.
As already stated at the Finnish Film Affair, Ramezan’s goal seems to be clear: showing that “being a refugee is not an identity”. It’s a statement that seems to be lost in numerous news stories referring to fleeing people as an anonymous mass. “Maybe after the film, will people change their approach?” he wonders. “And it’s not that I am criticising them, but let’s take this headline: ‘Immigrant’s story wins the FFA.’ That’s how people will describe it, but it’s not about that. The circumstances are there, sure, but the film is about a family; it’s about a boy. It’s not their identity – it’s just a small part of the whole story.” For all of the enthusiastic reactions, Ramezan remains stoic – especially remembering the difficult beginnings. “I cannot say what the future will bring, but I can tell you that I didn’t want to work any more. I don’t get paid enough to come to the office every day and just suffer. I am not a political person, but the news is political – I just realised I can explore things from many different points of view. I hope this will continue.”
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