An Iranian-Canadian filmmaker, video artist, and film editor based in Montreal. Sadaf Foroughi has a bachelor’s degree in French Literature, a master’s degree in Film Studies, and a Ph.D. in Film Philosophy. Her most recent feature film, Ava, made waves at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017.
Interviewed and edited by Julia Nemfield
Transcribed by Dylan Courville
FN: What does your work aim to say?
SF: I try to express myself. I try to picture my universe, and my imagination. I like to give voice to people who have struggled. There is a lot of myself in my work and I try to reflect a little bit of the society around me.
FN: What are you hoping people take away from your work when they see your films?
SF: To be honest with you, I’m very open to any kind of interpretation. Any kind of expressions, feelings and critiques, because it is interesting. As Abbas Kiarostami, an Iranian filmmaker said, normally film or an artwork is like a letter. We send it to an unknown spectator with no way of knowing how they will react.
Most importantly, I want to show how women live in Iran — how I lived in Iran — and to show those difficulties. The Iranians believe in a closed society, but they are very nice; they have the same fears, doubts, relationships at home, and struggles as we all do. I want to show a universal femme, based in Iranian society to give voice to my feelings as a woman and to also show the universality of our relationships.
FN: Can you talk about, in more detail, what you feel your role as a woman is in the art world?
SF: The only thing that I can say is that I am interested in showcasing individuals who do not have a voice: women and children, I think, especially in Iran because I know their difficulties. They try very hard and they have very little hope, but they put themselves in danger just for a change. I respect them a lot, and if I can do anything, I would love to give them visibility. I want people to know that Iranians are not the same as their government; they are different, they are nice, they look for their freedom, they want to breathe new air.
FN: It’s almost like you yourself have become the medium through which others can speak , to tell all these different stories, and share all these voices. It is very intelligent of you to use your position to give other people the opportunity to be heard.
SF: I am very little in front of all of these brave women, honestly. They take off their scarves and they shout for freedom. It is what I have to do because I feel responsible. My mother and sister are still there, and all the other women there I feel are my sisters. This is my aim now.
FN: How do you choose and approach your subjects?
SF: I think they find me. It is crazy. In artwork, or poems, or literature… the characters are there, it is up to us as artists and filmmakers to go and find them. I think David Lynch said that when we are sitting in calm and silence, suddenly, characters come to you. Yes, sometimes there are epiphanies, some lumière. Oh, this character! This kind of struggle! Why not in this situation? Once I find my characters, I work the script and, of course, I put my characters in the situation that I feel they will respond to best. The background of each story is based on my life; the space that I know, the smell, the colours. I have a second picture I am working on that, like Ava, is very personal.
FN: What are your hopes for the new film?
SF: I think, like you, when we work we do not really think about the spectator first. You think about creating a good film — a good work. You think about creating something for yourself first. You put all your love and energy into the work and hope that the film will find its place.
FN: How did you get started with film? How did you know it was the best way to tell your stories?
SF: I wanted to write my first feature and I had a few ideas, you know, the character had come to me a little bit. I started to write the outline and suddenly I found myself in front of an old story. I tried to ignore it, push it far down in the darkness of my soul until I just didn’t see it anymore. I felt that there was something that I didn’t want to think about for a long time, or talk about, but it was still somewhere bothering me. The story was what I observed, and what I still observe, everywhere, but very particularly in Iran. It is based on my personal story, but it is not autobiographical; I added a lot of sel et poivre.
My story with film is very long. When I finished my Masters in French Literature, and my studies in classic art in France, my university started a new department. One of my friends came to me and said, Sadaf, you know that you wanted to go to art school, cinema school, and you didn’t have a chance. They are opening a cinema department at our university! I always wanted to study film and explore the medium further, and once I finished my initial studies in cinema, I continued to study and earned my Ph.D. in Film Philosophy.
FN: Why did you choose to settle in Canada?
SF: Good question. I left Iran to study at the Université de Provence, in the South of France, in 2000, and came to Canada on the first of July in 2009, once I had finished my studies. I feel like we have two countries, one in which you were born where you had no choice. Your motherhood land, I could say. Then there’s a place you can choose as your country. I chose Canada because it’s peaceful, people are nice, there is a place to work as a woman, to grow up. I chose Montréal because I am a French speaker.
I love Canada because we help each other, there is no bad competition. There are two sides of competition, the bad kind where you don’t want to let others grow because you feel like there will not be a place for yourself. Since there is a chance for everyone here, I feel like we have a very good kind of competition in Canada.
FN: How do you challenge yourself to make sure that you’re always improving in the work that you do?
SF: I work a lot. I start to work at six o’clock in the morning and I finish sometimes at midnight. I read a lot, I watch films at least once every day. I listen to music, I think a lot. I am very self-critical, because I want to make films in which I put all the power and knowledge that I have, so when it’s finished, I feel at least everything I had went into it. I have a very good friend — we studied cinema together and he is here in Canada — we critique each other’s work a lot and we fight about ideas and characters. It’s kind of lovely. It’s good to have a person who tells you the truth.
 light; brightness
 salt and pepper; flavour
View Sadaf’s work here.