Faranak Sahafian is an Iranian writer-director and MFA Film Candidate at Columbia University. She is known for her short films The Dark room (2017), Mirror (2018), and Sufi (2021) as well as her two upcoming shorts Auto Plus (2021) and Black Red White (2021).
NY Elite: Congratulations on being an ISC finalist. What does it mean for your work to be selected at the International Screenwriting Competition in New York?
Faranak Sahafian: When I first started thinking about The Big Red Balloon, I was just thinking about a childhood memory that would soothe my pain after I lost my grandfather. I was not able to go back to Iran and see him again before he passed and I was just getting there for the funeral. His heart had suddenly stopped and I had nothing else to do but to go over all my memories with him and find anything to hold on to. This one memory between many others where he inspired me was unique. This was a day he taught me not to be afraid and to not let fear stop me from living my life and achieving whatever I want to achieve. I felt like I had to tell this story in a visual way the way I remember it and the way it stayed in my mind and helped me move on and accept how he is gone and how he left something valuable with me. I wanted to portray him through my own memory that later helped me be able to go back to my life knowing he would never come back. Being selected at the International Screenwriting Competition where I can share this story before it is made with others and it will definitely be a great help as I am searching for the proper funding to make the film.
NY Elite: Can you tell us about the work that you participated with at ISC? What is the story about?
Faranak Sahafian: The Big Red Balloon is a story based on my real childhood memory and is a portrait of my grandfather who was an army general in Iran. Despite being in war for ten years and having a very high responsibility position all his life he was a kind laughing open minded person who would only get brighter everyday. The story is really about who he was and what was left for me after him. This particular memory of him taking me to the park and asking me to do what I was the most afraid of, helped me live after he was gone. I was lucky to spend a lot of time with him as a child because of how later in his career his job was lighter than when he was raising my mother and aunt. He was always open to read me something, to help me make something, do something, especially if he thought I am afraid that I will not be able to. Years later, when I was back in Iran after his heart has stopped to be in his funeral, this single memory played and replayed in my mind and saved me from believing that I have lost him completely, by making me feel like I have something from him, almost like a power inside me that I can always hold on to.
NY Elite: Can you tell us yourself and your artistic talents?
Since I was 9 I really enjoyed writing mostly poetry and short stories or essays. Both of my grandfathers spent a lot of time reading to me poems and stories that inspired me to write and later write for screen. After participating in competitions as a student I realized my poems are usually talking about images and how I would like to try and write my stories in a visual way. My mother encouraged me to take a screenwriting class which I was the youngest person to take at age of 13 and that class was my starting point of thinking about pursuing film as a career.
Since I find myself always being inspired by poetry and Persian literature, I can see that affecting my directing style by attracting me to visual metaphors and poetic imagination to express the internal life of my characters.
NY Elite: What scripts have you written so far?
Faranak Sahafian: I have written and directed The Dark Room, Mirror, Sufi, and Black Red White short films and I have written a feature script named Tonight. I am currently working on writing a feature which is a longer version of The Dark Room, my first short film.
NY Elite: Top 3 favorite projects that you have been involved in?
Faranak Sahafian: My two first short films The Dark Room, and Mirror, as well as one of my recently shot short films Black Red White in which I had the pleasure of working with a very talented cast and crew who understood the story and connected to it beautifully.
NY Elite: What type of scripts do you want to write in your career?
Faranak Sahafian: I find myself often telling stories in a surreal setting where I can imagine the world slightly different than what it is. Being able to imagine situations and places differently has always been very enjoyable for me and it helps me to visualize my stories in a poetic way. However I also have found myself drawn to telling stories in a realistic way or sometimes from the subjective point of view of a single character who is struggling to understand the world around her. I would love to bring to life stories about where I come from as an Iranian, about childhood and nostalgia, and the places that people call home.
NY Elite: As a writer, what is the most important aspect of building a character?
Faranak Sahafian: The most important aspect of building the character for me is to be able to write the story like a novel from her or his point of view. I need to be able to imagine the story as the character is going through it as if I am hearing the internal dialogue, she has with herself or reading a diary that the character has written. I have to be able to see the events as that character has lived them even if I chose to not stick to a single character’s point of view.
NY Elite: What projects are you currently working on?
Faranak Sahafian: I am currently writing a feature script named The Dark Room based on a short film I have directed in 2017 as part of my bachelor in filmmaking at Montclair State University. I am also working on pre-production of The Big Red Balloon which would be my third short film in Columbia University.
NY Elite: Do you express yourself creatively in any other ways?
Faranak Sahafian: I still enjoy writing short stories and occasionally poems while photography and production design have been different ways for me to get creative.
NY Elite: What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career in filmmaking/writing?
Faranak Sahafian: As a filmmaker passionate about any aspect of filmmaking I think it is important to learn what makes a good story. I think that can help you not just as a writer but as a filmmaker in general. A good story with the right structure and powerful characters inspires every other creative person who will be working on the film. Having said all of that, I believe the one thing that has helped me the most is reading fiction and various forms of literature as well as getting familiar with all different forms of arts. Reading fiction especially for me has always been like living a million lives. With each book I have lived a life I would otherwise have never lived, and life experiences have been the most useful to me in making films.