Panah | Interview with Sana Norouzbaki
Cult Critic: A warm welcome from Cult Critic Film Magazine. Thank you for joining us today. Let’s start by discussing your latest film project- Panah, which is structured around the life of Ella Nikbayan and her tragic death. Could you please share with us, how you were attracted to this particular story?
Sana: First up, I have to say that suicide is a very shocking phenomenon. The type of death of “Ella”, which was a suicide, drew my attention to the queer community. A community that has been neglected not only in the Middle East but also in the modern society of Europe. In fact, the self-willed death of “Ella” is an international statement to assert the individual identity of these human species. In other words, I was attracted to this story from the aspect of identity acceptance.
Cult Critic: Your film revolves around the tragedy that transgender people in Iran and queer people experience in society. What according to you is the current condition of transgender in society?
Sana: Let us not only talk about Iran. Iran is only a small part of the culture of the North and the Far East, which, due to the existence of laws and religions since long ago, humans are classified based on the common identity of women or men. Albeit, every identity consists of many different elements, and today the definition of common identity has been innovatively questioned. In a completely traditional way in the mentioned societies, one can only change one's outward identity by performing complex medical tests, which can cause a person to incur huge financial and irreparable physical costs. This can cause a person to incur high financial and irreparable physical costs. While in many queers, there is no need for conducting medical tests and only acceptance by society is important, which does not exist.
Cult Critic: Did you have any specific technique that you employed during the directing process? How did you guide the actors into bringing the character of Panah to life?
Sana: One of the most important techniques I wanted to try was filming in black and white. Because it narrated Panah's mental atmosphere better, the suggestion of the director of photography (Mr. Arash Sadeghi) - based on the accuracy and technique he had - was to shoot the film in color.
Cult Critic: How much do you believe the art design and costume had to add to the symbolic perusal of Panah- both as the character and the plot?
Sana: Fortunately, my experience as an art manager, set designer, and costume designer, along with the knowledge of my co-director (Fatemeh Ghadirinezhadian), who is a psychologist, gave me the opportunity to have a unique experience. I believe that artistic design is one of the most basic factors in introducing an actor during a film, and the plot of the film makes sense with artistic design. In my opinion, if instead of a high-rise and incomplete building in a working environment, we shot the film in a pristine house without a view of the city, not only the character of Panah but also the plot of the film would not be expressed properly.
Cult Critic: Panah throughout the story hopes for a silver lining in her life. Could you discuss in detail about her state of mind at the end of the film, and what drove her final decision?
Sana: Not only “Panah” but no human likes life without hope. “Panah” in Persian means shelter and a safe place. Throughout the film, “Panah” tries to recall her good memories by inviting “Saman” (which in Persian means ending and finding peace). By recalling these memories, “Panah” seeks to attract attention so that “Saman” accepts her as a member of the family - regardless of being queer. It may have happened to you that we need a little attention and empathy to make important decisions in life. I have no doubt that “Ella”, like “Panah”, would not have migrated to the other side of the borders in the hope of attracting attention if she had received a little attention from her own society. If she had been noticed in Europe, she would not have self-immolated. Of course, in my mind, I am also looking for a happy conclusion for everything. Because humankind lives in hope, but unfortunately the facts show something else.
Cult Critic: What were the challenges that you faced in bringing this project to success? Tell us a bit about the journey
Sana: Our first problem started in Iran. The film was removed from the competition in the Tehran Short Film Festival. Because it was about queer. The director of this festival announced in an interview that for this reason, we would remove films with such topics from the festival. In the later stages, other festivals, some in a cursory way and some with a thoughtful look addressed this film. As a filmmaker, I tried to be the voice of persons like Ella.
Cult Critic: How much of your vision could you bring to life? Is there anything you would have done differently in retrospect, a different ending you wanted to pursue?
Sana: When you think of a plan and then create it, this creation is a presentation of your worldview. Your worldview shapes your own world. I think the story of "Ella" and "Panah" greatly increased my knowledge and respect for the queer community. Of course, many audiences of “Panah” at international festivals had the same belief and gave us the same feedback.
Cult Critic: Panah is a poignant representation of the larger macrocosm of the queer community. How has this film been received by the audience so far?
Sana: As I mentioned, my goal in making this film was to know and respect the queer community, and I think, as expected, the audience's reception of this film was good, and their knowledge and respect for the queer community increased after watching the film.
Cult Critic: What emotions or messages do you hope for the audience to take away from this film?
Sana: The most exciting I expect is the excitement of discovering a new perspective on the surrounding identities and individuals. An emotion that audiences can discover and not think stereotypes.
Cult Critic: Panah is your second directorial debut. What are some of the valuable lessons or insights you gained from working on this project?
Sana: The first feeling that comes to me about the film “Panah” is the feeling of happiness from working with a professional team that worked with me wholeheartedly. I look at my projects in life as a philosophical experience. The story of "Ella" was a lesson for me not to easily ignore people in the whole universe, regardless of any type of stereotype. Sometimes even my smallest attention can bring someone back to life. Respect each other's identity, thoughts, and desires, and love each other.
Cult Critic: What aspect of filmmaking are you eager to explore in your future projects?
Sana: My particular experience has always been based on identity. The identity that in today's world, people are looking for mostly in jobs, gender, environment, immigration, etc. My next project will be about the environment, which I am currently researching.
Sucheta Halder is a student of Literature with a passion for movies. Binge watching and analysing them has never felt enough so she began writing movie reviews to share the excitement she has felt. Besides that she is actively involved in cultural exchange activities with Japan, working with The Japan Curry as a content writer.