Iran’s Farhad Delaram, Whose ‘Achilles’ Launches in Toronto, ‘Hopes We Are Going to See Big Changes’ Prompted by Mahsa Amini Protests

Iranian director Farhad Delaram was in the midst of shooting his subversive road movie “Achilles” when Mahsa Amini died in Tehran on Sept. 16, 2022, while being detained for allegedly violating the country’s hijab law that mandates covered hair.

Amini’s death triggered months of nationwide demonstrations and riots under the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom.” The ongoing protests mark the most serious challenge to the country’s regime since the Islamic Republic was founded in 1979.

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The fallout from Amini’s death came crashing onto the Iranian set of “Achilles,” in which a former filmmaker turned medic nicknamed Achilles decides to help a female political prisoner named Hedieh escape from a psych ward. Due to the nationwide protests “Everyone on set was having trouble concentrating,” Delaram recounts.

Roughly a year later, the director is in Toronto launching his timely drama that will now segue to San Sebastian and other European fests. Visit Films is selling “Achilles” internationally.

On the eve of the one-year anniversary of Amini’s death, Delaram spoke to Variety about his hopes that his indictment of Iran’s political system can make an impact.

You started shooting “Achilles” a few weeks before the death of Mahsa Amini, which certainly ties in with your film. Simply put: What is its genesis? 

We started pre-production four months before Mahsa Amini’s death, and we were in the middle of shooting when they killed her. But the genesis of the script goes back to several years before. I was working in a hospital on a night shift when I was a student and there was a woman there who was a prisoner. They brought her in just to examine or cure something. She tried to escape from the hospital and, in the end, they arrested her. But before that, for five minutes, she was in my room and I was in contact with her. We did not speak because she was desperate and she was afraid. But that encounter stuck in my mind for many years.

 How were you able to shoot “Achilles” in Iran?

I prefer not to explain it in detail. But I’m not the first filmmaker who manages to shoot a film in Iran that the authorities don’t approve of. Though in our case it was a little different because it was a road movie and I had 70 people on the crew, and we travelled 2,000 kilometers on the roads. So of course, it was harder. Then when protests started on the streets, it became even harder. Not so much because of security reasons, but because of our concentration. Because everyone in our group, they couldn’t concentrate. We were all just thinking: “What’s going on?”

What is your process as a director?

So I’m like one of those filmmakers who prepares really thoroughly before I go to set. So if you see me shooting, I always have a character bible, besides the screenplay and a very, very precise storyboard beside me. And before I shoot I write down every shot and where to make the cut. Because of that, most editors, don’t like working with me, but that’s how I like to work. I go to set very prepared because as you know filmmaking is difficult everywhere, but in Iran more so. You can run into all types of problems that you couldn’t even imagine.

Do you think the film will get seen surreptitiously in Iran?

We don’t have a copyright law in Iran. They don’t accept copyright. The government of Iran never accepted it. So lots of foreign films, we always watch them illegally in Iran. I think my film is going to have the same destiny, and actually I’m going to be happy about that. Of course most of filmmakers would not want their film to be pirated for economic aspects. But I hope Iranian people will watch “Achilles” and I hope to get to see some reactions from them. I hope they’re not going to hate it, and that they’re going to feel that it’s a really heartfelt film.

At the end of “Achilles” the following words appear before the end credits: “Dedicated to the people of Iran who can no longer tolerate the walls.” I know you don’t have a crystal ball, but do you think the impetus provided by the Women, Life, Freedom movement could bring the wall down in Iran sometime soon?

Before answering this question, I just want to mention that this is my opinion and it’s not opinion of the people who worked on this film. So that sentence, that is my statement. And normally I hate to do these kinds of things because if your film, your art, is working, it’s going to work. You don’t need to tag on a sentence. But this time I really wanted to do something for myself to just get rid of this feeling [of oppression]. And I did it with my heart. Back to your question: I have high hopes that we are going to have big changes. I can’t say it’s going to be soon, but we are going to have them. And I hope that these works of art that we are doing — and mine is not the first one — affect people and help to provide hope.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


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