Kaveh Mazaheri’s Iranian film Retouch has enjoyed a successful film festival run, winning at three Oscar-qualifying film festivals, including Tribeca Film Festival (Best Narrative Short), Palm Springs Shortfest (Best Live Action Over 15 Min) and the Krakow Film Festival (Silver Dragon for Best Short Fiction Film).
In the corner of the home, Maryam’s husband does weightlifting. Suddenly, the weight falls on his throat and puts him between life and death. Maryam tries to save him, but she just decides to stop helping and stand and watch her husband’s death…
Director Kaveh Mazaheri was born in Iran. With an interest in cinema, he began writing film criticism for Iranian magazines and after graduating from college created his first short film, Tweezers. To date, he has made five independent short fiction films, and more than twenty documentaries. His recent films include the documentary A Report about Mina and short fiction Retouch.
The film stars Sonia Sanjari as Maryam and Mohammad Ziksari as Siyavash. Retouch, is edited by Pooyan Sholehvar and the cinematography created by Mohammad Reza Jahanpanah.
Retouch is quite a powerful short film, what sparked the initial idea for it?
The first idea of the film came to my mind after I saw a fun film on the internet. I saw the film on a social network, a boy placed his mobile on a platform to record himself. Then he lay on a completely normal platform in front of the camera and under the barbell to lift the weight. The weights on the bar showed it weighed more than 100 kg. The boy lifted the barbell, lowered it, but couldn’t lift it again. And the camera was recording. It was a horrifying scene. The boy was virtually dying. He shouted for help but there was nobody to help him. After two minutes, it had become a funny scene. The boy kicked and moved his legs but he couldn’t do anything and his power was not enough for the barbell. After five minutes, the image was cut and luckily, he had been saved. When I saw the film, I thought to myself I’d been watching a film for five minutes so intently that I hadn’t blinked. So, it could undoubtedly be a good theme for a short film.
Your short film has enjoyed a successful film festival run, winning at three Oscar-qualifying film festivals. You must be so proud, were you expecting that?
Without a doubt, it is a great pride for any filmmaker to be confirmed by the juries of the great festivals such as Tribeca, Palm Springs, and Krakow. But what really makes me happy is that I see that the film has made a wide connection all over the world with audiences from various cultures, languages, and customs. The truth is that I never anticipated so much success, and it is a pleasure for me and my crew who trusted me. It is true that the festivals’ awards are largely dependent on the jurists’ taste, but I can’t deny that every time a festival approves of the film, we are encouraged more to continue our way more strongly.
I understand that you have made 5 independent short fiction films and more than 20 documentaries. Do you prefer doing one or the other or both?
Drama! Even though making documentaries is always more dynamic and attractive. Most of my documentaries are about social issues and people, and I always face fundamental moral and humane challenges during filming them and the editing process. Making documentaries brings huge responsibilities for me. Recently, I have decided to bring the enjoyable points of making documentaries into dramas; like the discoveries and intuitions at the scenes, so the process of filmmaking could still be dynamic and challenging for me.
Referring back to the last question, is your creative process while doing a documentary different from when you re making a short fiction film?
The only difference is that in a fiction film, I would like to get close to the psychological aspect of the characters, while I don’t like to do that at all in the documentaries. In a fiction film, I want to penetrate people’s inner self but I am only an observer in a documentary because I am faced with real people and I can never allow myself ethically to analyse the psychological dimensions of a real person. But I think I act similarly during the shooting. For example in Retouch, I insisted that the house of the main character (played by Sonia Sanjari) be her real house in her life outside the film. Because I believed the spirit of life flew in that house and the house carried the energy to the character. Many may think it was a stupid and unprofessional decision, but that is what I have learnt from making documentaries. While directing Retouch, I tried to use the camera as a mere observer.
Sonia Sanjari, who plays Maryam in Retouch gave us an incredible, yet emotional performance. What was it about her that made you pick her for the role?
Sonia is really an exceptional and capable actress. She has strange eyes that can transfer contradictory feeling to the audience simultaneously. You can like her and be afraid of her at the same time. Sonia’s role in Retouch is relatively complicated. She plays the role of a woman who is playing a role all day. A hard role to play in 20 minutes that relies most of the time on the actress’ mimicry and her face. We had numerous sessions talking about the protagonist and the general atmosphere of the story to get our impressions of the protagonist closer. Luckily, Sonia is very intelligent and meticulous and she could get close to her role quickly.
What were some of the challenges you encountered while making Retouch? And how did you overcome them?
The problem of the budget and finding a professional producer. At first, we had found a producer who estimated the cost of the film to be $25,000. As we neared the production, the producer made cuts in the budget and I accepted more or less. Until he reduced the costs to $10,000. I realised the film was virtually being destroyed. I made some excuses and told him I didn’t want him to produce the film and I myself would manage it somehow. I decided to come up with the money in any way possible. I borrowed money from the people around me and began making the film, because I was sure the film was worth making. However, I was still short of money, but I didn’t tell the crew I didn’t have money. I borrowed little by little during the production until the shooting was over. Then I gave the film to Pooyan Sholevar for editing. Pooyan is one of the best young editors in Iran who has supported me throughout the project from the idea till now when I’m distributing the film. Then I did some commercial jobs to pay my debts. After the final version was ready,
Iranian Youth Cinema Society gave me a fund to pay all expenses of the film. Like many other filmmakers, I must do many magic tricks every time for my film’s budget.
What projects are up next for you?
I have recently finished a script for a feature film entitled BOTOX and I am in the financing phase of the production. There are some similarities between the stories of BOTOX and Retouch and I hope to make it in a good production condition with an international producer. I have another short film script with the title Underneath the Pine which is based on a story of Three Drops of Blood by Sadeq Hedayat – a very well know Iranian writer.