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Mania Akbari has 20 fingers on a M. Moore route

2O Fingers won Best Film Venezia Cinema Digitale: interview with the author: Mania Akbari
20 Fingers - one of the most controversial films to come out of Iran, and the debut feature from Iranian actress and filmmaker Mania Akbari - has beaten off tough competition to be awarded the top prize in the inaugural Digitale competition at the Venice Film Festival.
An international jury composed of English director Mike Figgis (president), Japanese producer Shozo Ichiyama, and French director Claire Simon chose the film to receive the Venezia Cinema Digitale Prize in a new section which the festival describes as providing "an overview of the new expressive possibilities granted by the new digital technologies."

The film - shot entirely in Iran with an Iranian cast and crew - is a fascinating intimate study of shifting values in contemporary Iranian society. Focusing on the conflicting reactions of an ordinary Iranian couple, played by Mania Akbari, who also wrote and directed the film, and Bijan Daneshmand in the role of the man, in his debut producing role.

Abortion, adultery and homosexuality are just some of the issues raised in the film, which - in a society where women are forbidden to even expose their hair or sing – is a controversial first for Iranian cinema.

interview with the author: Mania Akbari

Bruno Chatelin: Mania how did you get the idea for 20 fingers?
The idea for the film was not so much conjured up by writer / director Mania Akbari, as imposed upon her through the changes in society and attitudes she experienced everyday in her home country of Iran.
“Iran is a society where beliefs and traditions are rigidly rooted – so whenever there is any change there is an obligation to reconsider certain taboo issues, such as sexuality and individuality. The process of change is
happening now in Iran, and as with any change or reinvention, there comes a certain pain or destruction. In my opinion, in the society I live in, this destruction is the crisis of men and women.
“I don’t know, therefore, whether I created an idea upon which the film was based, or whether I used an idea that was created by society!”

What inspired you?
Childhood experiences that have remained with Mania led her to make the film.
“It is the experiences that you never forget as you grow older that enable you to grow and transform – and I believe that if an experience has affected one person to the extent that it prompts them to change, it is likely to have affected other human beings as well. Below the surface, human experiences are all very similar.
Using her experiences as an Iranian woman as a starting point, Mania sought to produce a cinematic piece that would affect an audience deeply, and evoke debate. Employing universal themes, she felt she would be able to connect with a worldwide audience, but still make a film which has an Iranian identity.

Now the script?
Research began for the script after Mania spoke to a counselor about incidences of divorce in Iran. He told her that these incidents were increasing and, most surprisingly for Mania, that the number of adulterous
women superceded that of men.
“I began to realize that the root of this must be the constraints of traditional Iranian society. I was shocked at how huge and deep the concept of fear is – not only can it deconstruct a human being, but also society
itself.” Armed with this knowledge Mania conducted interviews with prostitutes, divorcees and adulterers over a period of two years, in order to understand these shifting values, and their impact on the interactions between men and women. Mania’s original intention was to use this information as the basis of a book, but she was so moved by listening to women talk about their problems that it evolved naturally into a film script.
The original script conveyed the constraints of Iranian society by focusing on a girl from childhood, exploring the ways in which traditions meld to sex so strongly from an early age. From there the script developed to concentrate on the impact these constraints have as a woman becomes older, and faces conflict with men.

Filming in Iran tell us about that experience
“Filming itself was not easy!”
Mania was determined that each episode in the film should be shot in one continuous take and that there should be as little editing as possible - if any. With each scene lasting around 10-15 minutes, this style of filming was a challenge – requiring every member of the cast and crew had to work in complete
synchronization. It was a challenge that they rose to – the final film only contains edits at the beginning and the end, and the ordering of the seven individual episodes.
Permissions to film were also difficult to procure, and several times the crew ran into trouble with the Iranian authorities. On one occasion, whilst taking a break from filming in a train carriage, Mania was smoking a cigarette. Women in the adjoining carriage – distressed by this and by the fact that Mania was with a party of six men – made a complaint to the on-board morality inspector.
“It was at this point I thought to myself – ‘What have I made?’ It is a sad fact that the greatest opposition to this film will come from Iranian women.”
Style Mania believes that the input and the views of cast and crew are paramount in shaping a film, as they each bring their own beliefs and conditioning to the story, helping to shape it in their own ways.
“I have a belief that if I stick to a script exactly as it is written, it will stifle my creativity. The script is used as a base for starting – then the spontaneity on set, the little details, make the film more personal. I consider
myself a viewer when I direct, choosing what is best for the film as we go.
“Close-ups are used a lot in the film so that the viewer can concentrate on the intimate details of the lives of the man and woman. You do not need to know what is around them – the viewer can create their own external settings.”

Which locations
The film was shot mainly in Tehran and the surrounding areas. The boat scene was shot at Nowshahr, and the train journey was from Tehran to Zanjan.
“In all but one scene the couple are moving to indicate the movement through life, and that we, and life, are continuously moving.”

Your team?
Having screen-tested twelve actors with no success of finding the men to play opposite her women characters, Mania cast Bijan after meeting him and recognising he understood about the subject matter –
having had personal experience of the issues involved himself.
Mania managed to assemble a very accomplished Iranian crew for 20 Fingers, none of whom she had worked with before. She was particularly eager to bring on board Toraj Aslani as Director of Photography and having seen Mania in Ten, he expressed a keen desire to collaborate with her on her directorial debut.

“Each person will have a different experience with the film – some of them will relate to all seven episodes, some to just one or two. Just so long as the film affects one person, that is enough for me.”

Bruno Chatelin


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