Mahmoud Shoolizadeh chats with INFLUX Magazine

by Martin Hafer

I met filmmaker Mahmoud Shoolizadeh at a film festival several months ago and I was very impressed by his film Daddy.  Despite being made with a minuscule budget, the film looked great and told a heart-wrenching story about an incredibly young father-to-be and his difficult, if not impossible, struggle to be a part of his child’s life.  The film has been won many awards at film festivals as has his recent short, The Debt — a very unusual film since it’s about Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in a US combat veteran and Shoolizadeh was born and raised in Iran.  I recently took some time to discuss his work and am hoping you, too, will have a chance to see his films as they are truly special.

Martin Hafer:  Your story about how you got into movies is anything but traditional. Tell us about your background as well as how and why you decided to work in film.

Mahmoud Shoolizadeh:  As far back as I can remember I was playing on stage…even before I was accepted to film school.  After graduating, I began directing films.  Soon I entered broadcast television and began making documentaries because I was interested in Iranian cultural and social subjects.  It allowed me to travel to lots of cities inside my native country of Iran, but I also travelled to 16 countries to cover various stories, including places in Africa and Europe. In these films I tried to introduce other cultures and lifestyles to my own people. I wanted to make fictional films as well and after 12 years I wrote the script for my first full-length film, Noora.  I completed the film and attended dozens of festivals and earned several awards. I continued making fictional films until I moved to London and during the eight years I lived there, I made several documentaries that were screened in festivals. When I moved to Florida in the United States six years ago, I wanted to continue making full-length films, though due to the economic recession, raising funds for such a picture was difficult. Because of this, I started making short movies with the help of volunteers around me.  I had to do this because there’s a volcano in my heart, which is the love to making films, and it wouldn’t settle down. I felt that there was something growing inside me that pushed me towards that path and I couldn’t stop. So, although filmmaking is hard and time consuming and has never a big source of income for me, I am happy with the results.

Martin:  Tell us about the films which you have made as well as projects you are submitting to film festivals

Mahmoud:  Apart from films that I made in Iran, I made several documentaries, including The Man Called Brian and Homeless while I was in England, which were screened in a few film festivals. Since I moved to Jacksonville, Florida, I made one film each year with the help of volunteers.  We made The Prisoner in 2013.   This short was accepted at several film festivals around the world, including the prestigious Montreal Film Festival, and has received six awards.   The Debt was made in 2014 and at 32 minutes it’s a bit longer than The Prisoner.  It’s been accepted at 18 film festivals so far and has earned eight awards including Best Film at the  Moondance International Film Festival.  Daddy was made in 2015 . I have attended 30 festivals with this film so far and have received 40 awards and nominations.  My new film is in the post production process and I will be sending it to film festivals as well.  I think it’s going to be the best of my films so far.
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Martin:  I loved your work in Daddy. What was your inspiration to make such a film?

Mahmoud:  I think any serious film that is made is a reflection of what the filmmaker has in his or her mind and by watching it you can see their vision and what interests them.  Of course the story might not be directly connected to the filmmaker, but his selection, his technique and the feeling in the film can show what the director feels. You may give one script to different directors, but the films will end up being made very differently. When I entered the US, I found out that the teen pregnancy is the highest among the developed countries, so I decided to make a film about this, but very different and I wanted to avoid the usual clichés as well as making it interesting to the audience. For instance, instead of having the 14 year- old mom love and want to keep her baby, I have the 14 year-old daddy love and want the baby. In the film I preferred to approach the story from a more personal and humane point of view instead of emphasizing the social and cultural aspects.  In other words, it’s about the people. I was able to produce and direct the film purely with the help of volunteers and with almost zero budget.  In spite of these obstacles, I am happy that this film can connect well with the audience.

Martin:  It sure connected with me…I found myself bawling as the story unfolded!

Mahmoud:  The latest two awards came from The Kids Film Festival in Madrid, Spain and were for best film for kids as well as best director.

Martin:  What was your inspiration for The Debt?

Mahmoud:  About 35 years ago, my home country Iran was as war with Iraq for eight years, during which hundreds of thousands of people were killed and wounded and many had mental problems related to the war. In the beginning, my family and I were living in a city under constant bombardment, so we lost everything we had and were forced to find refuge in other parts of the county.  Even after the move, we were not completely safe. I also saw thousands of people with physical and mental injuries in the hospitals–even after the war had been over for many years. So, as America has been involved in the Afghan and Iraq war, I thought maybe I can show a little bit of what I saw and experienced myself.  In this film the story is about a female veteran who came back from war with PTSD.  Together with a friend, Richard Levine, we prepared the script and like before, I started the directing and producing it with the help of volunteers and with almost no budget.

Martin:  I am amazed, as the film looks quite expensive…I don’t know how you did it!  Tell me about your newest film, The Lover.

Mahmoud:  Shooting was just completed this year. It’s a very tender love story that will hold your attention until the end of the film. I am sure it will be one of my best films and I am sending it to film festivals as well.

Martin:  I sure hope to see this film.  In the future, what sorts of movies would you like to make if you had your choice?

Mahmoud: I love the tender stories about people like you’ll find in Daddy and The Lover, and I am sure if the right film production company or producer can help me, I can make a film even better and more powerful than those I made with no money at all. I am still hopeful that I’ll reach that goal.

Martin:  Thank you very much, Mahmoud and good luck with The Lover.