Why He’s On Our Radar: We all know filmmaking can be risky, but rookie filmmaker Hossein Keshavarz went beyond the call of duty with “Dog Sweat.” Leading up to the 2009 elections in Iran, the Iranian American writer/director took to the streeets of Tehran to shoot a drama clandestinely. The film follows six young people, misunderstood by their families and oppressed by conservative Islamic society, whose lives intertwine in present-day Iran. It opens in New York at the Quad Cinema on November 11 and in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Theaters, November 18.
What’s Next: “My idea is to do different genres, but always have the same preoccupations,” Keshavarz told Indiewire. “The next film is going to have the same ideas motivating it, but it’s going to be a very different film. It’s called, “A Pebble of Love in the Shoe of My Heart.” People tell me it’s the longest title ever. I hope to shoot it this spring in New York, New Jersey.”
So I guess the most obvious question is, how did you pull this off?
It was a long and stressful process. The thing is, they didn’t realize we were making a feature film. For them, a feature film is showing up with a big camera and crew. We were doing it with a very small digital camera and we had a light footprint. We collected pieces of what we could get. I left the country with the film on a hard drive in my backpack.
Another things is we finished the photography before the elections, so now I think they’re much more sensitive. We wouldn’t be able to do this now. I think if you put a camera out now, it would pretty immediately cause problems.
Had you shot the film, like your sister did with “Circumstance,” in another country, how do you think the film would have differed?
I think her seeing the difficult process of making this film, she was a little bit smarter than I was and shot it in a different country. I think the good thing about shooting in Iran, is that you can use Iranian actors and there’s this vitality you can’t get someplace else. There’s a certain energy of being in Iran. It’s a country that’s closed off, but the people are very educated. They’re very curious about the world, especially the young people.
Also, put the actors in real situations. You can’t recreate that.
How did you assemble your cast? Were they wary, nervous about taking part?
It was a difficult. I’m kind of vague about it just to be safe. Again we shot this before the elections. I think the cast was interested in making something that was true to life. Before we shot it underground we could explore everyday issues.
That was one of our goals, to show a portrait of this generation of Iranians. I think the reason why that’s important is that I think the images we see of Iran are very skewed. I just did an interview with CNN yesterday and one of the questions was, “Are you for them bombing Iran?” I’m like, wow. I mean it was a good interview, but that’s what’s on people’s minds.
Iran is a country full of people that are like me and you. They have the same aspirations. They want to fall in love, get a good job, have a good life. Tehran is a city of 20 million people. Most of the people are young. Two thirds of the people are under 35 years old. There are political elements to the film, but the film is about characters looking for love.
Your sister talked of not being able to go back to Iran after completing her film. Is that the case with you?
I’ll just say that it’s up in the air. But we’ll see what happens.
So like your sister, you didn’t initially set out to become a filmmaker, having majored in history. Why did you choose film as the way to express yourself?
History in its essence is the story of people. There’s a lot of drama. It really tells a lot about us as human beings. I always thought of myself as being in either academics or science. Those are great fields because they’re inquisitive to the world and I think art is also. The thing about art, is that is doesn’t necessarily have the answer but it’s about the process. That process is in itself meaningful.
You can write an academic paper about say immigration or the plight of the poor. But to feel the struggle, the hopes and desires… art at its best helps you understand something in a deeper way. I think that’s beautiful.
What are your thoughts on the state of filmmaking in Iran, given what Jafar Panahi and other directors have had to endure to see their films made?
I was actually going to make a film using the proper measures, before making “Dog Sweat.” Doing that, I started meeting people in the industry. Because we ended up doing it this way, we didn’t meet that many filmmakers in Iran.
I think Panahi is great filmmaker. It’s sad anytime someone goes to prison for a film they make, a speech they make, a book they write. This kind of thing about freedom of speech, this problem doesn’t just happen in Iran. I think it’s really important for us to stand up for anyone being persecuted. That’s not a Western value, it’s a point for the whole world.