On November 21, 2011 Melissa Block on NPR talks with director Hossein Keshavarz about his new film, Dog Sweat. It follows the story of a group of young people pushing against the boundaries of an authoritarian society. The film was secretly shot on the streets of Tehran.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The new indie feature film “Dog Sweat” intercuts the stories of young people in Iran as they rebel against the theocratic state. A strong-willed young woman has a furtive affair with a married man, two gay men try to maintain their relationship on the sly and a trio of slackers goes on a drunken tear. In this scene, they’re debating which label of Johnny Walker scotch is the best: Black, Gold, Blue?
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, “DOG SWEAT”)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Black.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Unintelligible) Black label.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Black label
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Black label is…
BLOCK: “Dog Sweat” was shot clandestinely, illegally in Tehran, skirting the censors. It was directed, written and produced by Iranian-American filmmaker Hossein Keshavarz who joins me from NPR West.
Hossein, welcome to the program.
HOSSEIN KESHAVARZ: Thank you so much for having me.
BLOCK: And the title of your film, “Dog Sweat,” refers to alcohol – underground booze, right?
KESHAVARZ: Sure. So “Dog Sweat” is kind of a moonshine. And because alcohol is illegal, people would either have to make it themselves, or have to find someone to sell them alcohol.
BLOCK: Were there misconceptions about Iran that Americans might have that you were trying to explode in your movie?
KESHAVARZ: Yeah. I mean, I think we have a very strange kind of conception of Iran. And I think one of our goals just kind of show how people really live, because I don’t think people have seen that much. And I think the reason is, you know, in Western media, we always see Iran as threat and it’s always like a nation of fundamentalists.
But you know, Iran is very young. Two-thirds of the people are under 35. And I think the experience of living under a theocratic state has actually kind of pushed people an opposite way, and a lot of people are very – kind of very secular; a lot of the young people. Another thing is I think in Iranian media, because of censorship, we’re always kind of presented with either kind – of like the idealized Islamic family that doesn’t really exist.
Or these films that are great films but take place in the villages or very exotic films. And, you know, Tehran is a city of 20 million people, so when I come back to New York, I really feel like New York is like a quaint place.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BLOCK: By exact comparison?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KESHAVARZ: Yeah. Yeah. And there’s a great energy with young people, and they just have such a zest for life, and I kind of wanted to show that.
BLOCK: Well, Hossein, what was involved in shooting this movie in Tehran? You were shooting, as we said, you know, underground not through the official channels. What risks were your taking by doing that?
KESHAVARZ: I mean it was kind of a very long and difficult process. But we had a small camera, and then we just kind of went in and out. And, you know, a lot of times, you would almost get into like, you know, really deep trouble, or, you know, we would have to shoot in bits and pieces and shoot what we could. But I think the important thing is kind of having a group of people who were really, really dedicated to something.
And like in a chaos, always try to remember what the story is you want to tell and how you want to tell it.
BLOCK: What kind of trouble did you almost get into?
KESHAVARZ: Well, some of the stuff is – I kind of…
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KESHAVARZ: …not – I always try to be vague just because I don’t want to get people in trouble. But, I mean, just a very small example of something that I would say is that, you know, the last scene of the film wasn’t supposed to be that. It was supposed to be this thing, you know, they all go to the Caspian Sea because, you know, the Caspian Sea is some place more open.
But the actress came and she said, you know, my father found out that I was doing this film, and he forbid me from partaking in this anymore. And then we’re like, well, can you stay for a couple of hours? And she said, well, you know, I can stay until like, you know, for another two or three hours, and he’s going to come home.
KESHAVARZ: And so we said, oh, my God. OK. And then we sat down, and we talked a little bit with the actor and the DP and then we, you know, we kind of scripted a scene. And then we found a place to shoot it, and we shot that. And I think with this scene, it actually worked out well. And I’m happy with the scene, but just so many times something would happen where we couldn’t do it, and so, we wind up having like, you know, a good scene and another good scene but nothing in the middle to connect it. And so we had to kind of be very, kind of, you know, the story would evolve depending on what we were able to shoot.
BLOCK: Do you think the actors who live in Iran are jeopardized in some way? Do they put themselves at risk by being in your movie?
KESHAVARZ: So yeah, I mean, we’ve shown the film in like 30 or 35 festivals up to this point, and so there hasn’t been any issues so far. And I mean, one thing is that we did shoot the film before the elections, so I think the situation in Iran has gotten much worse…
BLOCK: Before the elections in 2009.
KESHAVARZ: Yeah. And obviously, things have changed very much. And so we had to be very careful what we say and what we do. But I think the impulse of the film wasn’t we had this political agenda and we want to make a film to illustrate that. It’s, we want to make a film about human beings and their desire to connect with other people.
BLOCK: Hossein Keshavarz, thank you very much.
KESHAVARZ: Thank you so much. I enjoyed it.
BLOCK: Hossein Keshavarz co-wrote, directed and produced the new film “Dog Sweat.”
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)