‘Sahar’ dir. Alexander Farah

Nadim recounts the night his sister came home at four in the morning and disappeared shortly after.

Writer-Director: Alexander Farah
Producer: Alireza Taale
DOPs: Kenneth Lau
Key Cast: Behtash Fazlali, Panthea Vatandoost, Soheila Vatandoost, Mohammad Sarwari, Jack Christofferson

C8: Where did the idea for ‘Sahar’ come from and how long did it take you to write?

AF: The inspiration for Sahar comes mainly from my fascination with the tragic practice of honour killings, especially across North America. The three-year spanning Shafia Murder trails from Kingston, Ontario in 2009 was a particular case I explored extensively, where three young Afghan-Canadian girls and their stepmother were allegedly drowned in a staged murder by their parents and eldest son. Paul Schliesmann’s Honour on Trial was a noteworthy text throughout the conception of the film. The more I discovered about the family and their dynamics, the more I recognized resemblances to my own and countless others undergoing the immigrant experience in western societies.

C8: What was the writing process like? Did you ever experience writer’s block?

AF: Sahar was my thesis film from Emily Carr University. I knew I had to put out a film by a certain date in order to receive the credit to graduate. I had something a little more financially ambitious in mind that I was writing – a story that takes place in Afghanistan. The more I realized how out of reach it was, at the time, I started to think of other avenues I could explore. I knew I had to act fast, and Sahar just came surprisingly naturally regardless of the tight deadline. It started with one scene, another and then another, without much of a treatment in the beginning. I found the story’s beginning and end only after sitting and writing around the middle.

C8: What was the biggest obstacle you faced during production and how did you overcome it?

AF: It was the first short film I’d directed (and wrote and edited), so everything felt like an obstacle. It was a bit challenging to direct the one scene where all four actors are involved, because everyone had equally emotionally-charged beats within the scene. And of course, the usual scheduling challenges involved in prioritizing what night scenes must be shot at night, versus what could potentially be shot at day, etc.

C8: What did you shoot on and what was the reasoning behind this choice?

AF: We shot on a Red Scarlet with just three lenses. I wanted to promote a smaller, mobile camera that offered sufficient detail and range for low light situations. I knew the film wasn’t dependent on gorgeous cinematography, I sought to create whatever felt the most natural. But I think I’ll shake things up for my next few projects.

C8: How did you fund the film? Did you receive any support from film organisations?

AF: The film was entirely funded by my six years of part-time barista savings.

C8: The film had a great run on the festival circuit. Why do you think the film has been so successful?

AF: Thank you so much, I’m really grateful for that. It’ s a contemporary family drama that explores the issues and tug of wars surrounding cultures, generations, and societal hierarchies. For that reason, I think it might just be the right amount of familiar and unfamiliar.

C8: Do you think film festivals are still the best place for emerging filmmakers to showcase their work?

AF: Yes and no, I suppose it depends on the project, the film festival, and what your immediate short-term future goals are, either with the exhibited film or your next project. Once you’ve got your premiere date set, it’s a great idea to set out a loose plan for what your intentions are with the work – acquisitions, distribution, (international) networking, future financing, etc. But again, anything could happen.

C8: You studied Film and Media at Emily Carr University. How instrumental was this to forming your voice as a filmmaker?

AF: It was, at times, really awe-inspiring to be around artists of all sorts of mediums. I had a few reliable instructors that still offer mentorship today, but I’m not sure I got everything I needed to develop my practice while I was there. But I believe film school (or anything resembling education) is whatever you make it – how much you try to work with all your classmates, how much you try to seize opportunities outside the school, etc. It’s always easy to just get caught up in yourself, your papers and your projects.

C8: What do you think is the essence of a good collaboration?

AF: Hard to put it into words as I think there are several variables. Mutual respect for sure, with admiration being a bonus. Everyone needs the foundation (in my case, an understanding of the story and characters) so they are on the same page. A good collaboration then stems from feeling comfortable enough to introduce new propositions and perspectives that could reshape, challenge and add to the impact of the original idea.

C8: What’s next for Alexander Farah? How do you plan to follow up the success of ‘Sahar’?

AF: I’m bouncing between writing a few different stories. The pressure to “follow up the success,” like you said, is a bit daunting, but I’m itching to direct another film soon. And I’m still carrying the ‘ambitious’ Afghanistan-based one in my back pocket, excited to pursue it someday in the near future. Hoping to apply to some labs. Researching funding. Things are sort of up in the air. But when are they not, right?