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Shadow People
Interview with Darioush Shirvani

By Bijan Tehrani, CWB, 07/14/2014


"I began with the idea of a musician who is looking for a place to sleep on the road "
Darioush Shirvani, director of Shadow People.


Shadow People is based on a group of homeless people and prostitutes with all their problems as well as their little joys in life. Paul’s group is formed by people from different nationalities, such as refugee Jacov, a Russian Jew and his friend Ahmed, a Persian actor who was humiliated and prosecuted in his country.

Darioush Shirvani director of Shadow People Was born 1963 in Shiraz/Iran and already visited at the age of 14 the music-university of his hometown. At the same time his short-movies arose. From 1977-1981 he has been assistant director, stage manager and actor at the citizen theater of Shiraz. From 1980-1985 he managed six features, whose scripts were written by himself.

The last feature of series (35mm, 122 minutes) “searching the truth” couldn’t be finished. At the end of turning operation he had to flee out of Iran.
In Germany Shirvani produced as director previously 5 movies:
1 The Human Situation: Documentary, 60 mins
2 The link: feature film, 33 min
3 Asypolitik in Germany, short film 5 min.
4 My name is Joseph: feature film 25 min
5 SHADOW PEOPLE: movie feature film 120 min

“Not considered by the jury, the finical but most exciting contribution “My name is Joseph” remained. This drama about an alcoholic is staged by Darioush Shirvani with professional assurance and sensibility of an impassionate story-teller” (Tageszeitung Münster). 1999 Darioush Shirvani got the musician award from Munich for his own compositions.

In 2002 he was voted by the University of Augsburg as “artist of the year”.

Bijan Tehrani: what inspired you to create Shadow People?
Darioush Shirvani: The people who are on the margins of our society have always interested me, and Shadow People are such. Bertold Brecht touched on them in Three Penny Opera;  the people who are in the shadows that you cannot see! I wanted to shed light on these people with my ability.

BT: How much time did you spend on researching this subject and writing the screenplay?
DS: At first I wanted to make a documentary, so I studied a great amount of literature and started the project. For 6 months, I worked with three homeless people as protagonists for this project. At some point, however,  I realized that it wouldn’t make sense to continue with their stories. I had found that they had not been truthful to me in the way they represented their lives. Of course, this can never work out well in a documentary. I sat down with my collaborators to discuss how we should proceed, and it occurred to me that I still had an old idea about the homeless. My basic structure began with the idea of a musician who is looking for a place to sleep on the road and thereby gets to know an old experienced homeless man. This will forever change the life of a musician. Because I knew the skeleton of the story well, the script didn’t take too long to write, and the dialogue changed during the process.

BT: How did you go about casting of your film?
DS: Most of the actors were good friends of mine.  I had already made two films with Peter Reinwarth in a leading role and I was very happy with him; I wanted him there again. Peter knew that our budget was limited, but he was still fully committed to the project and came to work with a fantastic attitude. I was also friends with Petr Kuschmitz, Ali Kamrani, Michaela Wine and many others. The basic concept was that we put together a mix of professional and amateur actors who could make their roles authentic.

BT: What is your way of working with actors?
DS: Working with actors is always a delicated task. The big hurdle was the two unequal categories of actors (professional and non-professional) all working together. I had to use several methods to get the actors in the best shape possible. Often I was acting as a psychologist! It is very important that one knows his actors’ possibilities and limits. I learned as much as I could about my performers, then I systematically adjusted the roles of the actors. This gives the actors a lot of self-confidence and thus they are much more relaxed. In this production, I also functioned as a camera man and this immediately was an aid to both the actors and myself. Whenever was necessary, I had the actors take the camera and shoot. I have also often filmed during breaks in between takes. The result was surprisingly very good and authentic.
Usually, a few weeks before shooting begins, I gather all the actors together and tell them the story and the characters of the film. Then I work with each actor individually, in longer or shorter periods as needed. Then I work scene-by-scene with the actors. In this process, the film evolves as well. With Shadow People, this preliminary work took about 3 months to complete.
When working with good character actors, like Peter Reinwarth, I have so much fun at work. We talk and analyze together for so that it is clear how the role should be.
Basically, I want all the actors create clarity about their roles before shooting begins, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we will change anything on the set.

BT: Your film has a specific visual style, how did you come up with visual style of your film?
DS: The direction wasn’t set in stone from the beginning. During the production, the style came together and then I amplified further work in this direction. One thing I have to say is that I would never have made the film if I had the slightest doubt about being able to finish it without a cent in my pockets. I was hundred percent sure that the story is suitable for a no-budget film production, but I did not produce a no-budget film. My goal was to make a very good movie, although I have no money for it, and I've always had the story of the film and I placed it in the foreground of production. I find the style of the film has to adapt to the story, and not vice versa.

BT: You are a musician, too. How does that affect your filmmaking?
DS: Honestly, I think that the filmmaking influenced my music. For me, I do not know exactly how it works. I've composed several hundred pieces of music and I still do not know how I came up with these pieces. I think it comes from the depths of my soul. The ideas and characters of my films I take from the society in which I live. But I do not know how I write the stories. Whenever I decide to write a piece of music or to develop a story, everything goes wrong. The ideas of music and film come and go by themselves; that’s at least what I can say about me.

BT: You have also composed the music for your film, how did you go about that?
DS: We have three kinds of music, some of which are mixed into each other in this film. Most of the piano pieces have been composed by Petr Kuschmitz, who also plays live on camera. Everything else, I wrote. I wrote and played the main theme in G major, three years before the film production. Like many people, I hum and often sing to myself- even when shooting. When I saw the scene with sunset on the snowy landscape, I hummed that tune and I then I knew the soundtrack was as good as done. After the first cut, I started to compose the music and orchestrate. Three days later we were done. The live vocal piece but we have separately recorded in a concert hall.

BT: You have been working as a musician and filmmaker for a while in Germany, but you have Iranian origins, has that any reflections in your creations?
DS:  I have learned many things in Iran which are reflected in my art. The classic and contemporary poetry, literature, the tragic history of Iran; the traditional types of art, such as theater (Taezieh and Roohowzie), traditional music and miniature painting, ancient and medieval architecture and much more—they all influenced me from my youth in school. The different ideologies and religions, such as Mithra cult, Zoroastrianism, manism, Mazdakism, to Schiitism employ me again and again. But from the other side I have learned a lot here in Europe and in Germany. The German language has opened a door to the entire German-European heritage, and I am very grateful.

BT: What kind of challenges do you face as a filmmaker in Germany?
DS:  I have experienced filmmaking in Germany for 28 years now. As supporters and promoters of the film industry, Germany is active in the form of television and film foundation promotion. There is almost no film project which is produced without television or film foundation involvement. This gives the state and television institutes plenty of power and participation rights. Without a TV station or a reputable lending, which is supported by the state, you get no film or distribution funding. This system means that the whole film industry in Germany is a network that wants to control everything under its own hands.  Add to this the xenophobia and the fear of strangers that is still a big issue here, and you have a growing dilemma.  It has often said to me that the film foundation has the task of promoting a personality.  My personality, as an Iranian-born filmmaker, doesn’t fall in line. Of course, there are exceptions that dodge the rule; there are a lot of such films.

Shadow People is a German independent film production in the truest sense of the word. The produced outside the network, and even a step further: it does not correspond to the stereotype of a foreign filmmaker. Many have believed and hoped that the production would not reach completion. When they saw that the movie was finished, they tried with all their power to block it. I do not think that they have something personal against me or find the movie bad. They may be afraid of gradually losing their power and their monopoly if someone in this way makes a film in this manner that is well received. Anyway, they could not completely prevent my film’s release. Wherever the film was being shown, we received very positive responses from the public and from the press. These two very important essential elements, the press and the public, cannot be controlled by any entity.

BT: What are your plans as a filmmaker for the future?
DS:  When I’m not in the midst of production, I always work on my ideas and concepts. I now have at least eight screenplays with big new ideas that are written and developed. In my next film, I would like to address the general public. I have so much fun and joy in filmmaking, but that’s not why I do it. I make films because I give the audience something to say and share.


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