Hello Nicolas, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Firstly, I’d like to ask how this project came about?
By looking at the world from my own perspective and identifying topics which I think deserve more attention. I haven’t seen any short film or frankly any kind of film dealing with a young female refugee from the Middle East adapting to Western culture and developing strong feelings for another woman. Beyond that, it’s a story about self-empowerment and freedom of choice. I strongly oppose the idea of suppression of human beings from society or religion. I felt there was a strong need for a project like “Ayaneh” and that it might have the potential to open the audience’s eyes.
The film has a great deal to say about a negative response to a relationship because of religion – how important do you think it is that fiction reminds a growingly secular society that this can still happen?
Very important. In the western world we shouldn’t take it for granted that most forms of relationships are not only possible but also widely accepted in society. On the other hand, there are millions of people who are facing religious suppression and fear that their own natural way of life might cause them severe problems in society in case they come out, admitting to the way they are. I feel we have an obligation to help those in need for support. “Ayaneh” is an example of a strong independent woman who, against all odds, decides to go her own way.
Why do you think there are not as many LGBT Muslims stories or films being made at the moment as perhaps there should?
I guess out of fear that a large part of the Muslim society would dislike such films. In my view, fear however shouldn’t be part of the decision process when deciding if to make a film or not. If there are people out there in this world who need help, any I may be able to support them as a filmmaker by shedding light on their personal issue, I feel it’s my obligation to do so.
What do you think the film has to say about integration?
That it requires both openness from the society which integrates but also to a very large degree active participation from the society wishing to be integrated. They need to move forward and take the necessary steps in their new life, also they need to decide how for in the integration process they would like to go. “Ayaneh”’s brother seems not to be bothered at all with integration while her mother is more open but has her limits. “Ayaneh” herself wants to go much further than her family as you will see in the film. These different standpoints can cause severe friction within those families.
How much of this film would you say is a political film in comparison to how much of it is a film about love?
It’s mainly about love and a young woman’s desire to lead her own way.
What was the casting process for the film like?
All of the actors are handpicked by me. I travelled all over Europe to put together this cast in the hopes they will genuinely work as an Afghan family who has recently escaped to Switzerland. Casting the lead role of “Ayaneh” was the starting point. I was so lucky to have found the immensely talented Afsaneh Dehrouyeh (Tyrant) in London, who immediately embraced this project. Interestingly, many actresses who were interested to play the mother of Ayaneh turned down the role after reading the script, feeling the film’s subject wouldn’t be appropriate. In the end, I put together a cast of wonderful actors and every single one of them was standing 100% behind the film and its messages.
What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?
That it’s okay to fight for who you want to be in your life.
What has the reception to the film been like?
We were lucky to have the World Premiere of AYANEH at the legendary Rhode Island International Film Festival on Opening Night infront of around 2’000 people in the audience. When the film ended, the applause started right away and was probably the longest amongst all six or seven shorts that were playing that night. Afsaneh Dehrouyeh and Ladina von Frisching (she plays the Swiss girl in the film) were both present and we had dozens of wonderful encounters with people from the audience after the film. The fact that we won the First Prize for BEST LGBTQ FILM from the Youth Jury showed that not only the audience embraced our film. Two days later the film played at HollyShorts at the iconic Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. The reaction was similar to the one in Rhode Island.
How does this film compare to other films you’ve worked on?
Overall, I’ve completed three short films (all fiction) and one feature documentary. “Ayaneh” was by far the most intense and time consuming. When you’re dealing with sensitive issues such as religion, sexual orientation, longing for freedom and refugees, there’s an obligation to get things right. I think I invested about 2’000 hours in this project from the first idea to the final film.
What future projects have you got planned?
Over the following months I’d like to support “Ayaneh” on the Festival circuit and help the film to truly have an impact around the world. Besides that, I’ve just completed my second Feature Film script “Love does not make you a fool” and am thinking of a Feature Documentary about a famous Swiss musician.
With thanks to Nicolas.