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’Circumstance’ :: to be young, rebellious and gay in Iran

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by David Lamble

An underground gem

I first met Maryam Keshavarz and lead actor Reza Sixo Safai at the party for their film at the San Francisco International Film Festival, a night when a room full of Iranian exiles found their party interrupted by Blackberry updates on the American execution of Osama bin Laden. During our video chat, Keshavarz and Safai cradled details on making this underground gem (which will probably prevent them from visiting Iran during the reign of the mullahs) with anecdotes of their peripatetic childhoods.

First: the funny, revealing scenes where the young cast members are goofily translating ’Milk’ into Persian.

Maryam Keshavarz: I went to Northwestern University, and I had this amazing gay history professor who showed us ’The Times of Harvey Milk.’ I remember leaving the theatre so angry, because I have such a great education, but I had never heard of Harvey Milk. [To Reza Sixo Safai:] You had a similar experience.

Reza Sixo Safai I saw it on KQED, actually, it never left me. When I heard the movie [’Milk’] was being made, I thought, "Oh no, I hope they don’t ruin it." But of course, it turned out great.

Maryam Keshavarz: I had this idealistic but naive character who wanted to come to Iran and "change the world." It’s amazing that the Iranian government can co-opt many heroic figures, like Gandhi and Che, for their own use, what’s the only one they couldn’t do that with? ’Milk.’ In Iran, the kids love the film ’Milk,’ they loved ’Brokeback Mountain,’ they were relating to the forbidden love.

I was born in New York, my parents came to America in the 1960s. There weren’t enough doctors, the Vietnam War, so my dad came to Bed-Sty, Brooklyn, the summer of 1967. In 1982, my mom moved me back to Iran, and I went to second grade there during the height of the Iran/Iraq War. When you’re a kid, you know it’s a war but it seems like a game. Adults create a safe space: "Oh damn, they’re bombing again, I can’t get a hamburger." We’re citizens of the world, but I always feel connected to my Iranian roots, because I lived between two countries that hate each other. As a child, I would chant, without really understanding it, "Death to America!" In America, I was absolutely harassed during the hostage crisis. Our neighbors, who knew us, would smash our windows, slash our tires, and beat us up at school.

Reza Sixo Safai I was born in Iran, and when I was young, pre-Revolution, we came to the States. My dad worked for the steel industry. We went to Disney World, a Texas rodeo, then back to Iran. My dad’s not religious, so as soon as he was asked to pray at work, he said, "Okay, we’re leaving." They kept us at U.S. customs for an unbelievably long time. It was the moment when you realize that your dad is not all-powerful. I experienced a lot of racism, so my early strategy was to distance myself from being Iranian. It feeds me as an actor: I had to play this role observing everyone around me, very Mehran-like.

Circumstance is in limited release in cities throughout the country. For more on the film, visit the film’s Facebook page.

Watch the interview with Maryam Keshavarz, writer/director of Circumstance":


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