Mehrdad Oskouei on IDFA Opener ‘Sunless Shadows’: ‘Giving a Voice to Voiceless People’

Variety | 11/20/2019 | Damon Wise
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Documentary film festival IDFA opened Wednesday with Iranian director Mehrdad Oskouei’s “Sunless Shadows,” the latest in a series of films about incarcerated teens in his homeland. Developed with help from the IDFA Bertha Fund, the film takes viewers inside an Iranian juvenile detention center, where a group of underage girls are serving time for very serious crimes: the murders of male relatives, in circumstances often exacerbated by Iran’s male-dominated culture.

Artistic director Orwa Nyrabia praised the film not only for its message of support for vulnerable women but also for its humanist approach. “It’s a film that does not exoticize its subject matter,” he enthused. “It’s a film that is very authentic and sincere in its approach to its characters and its story. And I think this is a film that will be very, very accessible for international audiences – even though it is also very, very Iranian at the same time. This is a quality that one finds in very few films.”

Variety - Oskouei - Film - World - Premiere

Variety sat down with Oskouei prior to the film’s world premiere.

How did you get involved with these girls?

Years - Film - Film - Prison - Prisoners

A few years ago, I began to think about how I could start my new film. I was thinking of a film about prison and prisoners. It was 2006, and everyone was talking about the football World Cup. And I was thinking about all the kids in prison—how do they feel when people of the same age are free? I focused on this topic and after six months [the prison] gave me permission for shooting there. In that moment, I knew my story would not be finished within just one film, so I decided to make three films about these kids.

How did that lead to “Sunless Shadows”?

Films - Boys - Years - Rehabilitation - Center

First I made two films about boys under 15 years old in rehabilitation center [2007’s...
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