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VIFF 2016 Interview: SONITA director Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami

by Jason Whyte

"This is a documentary about an Afghan teenager girl who fights with a tradition that wants to sell her to $9000to a stranger with a not very traditional weapon: RAP!" Director Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami on SONITA which screens at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Welcome to VIFF and thrilled to have your movie here! I love the concept of SONITA. How did it all come together for you?

Born, raised and still based in Tehran, I found I want to be a documentary filmmaker very early in my life. I went to film school when I was 21 and studied filmmaking and animation. I wrote a book about animated documentary and my animated documentary, Cyanosis (2007), traveled to 70 festivals and made me travel out of Iran for the first time in my life. I have made six documentaries. My main focus has been "liberating power of art" and "outsider artists". Sonita is my first feature documentary. It won many awards , included with Grand Jury and audience award in Sundance Film Festival!

Great! So while you are working on a movie, what keeps you going? What drives you, creatively?

Well, I am very adventurous and I usually go for challenging characters and follow them for a long time!

What was your biggest challenge with SONITA and how did you over-come it?

When I started shooting, I really didn't have a very clear story line. All I had was an interesting, very much in trouble but very decisive teenager, who had a life in front of her. When her mom came to Iran to sell her to a marriage, I was happy and sad. Happy that finally I have a strong story,but sad and troubled because I couldn't just shoot Sonita being sold to a marriage and I didn't know whether I can interfere or not, as a documentary filmmaker.

So out of all of that, what was the best moment for you?

When Sonita's mom was arguing with Sonita's teacher about selling Sonita, that was a moment that I felt I will have a movie!

I would love to know about how you designed the visual look of SONITA and how you shot it!

Shooting in three years, starting with zero money and fundraising during the production, I worked with three different cameras and more than seven camera persons, including myself. The most important parts of footage was shot in a very wrong camera setting, decided by a camera person whom I trusted the most and did the worst job. A very good post production saved my movie.

Where is this movie going to show next? Any ideas of how you would like to distribute the film?

The movie will be shown in many more festivals. After being released in Theatres in Germany and Switzerland, it is going to be in France, Canada and US theatres.

If you could show your movie in any theater in the world, which one would you choose and why?

I wish there was a movie theatre in Afghanistan and I could show this movie there, because it is the place it can bring change, as there is no movie theatre in Afghanistan currently.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being overall disruptive during a screening of your film?

Well, I understand that you don't like my movie...unfortunately it is still legal not to like it, so please leave the cinema and don't distract other people.

There are many aspiring filmmakers reading us for our articles and reviews on If you could offer a nugget of advice to them on how to get their start, what would you say to them?

Start with a good short movie and send it to as many festivals as you can. You don't need to go to film school and waste so many years there. Just find a good filmmaking class. In filmmaking class,find friends who want to experience filmmaking and are eager help you for free in shooting and editing. Friends are the most important thing in starting filmmaking. More important than budget.

And finally, what is the best movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

ACT OF KILLING and LOOK OF SILENCE. I think Joshua Oppenheimer is a genius. I love Sundance and IDFA, but I enjoyed True/False the most. It is a very creative festival.

This is one of the many films screening at the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from September 29th to October 14th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the VIFF app for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 10/05/16 02:41:17
last updated: 10/05/16 02:44:02
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