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Victoria Film Festival Interview – THE DESERT FISH director Mohammad Ghorbankarimi

The Desert Fish at Victoria Film Festival
by Jason Whyte

” A cinematographic feast for the eyes, THE DESERT FISH spans more than 2000 kilometres of stunning, never-before-filmed Iranian countryside. Told through the arc of a young boy in search of his mother who was lost at sea more than eight years ago, this poetic film inspires hope. Featuring a must-see performance by newcomer Iman Afshar, this unique film is a testament to the power of international collaboration. Written like a fable, it morphs elements of magic, tragedy, young love and the trials of adolescence into a powerful tale of redemption... and ultimately reveals how much a child will sacrifice for a chance at happiness.” Director Mohammad Ghorbankarimi on his film THE DESERT FISH which screens at the 2014 Victoria Film Festival.

Is this your first movie in the Victoria Film Festival, and are you coming to Victoria for the screening?

This is my first feature film and it is my first time attending VFF. I am going to be in Victoria for the duration of the festival and am very much looking forward to it.

Tell me a bit about your background and what led you into the motion picture business.

I started my career as a traditional cell animator and later became a CGI animator and visual effects artist. I've worked in Canada since 1998 as both a VFX supervisor and animation director. I've worked on many Canadian and American feature films and TV shows. Eight years ago I became enamoured with digital cinematography, directing live action TV commercials, shorts and viral films. This culminated last year with the start of my first feature, “The Desert Fish”.

How did this whole movie come together from your perspective?

Filmmaking has been my dream since I was a kid. For many years I've worked toward gaining the knowledge and experience to eventually make a film. By the time I felt ready, it took me two years to both write the story and shoot the film.

What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

For me it was the challenge of an unknown land. Despite the fact I was born and raised in Iran, it has changed so much over the years that every single step was a challenge and mystery. I didn't know the crew, their work ethic differed from mine, and it seemed every location came with a new set of challenges. Filming in Iran was filled with surprises; certainly there were road blocks, but at the same time, it was a very loving and cheerful experience.

What was your single favourite moment or rewarding experience out of the entire production?

Working with Iman Afshar, the child actor who plays Ahmad's role was filled with some truly great and wonderful moments. We had a scene where he had to jump into the ocean from a boat at night, and when I saw the situation, I was terrified. Despite all of the security and divers in the water, I didn't feel good asking the kid to jump. When Iman saw how troubled I was, he came to me and said: don't be worried, I'll jump and will make sure to do it great so you can have the shot that you have in mind with one take. He hugged me and said “Trust me”. The comfort and confidence that kid gave me was beyond explanation, and he jumped and the shot was done with the first take.

What keeps you going while making a movie? How much coffee?

I should say, Coffee, Cigarettes and Love. The combination of these three.

I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography, what the movie was shot on and why it was decided to be filmed this way.

The fact that I am a cinematographer and had a very distinct sense for how the film should look made the decision easy; I decided to shoot it my self. It made the entire process extra difficult for me due to the physical challenges of both directing and shooting, but it really saved me a lot of time and effort in getting what I wanted for each scene. Especially working with non actors, with my experience, I try to create a situation for them that captures the right moment at the right time. As well, the fact that I didn't have to translate it through another person, made it a less painful process. For the camera, I was planning to shoot with Arri Alexa as it's my favourite camera, but due to tight locations like the interior of the under ground waterway, small village houses, underwater scenes and the speed required for the shoot, I chose the Canon 5D Mark III as the main camera, with Canon fast prime lenses. For the slow motion shots I used a RED Epic.

After the film screens in Victoria, what is the future release plan for the movie? Anywhere you WANT the movie to be shown but haven't done so yet?

The film got a United States premiere in San Jose at the Cinequest festival in March and after that there are festivals in Toronto, Europe and other American cities that have selected it. Unfortunately I can't disclose specifics, since they have not released their official selections yet.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking or texting during a screening of your film in a cinema?

Well, the first thing that comes to my mind is that I should try harder to make a better film so people wont feel compelled to text or talk while they watch my film.

There are a lot filmmakers, especially up-and-comers, reading our site. I was curious if you had any advice to aspiring filmmakers?

My advice is to believe in yourself, because in all likelihood, no one else will. Go out there and make your first film. It's the only way you will ever be called a filmmaker, no matter how many shorts and ads you’ve made in the past.

And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have seen at a film festival?

I saw the Swedish version of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN at the Edinburgh film festival in 2008. I really loved that film as it was a fresh approach to the horror genre.

THE DESERT FISH official website is HERE and you can also like their Facebook page!

This is one of the many films playing at this year’s Victoria Film Festival. For showtimes and further information visit

Be sure to follow instant happenings of the festival and updates on my Twitter @jasonwhyte!

Jason Whyte,

link directly to this feature at
originally posted: 02/10/14 05:35:24
last updated: 02/10/14 05:36:06
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