How is your work informed by your Mexican Iranian heritage, upbringing in Mexico City and current life in Vancouver?
Growing up as a mixed-raced child, you learn early on that there are no absolutes. That we are constantly living within endless grey areas. I’m trying to embrace within my work more and more, that the most interesting things are our little contradictions, quirks and nuances.
Mexico and Iran are so different and yet so similar. Our histories are ancient and rich, full of folklore, art and traditions of storytelling. I was lucky that my parents exposed me to that from a young age. Both cultures are beautifully chaotic, full of contradictions and all about family. I’m hoping I can bring those values and quirks into my own practice as a filmmaker.
Living in Canada for the past couple years allowed me to actually realize all these things! Leaving your homeland has a way to put things into perspective.
Farhad filming Virtuous Circle
You work primarily as a cinematographer, what made you decide to try your hand at directing? And did you find any aspects of that segue challenging?
For me, directing has always been about finding another avenue to feel creatively fulfilled. Especially when I was starting out a couple years ago, and I was constantly unemployed, hoping directors would trust me and bring me on to the projects and stories I felt drawn to. But I was mostly not working on stuff that spoke to me, and I was not getting opportunities to grow my skills as a cinematographer either. So, I stopped waiting for those emails and DMs to come back and just tried to find a way to put my creativity into something.
Directing and cinematography are similar in that you’re trying to tell a story or convey a feeling in the most direct and poetic ways. There are skillsets that are transferable, such as being a decent leader and lifting your team up, creating a space where they can bring the best they can into the mix.
But they’re still very different roles! Many aspects of directing will keep pushing me to get out of my comfort zone, like convincing a bunch of people to join you in a deranged venture, securing financing, or crafting nuanced performances with your actors while thinking of a million other things!
I’ve had the privilege to learn by watching and working with great directors, and to be supported by awesome teams of technicians and producers. Luckily for me, the more I do one, the more I understand the other and vice versa.
Virtuous Circle on location. Photo credit: Kristoff Duxbury
Talking about Virtuous Circle, you’ve said that ‘the most interesting parts about relationships often lie in the endless grey areas – the mundane’. Are you someone who finds inspiration in the everyday? If not, where do you look for creative inspiration?
I think inspiration comes from all sorts of places, and it’s hard to know what the next thing that moves you will be. It can be music or books… a memory triggered by a scent, a line you hear on the subway, something a friend says, the unique way a stranger hums to a song while waiting for their coffee, or the one post on IG that makes you stop the endless scroll. Anything can move us.
Both Virtuous Circle and your latest film, Golden Ladder, feel very personal – how much do the films draw on your own experiences, memories and family relationships?
I realized that I am not the kind of person who can just come up with a super believable character from scratch. For some of us, if you write what you know, you have better odds at conveying authentic feelings.
Virtuous Circle is mostly fiction, but is infused with the feelings and memories I knew too well by growing with my brothers. Golden Ladder on the other hand is directly inspired by my family’s journey with healing, trauma and immigration. Although it’s more of a hybrid, the result of a deeper collaboration with the performers who are a real family of non-actors. We workshopped the script together, so it would feel authentic to them and their own lived experience.
Golden Ladder is deeply emotional, sharing the same intimate and truthful feel as Virtuous Circle and your earlier video for Tom Rosenthal’s To You Alone. All three films demonstrate your skill at coaxing authentic and heartfelt performances from your performers, whether they’re actors or real people: how do you build that trust and rapport?
I think it’s all about letting yourself be vulnerable with your performers. Letting them know you got them, that set is a safe space. Acknowledging you don’t know it all but that you are confident enough to carry the vision through. I like involving the performers later on in crafting the story. If a scene is not relatable at all, how can we make it so? To allow them to make the material theirs as well.
The other thing I try is getting rid of the artifice of filmmaking, the unnecessary lingo and outdated attitudes. When you make the space accessible and chill, you allow everyone to focus on what matters.
You’ve spoken before about continuing to direct, but focusing on quality, not quantity. What topics or issues interest you as a filmmaker?
Directing is exhausting! I have immense respect for my director friends and colleagues who continue to create within the personal and commercial space constantly. The stamina levels are insane! For me directing has always been another creative outlet, and I enjoy doing it in small doses while I continue to focus on growing as a cinematographer.
I’ve realized I no longer enjoy the purely intense sad dramas that I praised in my teenage years. I’m more and more drawn to bittersweet narratives, the emotional rainbows that feel more similar to life itself, while exploring concepts related to identity politics, diasporic voices, and flawed relationships.
Shooting Virtuous Circle. Photo credit: Charlie Hannah
How has the pandemic affected you and your work over the past year?
I had to learn to chill out! And to constantly remind myself that I am not defined by my work.
It’s been a tough year for everyone… emotionally and financially. I had to focus less on passion projects and more on commercial work to support myself and my community. There’s always a trade-off.
Now that you’ve won a 1.4 Gold Award, what’s next? Any exciting projects in the pipeline?
I’m currently prepping for my first feature which is exciting. Welcoming more narrative projects into my life and actively seeking to connect with like-minded folks with similar backgrounds and interests.
Honestly, I’m hoping I can get better at the work-life balance thing, as well as figuring out the best ways to continue to grow both as a director and a cinematographer. There’s so much to learn! There are a couple of folks doing incredible work in both realms and they’re paving the way, but the industry is still quite skeptical about that. At least I know there’ something to work towards!
Interview by Selena Schleh
Farhad Ghaderi website
Found MeWritten & Directed by David Findlay Inspired by the Music of Men I Trust Starring: Michel Poudrier & Nahéma Ricci Producers: Joaquin Cardoner, Livia Pizzamiglio Dion Executive Producer: Céline Ceillier - Les Enfants Co-Producers: Neel Gupta, Ariel Ho Kjaer Cinematographer: Farhad Ghaderi Production Designer: Liz Carins Editor: Alexander Farah Sound Design & Mix: Mitchell Allen Colourist: Sam Gilling Associate Producers: Nicolas Brassard Asselin, Hervé Dommange, Jacques-Étienne Stein, Michael Kuna Production Manager: Livia Pizzamiglio Dion 1st AD: Joaquin Cardoner VFX: David McDonald, Charles Tremblay Casting: Marie Côté, Étienne D’Anjou Styling: Audrey Fontaine HMU: Julie Gauthier 1st AC: Robin Rigault 2nd AC: Marc-Alexandre Dulude Steadicam Operator: Maude Turcot Art Director: Jean-Nicolas Tremblay Gaffer/Key Grip (MVP): Marc-André Bilodeau Gaffer: Étienne Hébert Grips: Antoine Ratheau, Pierre-Olivier Gingras Sound Recordist: Pierre-Olivier Francoeur PAs: Gala Belen Dionne, Alexia Taillefer, Marie-Christine Dallaire, Gabriel Tremblay Air Directed by David Findlay Produced by Joaquin Cardoner Executive Producers: Sultan Al Saud, Evan Landry Co-Producers: Neel Gupta, Ariel Ho Kjaer Production: Asymetric & Filmsupply Films Cinematographer: Farhad Ghaderi Production Designer: Charlie Hannah Editor: Alexander Farah Sound Designer: Mitchell Allen Mix: Harry Knazan - OSO Music: La Femme Colourist: Sam Gilling Associate Producers: Michael Kuna, Charles Said-Vassallo Production Manager: Aline Mayerhoffer 1st AD: Tamara Black VFX: David McDonald Casting: Katrin Braga - VAKA Casting coordinator: Andy Alvarez COVID Officer: Ben Keightley - RockDoc Stylist: Miren Valdes Art Director: Frieda-Ray Green Art assist: Alessandra Rella Felice HMU: Nakesha Chong 1st AC (MVP): Robin Rigault 2nd AC: Matthew Koropatwa Gaffer: Terrance Azzuolo Gaffer: Greg Goudreau Key Grip (MVP Honourable mention): Andriy Lyskov Dolly Grip: Brian Johnson PA: Taylor Johansson, Sydney Robertson BTS: Neel Gupta