Babak Anvari’s directorial feature debut UNDER THE SHADOW is set in 1988 Tehran, and tells the story of Shideh (Narges Rashidi) and her daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), whose apartment is at risk of the Iraqi air raids. With her husband sent off to serve in the war, and neighbours fleeing the city, the missiles are not only the cause for concern, as Shideh begins to believe that she and her daughter have been targeted by a djinn.


Speaking with FRIGHTFEST for the release of the Limited Edition Blu-ray edition, Anvari reflected on the lasting influence of his first feature film.


FrightFest - Reflecting on the period following the completion of a film, director Ryan Bonder remarked to me, “… it probably takes about a year before you start to feel like yourself again.” How do you now look back upon UNDER THE SHADOW, and did you have a similar experience of leaving it behind?


Babak Anvari- It took me a while to completely put it behind me; I still don’t think I have. Now with the release of the Blu-ray I’ve revisited it again, and it has been a joy because it has brought back all the good and the challenging memories. I look at it now as a great learning curve and achievement in my life, because this was my first feature film and I’ll never fully move on from it - UNDER THE SHADOW holds a special place in my heart.


FF - I’ve heard novelists talk of the pressure of the first novel, and looking over their shoulder at this mountain that is imposing presence as they try to write their second novel. Is it a similar feeling as a filmmaker, the achievement of scaling the mountain that then becomes a weight of expectation?


BA - I don’t look at it as something intimidating. I’m in New York now doing a TV show, and when I was moving on to make my next film, it was like, “Oh, is this your second album pressure?” I tried to shake it off and care about the next step, but UNDER THE SHADOW was something that I learned from, and gained a set of skills that I’ve carried onto my other projects. So I try not to think of it as intimidating or something that puts pressure on me. I try to look at it as something positive, that I can rely on to remind me that if I’ve done that with a low budget and a short period of time, then I can achieve a lot more. So it’s actually a good reminder of things I can and cannot do.


FF - What were the lessons you took away from this experience?


BA - The biggest thing I learned on UNDER THE SHADOW was how to be efficient, and when directing a scene how to focus on and aim for what that scene requires, rather than just do coverage and try to find the film in the edit. There are many other things such as when you’re working with a brilliant actor like I was with Narges Rashidi, trusting the actor’s instincts and being there to support them when they need it. Otherwise, if they know what they’re doing, then let them do their job.



FF -  Filmmaker Christoph Behl remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film, you are not the same person as you were before.” Do you perceive there to be a transformative aspect to the creative process for you personally?


BA - I think so, but it needs time between when you finish a film and when you look back at it. I’ve made two films and both of them have exercised certain demons. And even as a filmmaker, with each project you learn and you become more experienced, so it changes you regardless. I just hope it’s for the better and not the worse. If you deeply care for a project, if you put your heart and soul into it, I do feel it will change you.


I hope that with every project I keep exploring and experimenting, and don’t play it safe. I’m still at the very early stages of my career and I tell my friends that the day I think I know it all, that’s the day I should quit. The nature of filmmaking is learning and exploring, being creative and trying new things, taking risks and thinking outside of the box. These are the elements that excite me, so I hope I keep that dreamy, almost childlike naïveté and passion - I don’t want to ever settle or be too safe.


FF - There is no guarantee that a film will secure distribution, and for those that do, many are no longer receiving physical releases. Whether this effects the ability to rediscover a film, or for discovery by a new generation I’m unsure, but I still find there’s a nostalgia to owning a physical copy of a film.


BA - I am a film nerd and the idea that this film is coming out on a Blu-ray limited edition with special features and a booklet is magnificent. It excites me that people can go out and buy it, and treasure it, because that’s the types of things I did with the films I love. Maybe in a decade or two they’ll come back and revisit it, and then share it with future generation. My geeky side gets excited about that, and it is important, so hopefully more and more films can have this kind of treatment.


UNDER THE SHADOW Limited Edition Blu-ray is out 10 Feb from Second Sight Films.


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