Cinema Scandinavia: Please tell us about your film-making background?
Shahrbanoo Sadat: I studied in a French workshop, Atelier Varan Kabul, for three months. I made my first film there, which was a short documentary. I was more interested in fiction cinema so I made a short fiction a year later and that was selected for the Directors Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011. I made two other films after that, a short film and a hybrid film co-directing with German director/producer Katja Adomiet and that was selected for Rotterdam in 2014. After that, I made Wolf and Sheep which was also selected for the Directors Fortnight and actually won the top prize there.
Where did the story of Wolf and Sheep come from?
The story is based on my and my best friend’s childhood. I lived in the same kind of village that’s represented in the film for seven years between the ages of eleven and eighteen. I was not able to communicate with the other kids, I couldn’t see properly as I needed glasses and no one knew that, not even myself – in fact, the first time I used glasses was when I was eighteen. On top of that, I spoke Persian and not Hazaragi like people in central Afghanistan, because I was born in Tehran, Iran, as an Afghan refugee. After September 11 my family moved back to Afghanistan, to the small and isolated village where my parents were born. When I was eighteen I moved to Kabul and I met a guy who had lived in the same village as I did, but in the 70’s. Even though he was eighteen years older than me, we turned out to be best friends because we had so much in common: he was also an outsider. In Wolf and Sheep, I imagine a fictional time that we both lived in the village at the same time and we became friends.
Are the folk tales throughout the film real folk tales and how do you believe they contribute to the story?
Yes, they are. I wanted to talk about the Afghan community through Wolf and Sheep, about everyday life, what they believe and how they live. I am very impressed by the power of tales and stories people make up and how they actually start to believe in those stories. I think the stories tell so much about the mentality of Afghans. These are the stories no one ever writes down, they are only ever in verbal form. People have the freedom to change, delete or add some parts. That’s why there are so many versions of them.
Why was it important for you to make a story set in Afghanistan?
I was critical of the films made in Afghanistan, those films couldn’t talk to me and I couldn’t relate myself to them as an Afghan living in Afghanistan. I believed the film-makers were very far away from the Afghanistan that I knew. They were always cliché and talking about the situation regarding women, drugs, war and violence. I mean I don’t deny them since they are part of our everyday life, they are not all of our life. I wanted to talk about Afghan society through routines, small stories, and things that are the roots of bigger problems.
You had to reconstruct the village in the film as you couldn’t film in Afghanistan but in neighbouring Tajikistan. Why did you want it to look like the one you grow up in?
I came from cinéma vérité, so of course it was important for me to make everything look real. The decision that we shoot the film somewhere else was like a suicide for me. I had no way, I couldn’t shoot the film in my village in central Afghanistan and I had wanted everything in Wolf and Sheep to be based on real details from my life. Suddenly, I found myself in the middle of nowhere between the mountains in Tajikistan working as an art director with local construction workers. I brought as many props with me as a I could, took as many photos as I could so I had enough material to make the houses.
You worked with non-actors who were also children. That would’ve been a hard process.
It was not that difficult working with kids, I experienced the same thing in my short films. What’s nice about working with kids is that they are simple. You should make a good relationship with them and everything will be fine. They need to understand that you love them and are looking to have fun with them, but they also need to understand what you want from them. I kept in my mind as a director that they are not actors, they don’t give a shit about the film, they are kids and just want to have fun. If they are bored or their mood is off, they will destroy the scene. So I tried to shoot mostly in a sequence and in one long take so they wouldn’t have to do it again. Most of the time they surprised me by saying something they were not supposed to. I laughed a lot during the shooting.
The film is partially funded by the Danish Film Institute and you spent some time in Copenhagen. How did you find the New Danish Screen?
I am very thankful for them indeed. They were the first ones who trusted the film and saw its potential. I think they have an incredible taste of cinema and they are really supporting films from all over the world and care about young film-makers.
What did you want your audience to take away from this film?
Experiencing my version of Afghanistan as a local living here. I wanted to be honest with my viewers, taking their hands and show them the Afghanistan I know, something beyond the clichés about my country. Something much deeper and humanising rather than how the country is portrayed in the media.
Have you got any projects in the works you can tell us about?
I’m working on a pentalogy, including five feature films, Wolf and Sheep was the first part. I follow the character of Qodrat, who is based on my best friend’s real life, Anwar Hashimi. The second project is called The Orphanage, talking about Kabul in 80’s while the Soviets were in Afghanistan.
Wolf and Sheep / Directed by Shahrbanoo Sadat / Produced by Katja Adomeit for Adomeit Film / Written by Shahrbanoo Sadat / Local release date 16th May 2016 (Cannes Film Festival)