During our festival, the young Swedish filmmaker Parisa agreed to an interview with Frederike. We sat down on the porch, chatting about her journey to become a director, the courage to narrate personal stories and the connection between her movie and her own life. Here is the interview. I hope you enjoy it 🙂
Frederike: Hey, so nice to meet you here! Maybe you can just start introducing yourself and tell us a little bit about what you are doing in life right now.
Parisa: Yes, sure. I just attended a year at a “folkhögskola” here in Sweden, which is an alternative school, often located somewhere in the woods with mostly creative subjects like film making in my case. It had a one year documentary program which I just finished. To the “Not So Happy Film Festival” I came with my movie “The father, the taxi and a thousands of nights”.
In your movie you tell the story of your own father through your eyes. The viewers see pictures of Stockholm at night while you tell personal anecdotes about the experiences your dad made in his job as a taxi driver. What fascinated me was the fact that you did not only focus on the story itself but also talked about your dad’s emotions as well as your own memories growing up with him. How was it when you shot the movie? Did you know exactly what you will talk about or did that occur in the process?
That was actually quite funny! I was just driving with my father when I made the recordings but I did not have the idea of the film yet. It was at the night of Halloween and I somehow had a lot of anxiety that night. I was at my father’s place where I don’t live, but I visited him and felt like I have to go out. And he said: Oh, yeah, then let’s drive around. We never did this before. He also suggested me to take my camera. At first I didn’t want to, but then I got convinced and I was lucky! It was that beautiful foggy night. I think, the whole city was alive there and I just filmed the whole trip. And then, later, I came up with the idea of making a movie about his life as a taxi driver. So, it was kind of the opposite of the usual way: I filmed first and then I had the idea to make a movie out of it.
Was the film project connected to the school you visited or was it an independent project?
The film is a result of an assignment we got in our school. There were two important things we had to consider: using our own voice as a narrator, which was quite uncomfortable, and telling a personal story. I made a long interview with my dad then about these little stories I tell in the movie and started with the project.
Why does it feel uncomfortable for you to narrate with your own voice?
Hmm… I think, I am not really used to hear my own voice in this way – I have never recorded it before. It is also a challenge for me to listen to it over and over again during the editing process . When I was sitting in the editing room, hearing the sentences so many times, I got very self-critical and started rerecording parts and still didn’t get happy with that. But then there was a deadline, so I just had to accept it eventually.
And how did it make you feel to interview your own dad for your project?
It was a bit strange interviewing someone you know so well, because it becomes personal all the time and then you try to stay focused on the subject. Sometimes it is even harder to ask sensitive questions to someone you are close to. I think it would be easier for us here to talk about these things, but with my dad I felt like I had to be a bit careful, walking around things in a way. So it was a special experience for me. I never did something like that before. Also, he doesn’t work as a taxi driver anymore, so it was a bit like going back in times.
In my view, that is one of the qualities of your film: It seems very authentic. It doesn’t feel like you act something, but it really appears spontaneous to me. I had the feeling that you just couldn’t pretend to be someone else – because it was such a personal subject you chose.
And I was wondering when you make a movie about your own father – how does that effect the relationship you have with him?
My father has always been very interested in film making and he wanted to make films as well, but he never really had the opportunity. So first of all, me starting to make movies was something very big for him, because finally we could talk about it in a more detailed way. It is a huge privilege for me as well to be able to ask my father for advice. And he has all the answers because he is also so interested in it.
When I decided to make a movie about him, he was pleased and impressed as well. And when he saw the movie he was very moved by it and that made me happy, too. I don’t know if we became closer through the project, but I would like to believe so.
For me, there is a key moment in the movie where you talk about your dad’s shame that he feels by being a taxi driver. Therefore he only drives in the nights. You say in the movie that it was hard for you to hear that. I found that very honest. Was it your intention to put that as a central statement?
No, not really. Though I agree, it is a very powerful moment. It is just 30 seconds long, but it touched me a lot. I feel like shame is one of the strongest emotions, and it is so much connected to the way you see yourself and the world. Hearing your parent saying that they feel ashamed of something was quite big for me. I think, my dad was not only ashamed of that, but of a lot of things. Being an immigrant for example, that was like an extra burden for him.
How did you experience that when you were a kid: growing up with a dad who feels so much shame? Do you think you were aware of it?
No, I don’t think I knew about this. I think he was hiding that – which is a part of feeling ashamed I guess. And that was also what made it hard for me. I wondered: Why is somebody doing a job like this? But I think, he just wanted to put food on the table for me and my sister.
What do you actually mean when you say, it was “hard” for you to hear these things from your dad? What is the feeling behind it? I mean, hard is not really a feeling, is it?
Yeah, true. That is a good question… I don’t really know. It is so complex to feel ashamed of something and it can have so many different ways of being expressed. It feels a bit hard to hear that somebody close to you feels ashamed – and you are kind of part of the feeling, and you don’t even know it. It makes me sad.
After the scene about the shame you decided to switch from the cityscape to a shot with birds flying peacefully in the air… Was that done on purpose?
Ha, that is actually another funny story. So I did this movie and then my hard drive crashed and I lost everything. In the original version, I had different footage at this point which I actually liked more, but it was a nature scene as well. But then I had to redo the whole movie and changed some things. In the first version, which I don’t really liked, I had put all these stories over each other, so you could not really hear everything, only a few words. When I changed it, I made it in a more simple way telling one story at a time.
I put these nature moments after we started to dig into something deeper. I wanted to slow down the footage, because it felt like I said quite powerful things and I wanted it to be carefully delivered. These birds where very soothing for me to watch and they are calming so you can really focused on what is being said.
That is really interesting for me how you already have such a clear idea about how your movie should be experienced. Do you think you had the sense for that already before you went to film school or does it come from there? Some people say that schools ruin their creativity more then it adds to their process.
It is hard to tell, but I think the school I went to is very free and open-minded. You could do what you wanted to do always. We didn’t have a lot of lessons, we just got our material and then we got help in the editing room if we were stuck. So it was mainly the time that was the valuable thing while we were making the movie.
Did you also meet with the other students to discuss your movies?
Yeah, exactly. Especially with our longer projects. We watched them every week and talked about them which was always very valuable for me. Especially with this assignment, we saw a lot of moving movies, because it was so personal and all the subjects were kind of fragile. One girl in my class talked about her trans-journey and someone else talked about his relationship to his Colombian father and Swedish mother. It was a beautiful atmosphere, because we all really talked about the movies in a sensitive way and it was great to get a bit of feedback for my film as well.
It is the same when I hear you talking about my film. I don’t know you but you really break it down and I feel so happy about that also, because you really thought about it. That is super beautiful.
I think that is also the nice part about these festivals – the filmmakers just get another view and opinion on their work by somebody they don’t know. I guess that is sometimes quite different from the own intentions. I mean, I don’t know you or your father, I just get what you presented to me.
Going back to the movie… You chose a perspective with two screens next to each other that show different fragments of the nightlife in Stockholm. For me it felt like you recreate the feeling of sitting in the car and you have these two mirrors that you look through once in a while. Was that also your idea or was there another reason why you chose to do it this way?
Ah, that is interesting – I didn’t even think about that. I got the idea to use these two screens when I watched a documentary of my favourite band where they used that in the beginning. When I saw it in the cinema – way before this movie – I was really impressed and I also wanted to do something like this. And then I realized that all of these long repetitive shots with someone just driving is nothing you have to see on one big screen. So you can combine them and I think it’s a great tool. You don’t pay full attention to the images, but to the words instead – which is most important in my movie.
Talking about words – something we all found very touching in your movie was the last moment where you show your dad – he is just looking at the camera, without saying anything. For me that made the film somehow complete. How was it to film your dad like that? He looks a bit uncomfortable there like he doesn’t really want too much attention.
Yeah, actually he didn’t really realize when I filmed this. I just did it when I had dinner with my cousin and him and I picked up my camera very slowly and started recording. I wanted something natural, something that isn’t too staged. And I thought it is nice when the anonymous stories gets a face in the end, because you are wondering the whole time who this person is.
Now that we talked a lot about this movie… How would you reflect on it – as your first big project?
Well, there is always a voice that is very critical and wants to improve little details – but in general I am very proud of it! Especially because I did it only in one week after everything has crashed. At first I didn’t want to start all over again but then I thought “Fuck it” and sat down whole nights and redid it. And I am happy about it. Also, because I would normally never do this type of movie without the assignment. I would never use my own voice.
Really? For me that was the core of the movie and I thought you should really continue with that! Your voice really fits the narration. Is it because you feel uncomfortable with it or why don’t you want to use your voice again?
I don’t really like it, I have to say. I think I feel comfortable, but it is not really my style.
What is your style then?
I don’t want to define it too much of course, since I am just starting to make movies. However, I begin to realize what kind of movies I like to make. Movies that are a bit more dreamy and somehow…foggy. Movies where you don’t really know what just happened. I started experimenting with that and enjoyed it very much so maybe that is the direction I want to go into and explore more.
I see. When you continue filming, do you want to follow the idea of low-budget films like you did with your movie now? It only had a 15 Euro budget, right?
Yes, and that was for the gas of the car! I would love to make movies as low-budget as I can because it means to be independent. If I can shoot my own movies and direct and edit it, and even make my own music then the only thing I need is time. I had a discussion about this topic with my friend a week ago and he argues that the big Hollywood productions are so cool and famous, but you need a lot of money for these things. And I agree, you couldn’t have made Harry Potter with a zero budget. But I generally think that people use too much money in movies. It is normalized to have so much money and I find it stupid! So I really wish to stay with a low budget.
How do you plan to continue with the filming now that you finished the school? Do you already have ideas for your next project?
Yes. I plan some independent projects in autumn with my friends. We will go to Prague for a month, but I don’t know what exactly will happen there. I only know: Prague, three friends and a camera. Let’s see how it turns out!
And I don’t want to go to a proper university film school at the moment, because it takes three years which is quite a lot. In this time you could make quite some films already and learn by yourself. In a dreamworld I would just continue making low budget films and keep on doing it.
I think that is quite a possible dreamworld then! You are on your way already. And I am happy we made this interview so I can show it to everybody when you are famous one day 🙂
Yes, thank you so much! It was fun to be interviewed. I don’t think I have ever been before. So that is my first interview. Ka-ching!