Jasmin Mozaffari On Filmmaking, Community, and Reconnecting With Her Farsi Roots
by Marisa Sittheeamorn
Jasmin Mozaffari is the award-winning Iranian-Canadian writer and director behind the 2018 TIFF hit, Firecrackers (2018). Since its world premier last year, the film has been widely released across Canada, the United States, and through the international festival circuit. The film has attracted mass praise from film critics, appearing in publications such as Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Screen Daily, The New York Times, Vulture and many more. Last month, Mozaffari was selected for TIFF’s inaugural talent Accelerator lab, where she will be working on her new script.
With our aim to promote the work of second and third generation filmmakers from the Farsi diaspora, FCC spoke with Jasmin about the expression of her Iranian background through her work.
FCC: What initially motivated you to enter the film industry?
JM: I think I’ve always been into the arts. As I became a teenager, I became very interested in visual arts, drawing, photography, and creative writing. I didn’t know I wanted to be a filmmaker until I was in my early twenties, because I didn’t know it was a viable career option. There were not a lot of women in those roles that I could look up to so I never even thought of it as a career.
I then went into journalism for a year at The University of Toronto, and quickly switched to York University for a double major in Professional Writing and Film Studies. When I was in film studies, I was sharing a lot of classes with film production classes, and it became clear to me very fast, that I wanted to make films, and that I was in the wrong major. When I finally started at Ryerson in the film studies program, I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. It just felt right, and I never looked back.
FCC: What does filmmaking mean to you?
JM: Well, it is pretty much my whole life. Filmmaking is a malleable format which at the end of the day is about telling stories. For me, it’s really important to tell stories through a lens that has not been seen before. I also question, ‘why does this have to be told? Why now?’ and, if I can’t answer that question, there’s no reason to make it. Filmmaking is about is about challenging pre-existing perspectives and affecting people emotionally. It’s the most important pursuit that consumes my life at this time.
FCC: How has your work as a writer and director allowed you to connect with your community?
JM:I think a lot of the films I make are really geared towards young people, especially young women, in the millennial generation or generation Z. I’ve often met a lot of young women, either audience members or filmmakers from different backgrounds that I have really connected with. I consider these young female creatives my community.
…and the world?
Well, my films have played all over the world and I went on tour with my feature film to festivals last fall. Going on tour was my first exposure to meeting people around the world and having them connect with it. Even on Instagram, I’ve been interviewed by people from the Iranian press and people in Iran, that have somehow seen my film. My film isn’t in Farsi or anything but there are still scenes that people have been able to connect with.
FCC: How heavily do you identify with your Iranian roots? Do you envision reflecting certain aspects of your background through your work in the future?
JM: That is what my next film is all about. The film is all about being an Iranian immigrant within Canada, and that’s not my experience, but it was my family’s. My dad was from Tehran and came here as an immigrant in the early 80s. I have an interesting relationship with that part of my culture because I’m only half – my mom was Canadian and she’s white. My dad also really wanted me to assimilate into the dominant white Canadian culture, because I think he was afraid that I would face some sort of struggle if I knew my language. I honestly feel sad about it now, and wish he taught me Farsi when I was young. I grew up around his side of the family constantly, but couldn’t speak the language – which has always kept me disconnected. As I get older, I’m now trying to connect more with that side of myself, and go to Iran.
My identity growing up was always very confusing, and is fueling my inspiration for my next film. When I talk to people who are mixed in some way or grew up with immigrant parents, some of them have similar stories and I have not seen that on screen before, so I am very interested in exploring that.
FCC: Mixed representation and cultural confusion is definitely something that we’re looking forward to seeing more of onscreen as well.
JM: I’m actually shocked there isn’t more of it. There are so many people especially in the millennial generation who come from multiple backgrounds and there’s an identity crisis that can happen.
FCC: Are you aware of the inclusion, or lack thereof, of Farsi cinema in film festivals. What is your opinion of the current state?
JM: I don’t know how much are being excluded so its hard for me to say, but I think there’s always room for more. In those parts of the world, obviously there are challenges for making films that we don’t have here, like censorship and certain perspectives. I think it’s just more difficult to create cinema but, when it is created, there needs to be more focus on the cinema coming from those parts of the world.
FCC: What work do you think needs to be done from organizations promoting diversity in the film space?
JM: Well I mean the fact that there’s even organizations that exist like yours is already a step in the right direction. Bigger organizations like TIFF need to partner with smaller organizations to help bring filmmakers and new voices into a bigger sphere. This would be the next step, especially when it comes to Canadian cinema.