Copenhagen-based Iranian director Naghmeh Pour won a Gold Screen in Online Branded Film for Iran-e Man, a collaboration between new–land, the WomanLifeFreedom project and fashion brand Pairi Daeza. Here she discusses her journey as a director and the bravery and beauty in her poetic film’s expression of struggle.
Did you always know you wanted to be a director?
I didn’t always know that I wanted to direct. It wasn’t really something that was on my radar. I wanted to be a pro-soccer player my whole childhood and early teen-years. But as life unfolded, my path started to shift, and I gravitated towards the creative world.
Working on Iran-e Man has been a very fulfilling experience. The process of creating something from scratch has been intense but amazing. Directing is a new world for me and I have so much to learn, but I’m enjoying the thrill of making ideas come to life and releasing them out in the world. What a way to connect with people, no? I enjoy the thought of that.
Where did the idea for Iran-e Man come from?
The idea took shape during our initial meeting with the amazing women at [Italian/Iranian brand] Pairi Daeza. They had kick-started a scarf project with twelve talented Iranian artists [who imprinted revolutionary messages on the scarves that appear in the film].
We wanted to bring attention to the Woman Life Freedom movement, which gained momentum last year after the tragic murder of Mahsa Amini.
Could you talk about the symbolism of the film?
Symbolism played a key role in shaping the film. I aimed for a poetic approach that allows for personal interpretation. While drawing inspiration from Iranian culture and heritage, I wanted to convey the universal theme of freedom. Some symbols are straightforward, while others hold deeper meanings known perhaps only to Iranians. A few examples:
- The multiplying women represent the courageous individuals who initiated the protests in Iran. These women face arrest, torture, or even death due to non-compliance with the compulsory hijab. We emphasised their resilience through the long hair.
- Valentine, our beautiful heroine, is duplicated to symbolise the collective longing for basic human rights for Iranians. As the protests grew, more women risked their lives to join the fight, engaging in activities that are forbidden in public. We captured this defiance with a transition from domestic settings to outdoor scenes of women dancing on carpets, playing music, and calling others to join the cause.
- The rainbow represents young Kian Pirfalak [a nine-year-old Iranian child who was killed by government security forces during an anti-establishment uprising in November 2022] and all the children who lost their lives during the protests.
- Falling pomegranates symbolise the lives lost in the struggle for freedom.
- The white dove embodies peace and freedom.
- The air balloons were a lucky moment. We didn’t have the budget to plan that. They were just there for a few minutes before [DP] João rolled the camera for our first shot of the day. It was so random and so perfect.
- The scarves are designed by Iranian artists, each carrying messages related to the Woman Life Freedom movement or motifs tied to Iranian culture. You should check them out!
Could you tell me about the casting process?
The casting turned out to be the easiest part of the project. We were fortunate to discover Valentine, who had previously worked with Pairi Daeza. She is half Iranian and passionate about the cause. Her mysterious and fierce look aligned perfectly with my vision for the woman in Iran-e Man. So we didn’t cast for anyone else and hoped she’d say yes.
How long did it take you to make the film, and what was the most challenging aspect of its creation?
The shoot was wrapped in two days. One day with an amazing crew in Morocco and day two was just Sara (EP), João (DP), Bernardo (AC), Khalid (Driver) and Caroline (New—Land director on vacation in Morocco helping us PA) and myself. It was two crazy but really fun days.
The first challenge was securing funding. Sara worked for over a month, reaching out to personal and professional contacts. It was in December and a few days before Christmas Holidays, but she somehow managed. A week before the shoot, she said: “Guess what? We’re going to Morocco!” We jumped up and down like maniacs laughing and crying.
Personally, I was really worried about how Iranians would react to the film. It’s such a sensitive topic, you know? Making this film was all about creating something for the Iranian people first and foremost, so their response and how they connected with it meant everything to me.
Were there any standout or memorable moments from the shoot?
There were so many memorable moments, but being on set as a director for the first time ever is definitely a feeling I’ll remember. And the fact that we had no idea what this film would become but somehow everyone really believed in it.
That drive and motivation was so strong from everyone. It made me realise what people can do when they’re motivated.
What do you feel you’ve learned from making this film? Is this a subject you’d like to continue to explore in the future?
It has been tricky to trust my gut feeling but I’m learning to do that every day. Of course I want to explore different subjects and genres but this is definitely a subject I’ll keep focusing on in the future. I can’t help it. It’s a part of who I am, I guess.
What does it mean to you to pick up this award?
This award has significant meaning as it’s a project that’s truly me to the core.
Who knows if I’ll ever do something that’s as personally connected to my roots as this one? The awards are validation that the Woman Life Freedom cause and the Iranian people are getting noticed. I’m genuinely grateful to YDA and Cannes Lions for giving us this incredible platform.
What’re you working on at the moment? And what’s coming next?
I came home from Cannes with five awards, went straight back to the desk and did a bunch of treatments! I’m still working as a director’s assistant at new—land until I figure out how and when to take the next step. I just finished an animation music video, and I’m pitching on a few things. It’s a jungle out there, but it’s cool. I’m excited for the future.
Interview by Izzy Ashton shots