"Art is an imagination that would not admit limits"
Film director Alireza Razazifar speaks to UNICEF about his new movie on HIV/AIDS, "Mana"
After the success of “Born with AIDS”, a movie that looks at the social aspects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic by following the story of a young woman who is trying to find out about her HIV status, UNICEF Iran has launched a new film that continues to follow the lives of some of the film’s protagonists. “Mana” was produced in cooperation with the Documentary and Experimental Film Centre and the Visual Media Institute in Tehran.
In “Mana”, Alireza Razazifar, journalist, author and film director, spins the story further by introducing a young family into the narrative. Mana is a eight year old girl who finds herself in hospital after she experienced a seizure in school. After she is discovered to be HIV-positive, her parents become deeply embroiled in an emotional battle on how to cope with Mana’s illness, find out how the disease has become introduced into the family, and to survive as a family in an environment that is uninformed, prejudiced and deeply hostile.
Alireza Razazifar can look back at a long career that intertwined journalism with movie-making. Already his first book – actually his M.A. thesis – looked deep into the cinema scene. Later, he was awarded the “Golden Pen” for his journalism work at Tehran’s press festival, and started making movies. His work includes a number of social and scientific documentaries for Iran’s public broadcaster, IRIB, such as “Inner Injury” about mental disorders. He also directed feature movies in Iran and abroad, including “Music and the Seine” in France, “Solitude of a singer” in Syria, and “The 40th”, in Iran. In 2005, “Born of AIDS” won the honorary diploma in the documentary section of Iran’s first AIDS Film Festival.
In an interview with UNICEF Iran’s Media Officer Bahareh Yeganehfar, Alireza Razazifar speaks about his experience when embarking on his new movie project, “Mana”.
Bahareh Yeganehfar: Mr. Razazifar, how did you get the idea to direct “Mana”?
Alireza Razazifar: In 2003, after the first part of “Born with AIDS” was done, I was left with the experience, research results and stories that I had collected during the making of the movie. So when the Resanehaye Tasviri (Visual Media) Institute recommended to me to put together a feature movie on AIDS, I didn’t waste any time and used my research for this movie. It is interesting to note that it took four years from the day when the plan to produce “Mana” was approved, until the actual day of shooting. All this time was spent on researching and consulting for the film script, and to obtain the support of sponsoring organizations, such as UNICEF.
BY: How much do you think Iranian filmmakers have paid attention to AIDS, and why?
AR: We should not forget one fact: most people do not see AIDS as a major social and health problem. We as social filmmakers see addiction as a more proper ground for obtaining sponsors and attracting the audience. Few directors have been working on AIDS over the past years and even fewer have taken the right direction in the process and left memorable works. Unfortunately, many filmmakers are not familiar with proper scientific research in social and humanitarian sciences. There have been one or two good works which became quite famous, but I personally don’t think they were good enough.
BY: How did you go about the process of researching, writing and producing “Mana”?
AR: We started the research and writing process as soon as we had the idea of making a feature film on AIDS. We consulted Dr. Omid Zamani from UNICEF Iran, and finished the script with the Ministry of Health, IRIB*’s health policy making council, and Dr. Hamid Reza Setayesh, the head of UNAIDS in Iran. It took almost four years. During this time we revised the script with the help of experts and those living with AIDS. I have five different versions of the film in my computer. Resanehaye Tasviri, the Documentary and Experimental Film Centre and UNICEF Iran accepted to sponsor the film and finally in September 2007, we started filming.
BY: Did you consult people living with HIV before the production?
AR: I must say Mana’s script is based on real life stories that I came to know while making the first part of “Born with AIDS”. Some of the words have been the real ones of a person living with HIV, whom we interviewed during our research. UNICEF gave the final script to a number of people living with AIDS.
BY: How do you think we can mix scientific facts and health messages with dramatic arts?
AR: This is quite difficult. I’ve done it a couple of times and gained valuable experiences through it. On the one hand, we have experimental science, and arts on the other. I would add human science or communications to this, without which we can not achieve good results. Experimental science would not like to mix with imagination, but art is an imagination that would not admit limits. So we should mediate between the two via communication with the audience. This should be done very delicately.
BY: What was UNICEF’s role in the movie?
AR: Since the movie was a continuation of “Born with AIDS”, one can say that UNICEF was quite effective in forming the story and providing spiritual support. We had meetings with UNICEF and the producer, the Documentary and Experimental Film Centre, in summer 2007, and signed an agreement then. UNICEF also facilitated consultations with a group of youth and HIV-positive people.
“Mana” was a difficult job, and difficult jobs all turn into memories. So many actors, working in real situations, such as hospitals, schools… I remember, during the first couple of days of shooting, one of the residents there complained and we had to stop filming. The residents were worried that people might think this was a documentary and the area had real problems. Finally, the district council mediated and we managed to resume the work.
BY: What would you tell filmmakers that are interested to work in the field of AIDS?
AR: I would wish them luck and I appreciate their choice of topic.
BY: “Mana” didn’t make it to the Fajr Film Festival in 2008. What are your plans for future festivals?
AR: “Mana” carries global messages. We should try and reach our audience, especially in the Middle East. Due to a delay in subtitling we also lost the Cairo festival, but I do hope we can send it to more international festivals.
BY: Will you have any other project in the field of AIDS?
AR: I have some stories about AIDS, especially some real life stories. I hope in future to work on them, with the help of colleagues and friends.
*Iran's State-run public broadcaster