That Sweet Notion Of Freedom: Nicolas Greinacher On His Touching Short "Ayaneh"
We had the lovely opportunity to interview award-winning Swiss Director Nicolas Greinacher about his latest short film, Ayaneh, the story of a Muslim girl (Afsaneh Dehrouyeh) who rebels against the constraints of her family and religion. The film recently came off a few wins at the Oscar-qualifying Rhode Island International Film Festival and received theatrical screenings at the Arena Cinelounge in Hollywood.
We talked with Nicolas about the origins of the film, how he achieved the film’s naturalistic look, and why Documentary is more fun than fiction (amongst other things).
Ayaneh has a lovely naturalistic quality to it, which seems to stem from your Documentary feature roots. Can you discuss how your background helped you approach this project?
Thank you very much for the compliment :-) Despite various layers and also a touch of surrealism in the script, I always wanted to keep this short as natural as possible, allowing people to dive into Ayaneh's world and go on this journey together with her. When you work on a Documentary you capture what is around you, raw and "natural" in a sense. I like that, I think it's easier for an audience to relate to a character when what happens on screens looks natural. We also worked with Cooks Panchro lenses on the Arri Alexa, trying to support that natural look we were looking for in the eventual grading of the film.
The story is such a specific one. How did the concept of the film come about?
I was looking around me in Switzerland and was trying to identify topics which I think deserve more attention. I haven’t seen any short film or frankly any kind of film dealing with a young female refugee from the Middle East adapting to Western culture and developing strong feelings for another woman. Moreover, I strongly oppose the idea of suppression of human beings from society or religion. I felt there was a strong need for a role model like “Ayaneh”, that she would have the potential to open the audience’s eyes and ultimately make them more tolerant towards the issues that she is going through.
The film manages to touch on a lot in the span of 12 minutes, which is a testament to the script. I know you were assisted by Oscar-nominated Swiss-Iranian filmmaker Talkhon Hamzavi during the writing process. How did the two of you become connected, and what was the collaboration process like?
One of my producers went to film school with Talkhon. He immediately thought of her when we started to develop the script. He sent one of the first drafts to her and she liked the idea of our film right away. Talkhon mainly helped us at the early stages in the writing process, making sure all the back-stories of the characters align and we don't fall into any kind of traps or clichés. When you're dealing with such sensitive topics as religion, sexual orientation and refugees, you need to get things right, and that's where Talkhon was of great help.
In a previous interview, you mentioned that the documentary format was more fun for you than fiction. Why is that? Does that mean we won’t be seeing another fiction film from you anytime soon?
Haha don't get me wrong, I love fiction! But honestly, going out there with your DoP and Sound Recordist is so much more fun and less stressful than working on a set with 15 people (which should actually be 25 but the budget only allows for 15) under constant time pressure. Documentary film making is totally different and the fun continues in the editing room when you have to figure out, often for the first time, what kind of story you want to tell. In my previous film, a Feature Documentary about Switzerland's most famous highly gifted child, we had over 40 hours of footage and drilled down to 77 minutes. An amazing experience, and a fun one too. Both formats, fiction, and documentary have their individual appeal, but I'd say Documentary is definitely more fun in the making than fiction, at least in my experience.
I love the ending of the film. It’s such a softly poetic moment that gives the character’s internal struggle a nice conclusion. Did you always know you would end the film that way or was it more of a discovery process?
You ask excellent questions. We had so many potential endings and none of them convinced us. At some point during a brainstorming session with my Producer Rajko Jazbec and our Assistant Director Christian Johannes Koch, we suddenly came up with the ending which you have in the final film. It was a combination of ideas and inputs from the three of us which lead us there. I can tell you as soon as this new idea was being dropped all of us got goosebumps, we knew that this ending had all we were looking for in this film.
In the film, a bathing suit changes someone’s life. What’s the most seemingly insignificant item (or gift) that changed your life in a big way?
I grew up in the countryside in Switzerland. When I turned 16 my parents gave me a scooter, which allowed me to drive wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I used to drive without knowing where I was driving, it was that notion of freedom that stuck with me until this day. I guess being able to decide for yourself where to go and experiencing freedom are two personal themes from my own life which you find reflected in "Ayaneh".
Hungry for more? You can read our glowing review of Ayaneh here.
What do you think? Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!