Meet the (New) Director: Shahram Mokri, ‘Fish & Cat’

Making its North American premiere this week in New Directors/New Films, the new Iranian film, Fish & Cat, was recently mentioned in The New York Times as being a “tour de force and as quietly political as it is brazenly cinematic.” Unfolding in entirely in one shot, Fish & Cat is one of the most visually daring films in the festival.

Raised in a family of movie lovers, director Shahram Mokri took multiple filmmaking workshops in his native Iran before enrolling at Tehran university to study cinema. From there, Mokri worked on short films and documentaries; Fish & Cat is his second narrative feature. “I belong to the group of movie lovers who cut out photos of movie stars from magazines,” recalls Mokri. “I'd hang them on my bedroom wall or stick them on my school notebooks. I've loved to make movies since I was a child and I’m so happy to still be doing it now.”

Fish & Cat
Shahram Mokri, Iran, 2013, 134m

Description: A bold experiment in perpetual motion with an enigmatic time-warp narrative, Fish & Cat plays out as one continuous shot, with the camera moving among a host of characters at a remote forest and a nearby lake. Gradually subverting a gruesome premise drawn from a real-life case of a backwoods restaurant that served human flesh, the film builds an atmosphere of tension as a menacing pair descend on a campsite where a group of college kids have gathered for a kite-flying festival. But as the camera doubles back and crisscrosses between characters in real time, subtle space-time paradoxes suggest that something bigger is going on. Brilliantly sustained, Fish & Cat is further evidence of a new generation of filmmakers emerging in Iran.

Responses from Shahram Mokri:

On not playing to expectations:
In my short films I was trying to define a new meaning of time, of it being on one plane—very similar to the perspective Escher revealed in his paintings. I attempt to make type of experimental film that shows a new side of what the audience is used to seeing. On the other hand, Fish & Cat was produced due to my interest in slasher and genre films.

On finding inspiration:
I wanted to make a movie that would challenge our regular thoughts about time, and also one that used the same old genre structures. For Fish & Cat I took a real-life case and made it my own. It’s also a film that focuses on the Iranian youth generation.

On finding the right actors:
Because the film was been shot using just a single one, we rehearsed the film for two months exactly like we would have a theater performance. I decided to prepare with long rehearsals and we ran through the full movie twice a day. The actors do have theatrical backgrounds, so their experience being in front of an audience was helpful throughout.

On the difficulties of shooting such an ambitious project:
We had many problems. First of all, this type of movie was something that had never been made in Iran before and no one had any idea of what the final result would be. The weather was rainy and cloudy and this got in the way of how frrely we could move the camera. The film was shot in a single shot, and the camera would go through the jungle, head to the river, climb the mountain, etc., all for 130 minutes, which was very challenging. Our actors were worried about mistakes in the final minutes, like what would have happened if someone made a mistake at the 100-minute mark. We needed a powerful, high-quality camera that could record 130 minutes without any disruptions, but such a camera was unfortunately not available in Iran. But we finally we made it and here we are, in New York.

On future filmmaking projects (or other creative endeavors):
I have a very interesting script that is also inspired by a true story. It’s about an anxious young boy, and there are some big challenges in the way we will film this one too. So, I hope I can make it through successfully. It’s interesting that the main character in my next script has been living in New York for a while—being here could greatly affect my story.

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