Review Fix chats with “Ayaneh” director Nicolas Greinacher, who discusses the creation process for the film and why it’s an endearing one.
Review Fix: Why is the topic of this film important today?
Nicolas Greinacher: Today, millions of refugees are forced to seek shelter in safer countries where the common way of life sharply contrasts with back home. When different worlds collide, friction emerges and people who find themselves in such situations are forced to reflect on themselves: Do I want to adapt to this new world and if yes, to what degree? Even more importantly: Am I “allowed” to adapt? AYANEH is a young Muslim woman from Afghanistan escaping to Switzerland with her family. Back home, swimming for women is prohibited and covering herself when being in public is mandatory. In Switzerland, those rules don’t apply. On top of that, AYANEH starts to become attracted to another woman. Under very difficult circumstances, AYANEH is about discovering who you are and whether you are willing to fight for yourself.
Review Fix: What inspired this film?
Greinacher: Today’s newspapers are full of refugee stories, especially from Africa, South America or the Middle East, seeking shelter in Western countries. It touches me deeply to see millions of people being forced to leave everything behind and embark on a journey for safety and frankly for a new life. Yet, I was missing coverage on religious constraints or even aspects concerning sexual orientation. I haven’t seen a film – any film – where a Muslim girl showers wearing a full body cover (“burkini”) or decides that despite the rules in her home country, she would like to learn to swim or even finds herself attracted to another woman. Frankly, I just had to make this film to shed some light on important topical issues that the world is facing today, it was high time that someone did.
Review Fix: How difficult was this film to put together?
Greinacher: Like with the majority of independent films, putting together the budget was very difficult, especially when covering such sensitive topics as we did. Despite the fact that we found the very best people from the industry in Switzerland working on and supporting this film, we almost didn’t get any finance. So the vast majority ended up being financed by family, friends and myself. The next big hurdle was putting together the cast, especially the lead actress playing AYANEH. I knew that I could not make this film if I wouldn’t find the perfect fit for this role. I travelled all over Europe and met with dozens of potential candidates. Eventually, I found Afsaneh Dehrouyeh and from that moment on I knew that this film will happen.
Review Fix: Tell me about the cast.
Greinacher: Afsaneh Dehrouyeh (Tyrant) was living in London when I found her. We hit it off right away and embarked on this journey together. She even travelled to Switzerland for the casting of the girl she falls for in the film, we had to make sure those two connected. Afsaneh’s mother and brother in the film both live in Germany. So out of the four actors, the lead was living in London, the mother in Berlin, the brother in Frankfurt and the Swiss girl in Lucerne. Not exactly the most efficient set-up. But boy is this cast magical on-screen, especially Afsaneh and Ladina, the Swiss girl. Although we were very tight on budget, the whole effort to find and work with this immensely talented cast was worth every expense.
Review Fix: What was the feeling like on set?
Greinacher: We shot for six consecutive days and the whole shoot, like always, was very tight and planned to the last minute. Everyone was 100% committed and gave their best, in any situation. It was a feeling of high concentration and dedication, we didn’t waste a minute. When someone struggled, there was always someone to help out.
Review Fix: How have the audiences been reacting to Anayeh?
Greinacher: We were lucky to have the World Premiere of AYANEH at the legendary Rhode Island International Film Festival on Opening Night in front of around 2’000 people in the audience. When the film ended, the applause started right away and was probably the longest amongst all six or seven shorts that were playing that night. Afsaneh Dehrouyeh and Ladina von Frisching were both present and we had dozens of wonderful encounters with people from the audience after the film. The fact that we won the First Prize for BEST LGBTQ FILM from the Youth Jury showed that not only the audience embraced our film. Two days later the film played at HollyShorts at the iconic Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. The reaction was similar to the one in Rhode Island, so I was very pleased with the Festival-Start.
Review Fix: What films have inspired it the most?
Greinacher: Right now I’d say Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” along with Alfred Hitchcocks “Vertigo”, “Mulholland Drive” by David Lynch and Stephen Daldrys “The Hours”. Anyone looking for a life changing, inspiring performance of an actress should watch this film, Nicole Kidman plays like she’s from another world. Also the short film “Parvaneh” by Swiss-Iranian Filmmaker Talkhon Hamzavi, who actually was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Live-Action short category. Talkhon worked on AYANEH as a script consultant.
Review Fix: What have you learned about yourself through this entire process?
Greinacher: No matter how good the script is, to remain open for new ideas during shooting. Sometimes magical things happen where you think damn, this is fantastic, we need this in our film, screw the script!
Review Fix: Describe Ayaneh in one word.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Greinacher: AYANEH just started and I will be walking alongside this film promoting it for the next couple of months. My previous film was a Feature Doc about a highly gifted child, I think I’ll go back to the Feature Doc format for my next project. In my view, it’s much more fun than fiction.