"dollhouse" and "Miriam's Song" are short films by Shabnam Piryaei. The films are based on scenes and poems from a collection of Piryaei's writings entitled ode to fragile (Plain View Press, 2010). They were screened at the International Literary Film Festival in NYC, November 2011.
Q&A with artist Shabnam Piryaei.
Shabnam Piryaei: I wouldn’t say that it’s mothers and daughters so much as children—the beautiful, open, honest and often uninhibited way that children think.
Terrifyingly, we can’t always protect children from bad things, things that shake even adults to the core. So it’s their reactions to those things, in particular their imagination, their creativity, that interests me.
LBB: You're a filmmaker and writer. Which—if any—of these do you associate most with and why?
SP: I consider myself a writer, but I’m also an artist. The films are an extension of my writing; not in the sense of being an appendage, but they grow out of, and embody, my writing.
Honestly, if I don’t write, I start to disappear. I drift in this restless, terrible way that affects my relationship with myself and with the world around me.
LBB: What is the best bit of advice about filmmaking or writing that you've ever gotten?
SP: There are a few texts that I turn to, repeatedly, for reminders, inspiration and advice. The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and You’re a Genius All the Time by Jack Kerouac. Additionally, the simple but potent quote: “Remember, beeeee yourself,” as advised by the Genie in Aladdin.
SP: No, I haven’t seen or read any. I would love to be introduced to some.
LBB: What else are you working on now?
SP: My second book, A Method for Counting Days, will be published by Furniture Press Books in 2012. Right now, I’m working on my third book.
LBB: I presume you speak Farsi. I wonder, did you ever consider making "dollhouse" and "Miriam's Song" in Farsi rather than in English?
SP: That’s a great question. No, because they were scenes I’d originally written in English, and so for me that was part of their identity.
And those girls themselves (as I was introduced to them in the process of writing them) weren’t Iranian. I don’t know that they were necessarily American, but I know they weren’t Iranian, so I couldn’t just make them speak Farsi and have everything work out. It would be like saying, actually, they’re elephants, and then tying a cardboard trunk to their face. It’s just not who they are.
I do speak Farsi, and read it relatively well, but my writing is very elementary. I have written a handful of pieces in Farsi (but phonetically using the English alphabet, just to maintain a speed of writing, resulting in a red-squiggly-lined nightmare of spellcheck confusion for my computer).
I am working on a project about Iranian and Afghan women living in Iran, which I plan, later, to extend into film/video. Those will be in Farsi.
LBB: You've cited Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad’s 1962 film The House is Black [Persian: خانه سیاه است, Khaneh siah ast] as one of your inspirations. What other Iranian writers or filmmakers inspire you?
SP: Bahman Ghobadi, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Abbas Kiarostami. In terms of writers, this is where I lament my incomplete Farsi literacy. I would like to say Shamloo, Nima, Hafez, Khayyam . . . but I can’t yet fully understand their work. I’m working on it.
But the role of poetry in Iran inspires me. It isn’t peripheral or abstract to the daily lives of Iranians. It is present in the most intimate, the most quotidian, the most spiritual, the most traditional, and the most popular aspects of Iranian life. Without compromising the poetry itself, without reducing the potency or the quality of the literature in an effort to make it more accessible.
(The above Q&A between Shabnam Piryaeidraft and Lee Bob Black was conducted November 2011 for the International Literary Film Festival.)
Shabnam Piryaei's artist statement for "dollhouse," "Miriam's Song," and a third as-yet-untitled film.
"dollhouse" and "Miriam’s Song" are two of a series of three short poetry-films, each of which is based on scenes and poems from a collection of my writings entitled ode to fragile (Plain View Press, 2010). In "dollhouse" we are confronted with the devastating aftermath of war, and Miriam’s Song explores the resilience of children in circumstances of trauma and loneliness, particularly their use of imagination as a tool for endurance and escape. Each of the three films incorporates original music and poetry, such that no one part (visual, auditory, literary) serves as an accessory to any other part. Whether through a character’s apprehension, or the development of a melody, or the way a poetic verse can undress the hidden and implicit circumstances that lie outside of the frame, through these films I wish to draw attention to our deepest commonalities as part of the human community.
A large part of my intention with this project is to bring non-performative poetry more into the foreground of popular culture, without compromising any of its emotional, human, and literary potency. But above all else, why I have embarked on this project, and a monumental push in my own writing, is the desire to unsettle the audience, to place them directly in their own gaze, to make themselves inescapable. My intention is not only to reveal the characters to the audience, but, hopefully, to unsettle the viewers enough that we are in some ways revealed to ourselves. The films draw from the tradition of Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad’s 1962 film The House is Black, a short artistic documentary film that meaningfully interweaves poetry and cinema.
These three films, despite their briefness, address the issues of war and its aftermath, physical and emotional abuse, and drug abuse. They were written at a time in which I was particularly pre-occupied with human vulnerability and the need for humans, no matter how scarred, or broken, or numbed, to ultimately be loved. My fascination with the simultaneity of varied human emotions and conditions, of fear, pity, loneliness, and resilience, is evident in these characters and their circumstances.
Shabnam Piryaei was born in Iran and raised in the U.S. Her collection of poetry entitled ode to fragile was published by Plain View Press in 2010. Her work has been published in several journals including Poets & Writers Magazine, The Florida Review, Runes, Flashquake, and The Furnace Review, and she is a member of the Iranian-American Writers Association. She has been awarded the Poets & Writers Amy Award for Poetry, as well as grants from the Elizabeth George Foundation and the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance. Her writings have been performed at the MAD Theatre Festival in the United Kingdom, and her short films, based on scenes and poetry from her book, have been screened in the U.S. at the Woodstock Film Festival, Indie Spirit Film Festival, Red Rock Film Festival, Miami Short Film Festival, Noor Film Festival, HollyShorts Film Festival, Co-Kisser Poetry Film Festival, Blissfest333, and the Target Art Gallery, and internationally at the Canterbury Short Film Festival, Portobello Film Festival, Zebra Poetry Film Festival, the Unlike Art Gallery, the Elysium Art Gallery, New Gallery London, Jotta and Galleria Perelà.