By Mohammad Gorjestani
A cyber attack on the United States Immigration database puts Sonia at risk of being deported back to Iran. But remaining in the U.S. may come at a greater price than she’s willing to pay.
As an Iranian American, I find myself on both sides of an escalating geopolitical situation between the United States and Iran. When invited to pitch a story for the FUTURESTATES series, I began to realize that I wanted to further explore the potential repercussions of the brewing U.S./Iran conflict in the not-too-distant future.
As I explored the landscape and hypothesized various scenarios that I felt deserved attention, I stumbled upon two profound realizations. The first was that the nature of warfare has evolved to the point that cyber warfare is no longer rooted in fiction, but rather an aggressively approaching reality. The second was that a large number of Iranian immigrants living in the U.S. could find themselves victims of political backlash similar to the experience of Japanese Americans during World War II. I knew, however, that while history could repeat itself, it would likely not replicate the past but come in a new form.
After many drafts of a treatment for the film, I finally landed on a story that explored all the themes I envisioned, and could be told in a style that was achievable and representative of my voice as a storyteller. As the writing began, the goal was to build a character that was relatable and could serve as a vehicle through which to study and explore this not-so-distant world. An element critical to the film was the theme of a world where technology, immigration, and government had dovetailed in potentially perilous ways. Within this context, I wanted to look at the question of why immigrants are often willing to pay a high price to live a life that many of us take for granted. With Sonia, we have a young, ambitious, and independent character that left a troubled situation in Iran to pursue an education and the American dream – which ultimately proves to resemble more of a nightmare. I wanted to place Sonia in a situation and give her a choice to make which blended irony and allegory, and which directly conflicted her values. Ultimately, Refuge is a story about a character facing an extraordinary circumstance, and falling victim to a geopolitical conflict reflective of a world we could all soon live in.
— Mohammad Gorjestani, Writer/Director
September 23, 2012
We have wrapped day four of Refuge. Wow. “Thankful” and “focused” are the words that come to mind thus far. Tomorrow we embark on a day that we’ve all started referring to as “The Super Bowl.” We will be taking over San Jose City Hall and shooting the council scene in an extremely and ambitious single day of production. My mom and dad, various crew, and friends have gathered more than 80 Iranians to come as extras for the scene. It’s a really humbling feeling to see all of these people put so much energy into making tomorrow happen.
On Wednesday, the nervousness of day one settled down as I witnessed the incredible team we had put together do their job seamlessly. We shot on a city bus and outside the iconic Babyland store in San Jose. The second day of production at San Jose City Hall was a success as well. Matt Thompson and the art department built a beautiful scanner set, and the camera team caught some incredible moments under the leadership of Mike Gioulakis, our DP.
Day three of the production was wild! We shot in a rough part of town on the Santa Clara/San Jose border and let’s just say investing in a police escort was a great idea. Overall, the folks of the neighborhood were amazing, especially an incredibly friendly woman named Nona who let us use her house as our greenroom/production office. The neighborhood’s generous vibe and positive energy got us through the day and again we put some incredible footage in the can – I mean hard drive.
Yesterday, we got to boast about shooting at a location that even The Avengerscouldn’t even get clearance for! That location being the brand new UCSF Mission Bay campus. Malcolm, our producer, really came through and made shooting there a reality. The space was architecturally gorgeous, but a strict location head count limit made for quite a challenge, as we had to work with less than half our crew. Nonetheless, the entire team pulled together and as usual Nikohl and Camyar delivered flawless performances under intense pressure. Lastly, my girlfriend Bailey wins “girlfriend of the year” for single-handedly (with some help from her mom) coordinating all of the catering that has kept our cast and crew happy and well fed.
January 24, 2013
We are currently in the final week of post-production, preparing the delivery of the film. All VFX work is complete, thanks to our talented team lead by Eric Peschel. We are very fortunate to have Jeremy Bowker from Skywalker Sound doing our sound design, and he has done some tremendous work adding texture and depth to the film. All post-production work is being led by Stephen Berke and Berke Creative, including color and final mix. Subtitles and titles are the final elements to slap on the film before delivery on February 1st.
— Mohammad Gorjestani, Writer/Director
Mohammad Gorjestani is an Iranian American filmmaker, creative director, and entrepreneur based in San Jose, California. His short film Sayeh premiered at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival and went on to screen at 50 festivals worldwide. He was a recipient of the 2012 KRF Filmmaking Grant from the San Francisco Film Society and a finalist for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab for his feature film in development, Somehow These Days will be Missed. Gorjestani is the co-founder and creative director of Volio, a funded consumer media startup.
Malcolm Pullinger is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker who produced and edited Winnebago Man, Following Sean, The Love Competition, and The Key of G. His films have been released theatrically in the U.S. and Canada, aired on BBC and PBS, and played internationally at film festivals. He served as the producer and creative director of Wholphin, the film quarterly published by McSweeney’s. He is currently building Elevision, a new online platform for visionary short films.
Nikohl Boosheri – Sonia
Nikohl Boosheri emigrated from Iran to Canada when she was three months old. Her theatrical résumé includes Madge in Picnic, Fay in Greenman, Lady in Orpheus Descending, and Slim in The Dark. She appeared in the 2011 Sundance Audience Award Winner Circumstance and recently starred in Farah Goes Bang. Boosheri won Best Actress Awards at Outfest and Noor Film Festival.
Camyar Chai – Reza
Camyar Chai has worked in theater, opera, film, television, and radio for more than two decades. He has appeared in numerous U.S. and Canadian productions, most recently in the independent feature Ambrosia. Chai has directed the plays Bollywood Wedding, Adrift on the Nile, Mother Courage and Her Children, and My Acid Trip. He is also a published playwright whose work ranges from satire and drama to musical theater, along with librettos for children’s opera, including Elijah’s Kite. He is the founder of Neworld Theatre.