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By Darius Kadivar
June 18, 2004
It took 6 years for Iranian American director Kayvan
Mashayekh to make his film: "The Keeper : The Legend of Omar
Khayyam". The project was daunting and stimulating with the
challenge of recreating the life and Times of the Great poet, astronomer
and mathematician. Mashayekh scenario required filming in three
different locations, the United States, Great Britain and Samarkand
in the former Soviet State of Uzbekistan. The latter being the
exact location of where the Great Omar Khayyam lived and studied
in a war ridden Persia divided by religious fundamentalism whose
major instigator was Hassan Sabbah leader of the infamous sect
the Assassins and political intrigues at the court of the Seljuk
with an international cast including British Star Vanessa Redgrave,
and actor Bruno Lastra as Khayyam, and Christopher Simpson as Hassan
Sabbah, the "Keeper" is an Epic as well as a contemporary
quest of Khayyam's universal legacy through the ages. The film
was shot in Persian and English and has been present at the Cannes
film Market this year. Below is an interview with director Kayvan
Darius KADIVAR: What led
you to choose Khayyam rather than another Persian Poet as the
hero of your film ?
Kayvan Mashayekh: I chose Khayyam
because he personifies all that is Persian to me. Growing up in
America since the age of 11, my father quoted poetry as a tool
to teach me lessons in life. I didn't care much about it all at
the time, because I wanted to be American and forget my past. As
a young boy from a country which seized American Hostages it was
quite sad. Now, at age 36 and 10 years after the death of my father,
I recognize the wisdom of his words to me. Don't ever forget who
you are and where you came from.
Khayyam placed the concept of reason above faith
and to me no matter who you are and what your faith is, it's important
to remember that balance in life.
DK: Khayyam and Sabbah are close friends before
destiny opposes them. Beyond their common love interest for a
girl called Darya what really separates them is Khayyam's
humanistic and spiritual approach of God to Sabbah's zealous
hatred for anything that opposes his ideological control of religion.
Were you aware when you started working on your film that this
duality between reason and fanaticism would somehow resonate
in a post 9/11 world ?
KM: I wanted to make a timeless film that seamlessly
blended past and present together. 9/11 almost destroyed me. I
was in Morocco scouting locations for the film when it happened
and when I returned to America, all financial backers withdrew
support and no one in the film business would even talk to me about
it for one year.
I tried to stay true to one message throughout
my whole film which is about the journey of a young boy in search
of his own past. I believe that all of us are "Keepers" of
stories in our past that make our lives more meaningful in the
DK: Your film is an independent film,
what were the difficulties in gathering an international cast
and mobilizing the resources for such an ambitious project particularly
the fact that you shot in Uzbekistan where there is no film industry
so to speak.?
KM: Ambitious and difficult are two words which
I heard quite often...along with impossible. But my father's dying
words to me carried me through the deepest moments of negativity
throughout my project. "Be strong and never give up in what
you believe." I'll never forget that moment for the rest of
my life as I saw him fade away from brain cancer ten years ago.
The cast came together because they shared my belief
and vision for the story and I was grateful and very privileged
for their support.
DK: Your film was presented at the Cannes film
market what was the reaction of the professionals to your film
and did you find a distributor ?
KM: We are in the middle of the market at this
moment with more screenings. So far, the reaction has been positive.
We have been very low key in finding the right partners to represent
us as sales agents and distributors because we want to make sure
the film is at it's best before presenting it to audiences. We
have held test screenings and focus groups and discovered that
the film has been more favorably received by women more than men
due to its delicate message. This helps us with our distribution
strategy so that we can get this film in front of audiences who
are underserved and are hungry for a film such as ours. Positioning
a film is as daunting a task as actually making one.
DK: Were you tempted to shoot your film in
Iran and do you hope to show this film in your homeland one day?
KM: I was discouraged to shoot this film in Iran
by very prominent people within the Iranian Film Community. Ironically,
those same people are now thrilled that I listened to their words
of advice because the film has been actually completed without
unnecessary governmental red tape and interference. I would love
to show this film in Iran someday. It would be a great privilege
DK: Vanessa Redgrave gives a small but
charismatic performance in your film what was it like to work
with her and did she like your script?
KM: Vanessa's performance elevates my film to another
level. Her gracious support and beautiful performance is the essence
of why this film was so special to me. As a first time director,
it was a dream come true to work with a living legend. The only
reason she accepted the role was that she believed in the message
of the story so strongly.
DK: What advice would you give to other aspiring
directors who would want to launch themselves in a cinematic
KM: Stay true to your beliefs, ask for help and
LISTEN to the people who care about you.
For further info on the film see: http://www.greatomar.com
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