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The Birth of the Iranian Vampire Western

One might say that the true subject of the horror genre is the struggle for recognition of all that our civilisation represses and oppresses - Robin Wood
 Never seen an Iranian vampire Western flick? Neither have we!

by Sara Zia Ebrahimi, REORIENT

Ana Lily Amirpour is an Iranian-American screenwriter and director of narrative films and music videos, whose work has been screened at festivals around the globe, and honoured with prestigious international awards. Ana, along with lawyer and producer Sina Sayyah, is the co-founder of Say Ahh … Productions, whose team is gearing up to shoot a groundbreaking new feature length film, entitled A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. I recently sat down with Lily to ask her about the film, which is being hailed as the ‘first Iranian Vampire Western’.

SZE: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Nightis a unique mix of genres. Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for the project? You’ve noted David Lynch’s Wild at Heart, Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, and Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish as influences, but what inspired the overall idea for melding all these inspirations together to create an Iranian vampire film?

When you’re this indie, a lot of the film grows out of necessity. Like, ‘I have to somehow make a film. This is generally what I’d like the genre to be – now what else do I have, and what can I do with that’, you know?  So I had this deep desire to have my first feature be an Iranian film, but it’s not like I could shoot in Iran. So I thought, I’ll make my own place, like an Iranian Gotham – and I invented Bad City. I had these actors whom I wanted to work with, so I actually wrote the parts with them in mind, and there was this desert ghost town near where I grew up which became the location, and these amazing Iranian musicians I know, and a badass Iranian graffiti artist, and a 57 T-Bird also came into the picture. So it started from there and very quickly came together.

Also, everything evolved out of the short film I did last year with the same title. I loved horror movies, comic books and fantasy novels, and supernatural stuff as a kid, so yeah. I came from that, with the Iranian background. It’s a big stewpot of influences, I guess!

SZE: What is it about scary films that intrigues you?

I don’t know exactly. I mean, why do people like roller coasters? I like them. And I think you either do or you don’t; but this movie is a little different, actually. It’s not straight horror or straight Western – there are definitely those aspects – but at the heart, it’s a love story.

SZE: You’ve directed several short films, and written several scripts over the years. Would you say this film marks  a divergence from your past work?

It’s a progression. I did my first short film when I was 12 – a slumber party slasher story – it was pretty good!. My first short film when I was all grown up was a camping psychological thriller – it was pretty bad. Then, I did some dark comedy and drama, but I’d say a lot of my work has tension in it, and situations where characters are either literally or psychologically ‘trapped’. And, I always, always love to find what’s funny and get laughs. I love being scared and laughing in equal parts. Actually, some of the best horror films consciously bookend the scares with funny bits, which makes the next scare all the more jarring. The same is true of good comedy – the laughs are balanced with the darker aspects of reality.

SZE: Of course, I have to ask you – how did you connect with Shahs of Sunset star A$A? Can you tell us a bit about your artistic collaborations to date and how she’ll be involved with the film?

Four years ago, before the show and before she’d blown up huge, she was still doing her music and doing her art thing. A Persian friend of mine said, ‘You gotta see this girl A$A on Facebook’, and I took one look and was like, I love this girl. I have to meet her. I think I wrote her a message that said ‘I love you, I want to meet you immediately and direct a music video with you’. I mean, she’s next-level. When I saw her and her whole thing, I was like, swallowed in. So, over the years, I’ve directed three music videos for her, and we’re planning to shoot another one as soon as we find the time. The next one will be on a mega-epic scale, visually.

We’ll have some of her music in the film, so I’m really excited. The soundtrack of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a real mix. We also have 60s-inspired Western guitar music, like that of Ennio Morricone throughout the film, and some other really cool tracks from a wide range of artists. Just wait. I mean, I can’t tell you all the details yet, but the soundtrack is gonna be dope. For real. Like, something that stands alone, even separate from the film. I really think so.

SZE: Where are you at in the production process now? How can people get updates on your progress and support the film’s production?

Right now we’re in pre-production, and are set to shoot mid-September. Also, we’re full-on pumping this Indiegogo campaign to raise money, which is a lot of work. And we put a lot of love into it. We need to raise part of our production funds with this campaign, and also build a community around the film. which is happening. We’ve gotten a shout out in Wired, Margaret Atwood is our champion, we’re doing some podcasts next week, and now we get to talk to you!

We’re really proud of our Indiegogo campaign, and we’ve got lots of cool stuff we’re giving back to the people that help us build Bad City. Once you contribute, you become a ‘citizen’ of Bad City. In the coming months, those people will know all about what we’re doing as an insider. You really are joining us. That’s how we feel. We’re not just raising money here. Money just makes the film. We’re in it for the long haul for the life of this film. We need a devoted audience to anticipate the film, and we want to hear people talking. We care so much about every single person and what they have to say. Messages on Facebook, Tweets, or comments on Indiegogo – we see them, because they see us. That’s how it works.

Constant real-time updates are streamed on our Facebook page, and Twitter is where you’ll sometimes hear strange stuff, like different characters from Bad City tweeting their thoughts, different facts about the film, and odd little tidbits – fun stuff. The world is ready for Iranian Vampires!

Sara Zia Ebrahimi teaches Film Analysis at Philadelphia's Temple University, and runs a monthly independent film screening series, Kinowatt, at the Asian Arts Initiative. She is also founder of  From The Mouth of The Lionan emerging project showcasing the work of members of the Iranian diaspora born on the cusp of the Islamic Revolution.  

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