Interview with Essmat Sophie

Essmat Sophie (Asima) is an award-winning author, award-winning film director, researcher, and activist. Born and raised in the Kurdish region of Iran. After several years living in United States, now she is living in Norway...

She holds a master's degree In information Science from University of Oslo and Tehran university, and another master degree in English Literature, American and British studies, from University of Oslo, and another in Social Science from Salt Lake City university.

The titles of her latest books are: "Dancing Amid Fire, Rising Above Ruins" (May, 2023), "Last Day of Autumn" (2021); and "In The eye of the Storm" (2013), which got the literary award "Ordknappen" Prize in Norway. She has translated some books and articles from English to other Languages. Latest translated title is: "Women's Journey from Shadow to Light". This book is translated from English to Persian. She translated some poems of Sherko Bekas from Kurdish to Norwegian. Essmat Sophie's writings have appeared in Science databases as ScienceDirect, Academy Search Premier and some literary periodicals. Sophie's stories and articles have appeared in various publications.

Sophie is prolific film director and film producer. Her last animation short film: "Dancing Amid Fire, Rising Above Ruins" is made in 2023. Sophie received honors and awards as the best director of animation film. Her recent movie won prizes at some film festivals, including the Cannes Film Awards festival in France, The FemaleEye Film Festival in Cananda, Vasteras Film Festival in Sweden, Stockholm Film Festival, Toronto International Women Film Festival and some other film festivals from different countries. An excerpt from the most recently published novel by Essmat Sophie served as the inspiration for this animation. She is writer, producer, and director of this animation film.

Sophie has given speeches on a variety of subjects, including the Iranian women's movement, the struggle and achievements of Kurdish women, human rights, writing and resistance, and many other topics.

She worked and conducted research in several fields in Norway. She published a master's thesis on multiculturalism and public libraries as meeting places for immigrant women. One of her field's experts has been working on multiculturalism and immigrant women for many years. She served as the leader of the Norwegian group "Flerkult" for a number of consecutive years. Flerkult or Multicultur is a special group for multicultural library services. They promote multicultural library services, increase awareness of these services in libraries and among authorities, seek to ensure that political signals are financially followed up on, encourage the sharing of ideas, promote professional development and network building.

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Your project has been recognized in European Short Awards. Could you please provide a brief overview of your project and its significance in the context of our festival?

My project, "Dancing Amid Fire, Rising Above Ruins" is an animated short film based on a scene from my debut novel of the same name. It delves into themes of freedom, trauma, and the Kurdish resistance in Iran, offering insights into the struggles faced by Kurdish and Iranian women. The novel was released in May 2023 in London. The quest for freedom, and dealing with individual and collective trauma and persecution are battles that the human spirit fights. Additionally, it provides insight into the history of Kurdish resistance in Iran, an ignored region and its people. The complexity of Kurdish or Iranian women's triple struggle to escape political oppression, and male dominance, as well as enduring a life of exile and marginalization, is also thoroughly psychologically depicted in this book. In poetry and songs, friendship, love, and betrayal are frequently depicted in the context of war, gender and ethnic discrimination, activism, and resistance. The novel links the past to the present by relating the contemporary women's movement in Iran "woman, life, freedom" , to the past.

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This animation film is based on 3 paragraphs of the novel. Its significance for your festival lies in its universal message and portrayal of human resilience in the face of adversity.

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What were the key criteria or qualities you sought in selecting actors to participate in your film?
As an animated film, our casting process focused on finding a talented animator who could bring the characters to life visually while staying true to the emotional depth of the story. We prioritized creativity, attention to detail, and a deep understanding of the narrative's themes.

How did you collaborate and communicate with the cinematographer to achieve your desired visual style?
Given the distance between myself in Norway and the animator in Iran, communication was key. We relied on frequent phone conversations to discuss each scene's vision and ensure that the animation captured the essence of the story. Despite the challenges, our shared passion for the project fueled our collaboration and drove us towards our desired visual style.

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Can you elaborate on the choice of locations for your project and the significance behind those selections?
The locations in the film reflect the journey of the protagonist, Tara, from her childhood in Iran to her life in Norway. Each setting holds symbolic significance, representing themes of loss, refuge, and hope. From the destruction of Tara's city to her daughter finding her lost shoe (her hope) in Norway and chanting women, life, freedom in front of the Norwegian Parliament, each location adds depth to the narrative.

From your perspective, what unique qualities or aspects of your film make it a compelling choice for potential distributors?
My film offers a poignant exploration of universal themes such as resilience, trauma, and the quest for freedom. Its animation format allows for a visually captivating storytelling experience that resonates with audiences across cultures. Distributors seeking emotionally impactful and thought-provoking content will find my film to be a compelling choice.

Could you discuss the artistic elements or expressions you incorporated into your project, and how they contribute to the overall characterization of your work?
Through animation, we were able to infuse the film with artistic elements that enhance its emotional impact. From the vibrant colors of Tara's childhood memories to the stark contrasts of her refugee experience, each artistic choice serves to deepen the audience's connection to the characters and their journey.

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What initially inspired or motivated you to pursue a career in filmmaking?
As a writer, researcher, and activist, I've always been drawn to storytelling as a powerful tool for social change. Filmmaking offered me a new avenue to amplify marginalized voices and shed light on universal human values and important issues. My passion for human rights and cultural representation continues to drive my work in the film industry.

Are there any particular films or filmmakers that have greatly influenced or inspired your own work? If so, what aspects of their work resonate with you?
While there are many filmmakers whose work I admire, I'm particularly inspired by those who use storytelling to challenge stereotypes and provoke critical thinking. Filmmakers like Michael Powell, Francis Ford Coppola, and Alfred Hitchcock have left a lasting impact on me with their ability to craft compelling narratives that resonate on both intellectual and emotional levels.

I am deeply influenced not only by filmmakers and films but also by a diverse array of artists, including authors, singers, painters, theater actors, musicians, philosophers, and scientists. While it's challenging to single out specific individuals, my role models are humble individuals who navigate life's challenges with resilience and grace, such as my grandmother and mother. Courageous individuals, regardless of recognition, who persevere through adversity inspire me the most. In the realm of filmmaking, directors like Michael Powell, Francis Ford Coppola, and Alfred Hitchcock have left a significant mark on me with their iconic works.

What genres do you find most creatively fulfilling to work within, and what draws you to these particular genres?
I find myself drawn to genres that explore complex human experiences and societal issues. Whether it's drama, historical fiction, or animation, I'm most creatively fulfilled when I can use storytelling as a means of fostering empathy, understanding, and social change.

When you're not immersed in filmmaking, what are some of your other interests or hobbies?
When I'm not working on film projects, I enjoy writing, researching, and advocating for human rights and specially Kurdish women's rights. I also find solace in literature, music, and spending time outdoors, connecting with nature and reflecting on life's complexities.

 Lastly, could you share any insights or plans you have for future projects?
I have several projects in mind for the future, including expanding "Dancing Amid Fire, Rising Above Ruins" into a full-length feature or animation series. I'm also exploring new storytelling mediums and collaborations that will allow me to continue amplifying marginalized voices and challenging societal norms through film and literature. I have some academic research to do as well.

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