Interview with Film International Magazine


Like many independent films, “Surviving Paradise” portrays different parts of society that don’t fit into the mainstream – outsiders like foreigners, the disenfranchised, the underclass, criminals. Here we get to see what happens when a family from the outside finds themselves in a world they don’t understand. But what happens is the outsiders, the foreigners, get a good picture about what America is really all about, with its diversity of people, its different classes, and mainly the best of all, its tolerance.

So in a sense, because the main characters, the children, are going on a journey of discovery in this kind of environment, I really think this is a hybrid of genres – a kids’ road movie with an edge. It’s an independent family film because it’s challenging enough, but at the same time appropriate for children to see with their parents, and see how Sam and Sara go through different experiences of danger and survival. The film definitely has a preoccupation with culture and cultural diversity you don’t see in most mainstream Hollywood films, but the story itself is an adventure – with lots of emotional moments, dangerous situations, with good guys and bad guys, and – something I like 0 bad guys who are not as bad as they seem.


The most dangerous thing about the bad guys in my film is how unthinking and inept they are. I tried to raise the tension in the kidnapping satiation by making them constantly talk about other things like vacations, and going home. Plus the fact these guys are on orders from someone who doesn’t really know how to make himself clear. So instead of raising the tension level by having them threaten their victim in the typical way, I want the audience to feel unsure about how things will turn out, precisely because the kidnappers are distracted and don’t really know what they’re doing of why. There is a scene in the beginning where a man who’s about to be killed accidentally does himself in while the hit man is on the phone. This sets the tone for the bad guys in the film. They’re like any worker who’s not motivated or conscientious; they’re bound to make mistakes. Anyway the point is that these bad guys are not one-dimensionally bad.


The story is seen through the eyes of two children. In a sense to stay true to this vision, you have to imagine that the kids are not fully comprehending the jeopardy they’re in. Violence is inescapable in this world, but for a kid, who is naturally more optimistic and forgiving, the structure of power and violence is less locked in. In the same way that kids are non-judgmental about people’s differences, they’re also less cynical and nihilistic about power. Anyway the situation they’re in is bad enough. I didn’t feel like sensationalizing it with excess violence. I keep that part of the story less dominant; I keep that volume low.

So while the situation the kids are thrown into is violent and dangerous, I think it’s much more interesting to focus on how kids will actually be so resilient when confronted with violence. Their reaction to violence, through their sense of survival, shows how adaptable and self-reliant they are. In fact the brother and sister are learning very important things about survival as they go through their odyssey together. The boy says you learn by confrontation. The girl’s argument is you survive by connecting. Eventually they discover that the answer is a little bit of both. It’s somewhere in the center.


L. A., in my view, is a beautiful microcosm for America. I remember that when I grew up in San Francisco, I sort of looked down on L. A. But somehow the differences between people and places are so stark, a little bit like New York in a way, L. A. stared to reveal itself to me as being a quintessential American city.

Also, as a metaphor for paradise, L. A., unlike New York, has a warm light, almost like an innocence about it, that I thought would be interesting. An immigrant typically feels in awe of the Mecca he or she is striving to reach. I thought it would be fitting to show people struggling to reconcile the gritty unpredictability of L. A. with its beach/Baywatch popular appearance. It’s a study in contrasts.

Also the locations in the film are actual places I discovered while writing the film. In a very real way, I’d call it site-specific writing, because the locations and the neighborhoods spoke to me, revealed themselves to me, and ultimately, many of the people I met along the way I invited on set and asked them to be themselves in the exact same places I met where I met them. I think this lends both a physical and psychological authenticity to the film.


Iranians are one of the latest waves of immigrants to America. What many of us struggle with is the ethnic and social paradox of being Caucasian from a non-western country, and to a large extent being a professional class starting from scratch in a highly competitive society. Our identity is that we are not typical. Part of the time this makes being a part of the salad mix very easy, like we’re a new spice with a distinct flavor. But other times, being out of our native culture and being treated in ambiguous ways can be very disconcerting.

I also come from a country where the best-selling piece of literature for the last 600 years has been Rumi’s epic poetry about love. For Iranians the element of life we prize the highest is love. In our Persian heritage, if you dip your cup in the well of love, you will taste everything. I guess that’s why this adventure story is bound to celebrate deep connections between human beings.

Finally, I set the story of “Surviving Paradise” around the period of the Persian New Year, which happens on the spring equinox. I had the children do the New Year’s ritual of jumping over fire to deliberately symbolize the transition they are going through. But I also did this to show how celebrating one’s heritage in a new land can connect you to the place you are from. It’s that longing for our roots we go through when we’re alone and displaced. While the children are lost on the streets of L. A., they intuitively perform the ritual, the cleansing of the self that jumping over fire symbolizes. It’s a poignant way to show that these children will always have a way to be with their mother and their family, no matter what, and it will also become a part of them as Americans.

Home    About    Photos    Bios    Interviews    Reviews   Movie Trailer   Contact



Blog Summary Widget