Paradise Found

Date: Tuesday, February 15 2000

Expatriate filmmaker Kamshad Kooshan finds his way home with the lost children of Iran

"Surviving Paradise," a first feature from Iranian-American filmmaker Kamshad Kooshan, uses children to

Interview with Hollywood Reporter Magazine

convey a metaphor, in true Iranian neo-realist tradition.

Kooshan's film follows the adventures of 10-year-old Sam and 8-year-old Sara, Iranian children lost in Los Angeles, as they struggle to search for an uncle and elude the hit man who kidnapped their mother.

"The lost children's search," Kooshan says, "is a metaphor for the Iranian people's struggle and search or identity in the 21st century, as well as the danger and the pleasures of American culture." He got his first dose of American culture at age 16, when his parents sent him to Berkeley, Calif., in the wake of the turbulent Iranian revolution the late 70's.

In Berkeley, where his classmates at Skyline High included Tom Hanks, Kooshan was never as vulnerable to the urban dangers his young characters face. "But at times I was frightened. A sudden transition to a new culture is always traumatic," he says. "More than fear, I felt a sense of adventure. There is something exciting about being completely on your own. It's a form of power. That's how the children in my film survive."

Growing up in Iran, Kooshan had limited exposure to Iranian cinema, which struggled to gain a foothold in the sea of Hollywood films. But he did see Mehrjooi's "The Cow," a landmark in Iranian cinema. The Ayatollah Khomeini, on the verge of banning films altogether, screened "The Cow" in the early years of the revolution, and deemed cinema an acceptable art form.

Youth-driven story lines -- exemplified by Jafar Panahis's 1995 Camera d'Or winner "The White Balloon" and Majid Majidi's Oscar-nominated "Children of Heaven" -- work well because children "have an innocence that allows the audience to see the world throught their unprejudiced eyes," he adds.

Kooshan graduated from San Francisco State and was making short films when producer Henry Rosenthal ("All the Vermeers in New York") read "Guardian of the Secret," a short script about a young brother and sister, and encouraged Kooshan to expand it. The rewrite became "Paradise," which was a finalist in the 1997 Sundance Screenwriters Lab and attracted Iranian-American producer Bahman Maghsoudlou and Iranian movie star Shohreh Aghdashloo.

The film recently screened at the Cairo Film Festival and Kooshan is shopping it to U.S. distributors.

Now, Kooshan is at work on "The Return," in which Aghdashloo's character revisits Iran after 20 years in American to search for her roots.

"Eventually I'd like to do a comedy or a thriller with an edge," Kooshan says. "But right now, I have to concentrate on the subjects that interests me most -- the search for identity within a moving story."         


Brooke Comer

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