Putting Humanity into Hollywood
By Jana Ritter
It was fate that brought them together and the foils of being foreign-born filmmakers in Hollywood that bonded Writer/Director Saeed Khoze and Producer Edwin Avaness into a force now making headway on the international scene. With their first major feature, "Virginity", gaining immediate attention as the most controversial film in the history of Iran, it has also garnered industry acclaim from major film festivals around the world. Without missing a beat, Khoze and Avaness are ready to premiere their next feature film and already, it's sparking interest from the title alone.
You're latest film "Damn Foreigners" is about to premiere in Hollywood. What is it about?
Saeed: It's based on the real life events of an Iranian born dentist who becomes a patriotic US citizen and works hard to achieve the American dream. His brothers, on the other hand, are not so hardworking and even resentful of his efforts to help them find success here as well. Aware of the prejudice and injustice that foreigners often face in the US, the brothers use it in their favor to plot against him and set off a chain of events that nearly destroys his life.
What made you decide to tell this particular story?
Edwin: We felt it was important to show the reality of many foreigners who come to the United States and become hardworking citizens who truly love this country and what it stands for. But the "terrorist" stigma causes a lot of prejudice, especially since 9/11 and the justice system can really treat people unfairly too. Because this story portrays both good and bad brothers existing within one family, it makes the film more credible being unbiased itself.
How has the film been received so far and what do you ultimately hope to achieve?
Edwin: So far it's been great. We just got awarded 'Best Film' at the Vancouver Film Festival and it's been selected for the Boston Film Festival, Long Island Film Festival and Venice Film Festival here in Los Angeles. We plan to submit to a lot of the other major film festivals this year as well.
What is the main message you hope to get across?
Saeed: As a filmmaker, I don't like to preach messages. I like to show the facts and make people aware of the reality, enough that they can find meaning of their own.
Edwin: We just want to create more awareness on these types of human rights issues and more understanding of each other as human beings living together in one world. The media often portrays things in a way that promotes a lot of hatred and we want to counteract that by showing things simply as they are.
Both of you are foreigners with different backgrounds, what led to you guys working together?
Edwin: I left Iran when I was fourteen, but even growing up in Europe and going to film school in US, I still had a lot of the frustrations that Saeed had when he first came to the US from Iran. It's tough for anyone trying to break into Hollywood and you face a lot of obstacles trying to get a film made, no matter who you are. Being from Middle East adds a whole other element to the struggle as well. We experienced similar difficulties, but we also shared a passion for telling human rights stories that need to be told and we decided to join forces and break out on our own.
Your last film, "Virginity", is pretty controversial and it was even protested by the Iranian government. Tell us about that.
Saeed: The main controversy with Iran was exposing the "honor killings" of Iranian women, often committed by their families and something that still occurs today. But the film also sheds light on other human rights issues such as the trafficking of women from different countries all over the world. We've been very well received at the festivals for creating that kind of awareness and Shoreline Entertainment has just picked it up, so that is really good.
Well its pretty certain more good things are about to happen for you guys with "Damn Foreigners" coming out. What is the next big project we can look forward to?
Saeed: We're really excited about our next feature "Zoya". It focuses on the execution of Muslim women and the current situation in Syria - the chemical warfare that real families are struggling to survive. We have some really great talent who strongly believe in the project and that is the best thing we as filmmakers, could ever hope for.
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