The writing team of Iran’s Jafar Panahi and Nader Saeivar, who won best screenplay at Cannes for “3 Faces” (2018) directed by Panahi, have reunited for “The Witness.”
To be directed by Saeivar, the project has been selected for the 21st Hong Kong – Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF), the project market that operates concurrently with FilMart (March 13-16). Saeivar made his feature debut with “The Alien” (2020), which was a Berlinale selection and won prizes at the Beijing, Hong Kong, Duhok, Taormina and International Crime and Punishment film festivals.
Saeivar’s sophomore feature, “No End,” debuted at Busan in 2022 and won him best director at Goa and a brace of awards at Vesoul recently.
“The Witness” follows a widowed retired teacher who sees the murder of her friend. When the police refuse to investigate the murder because of the suspect’s status as an important government figure, the witness decides to publicize everything she knows.
Any project with Panahi’s involvement is automatically under the microscope of the Iranian regime, given that the filmmaker has been in and out of jail as a political prisoner. Saeivar is used to this, with Panahi also having served as editor and consultant on “No End” and as co-writer and editor on “The Alien.”
“That’s underground cinema, we have to find a way of doing it,” Saeivar says. He recounts anecdotes of shooting on location in Iran with lookouts posted and hiding in cars when the police pass by. “It’s always like this and we are habituated to it,” Saeivar adds.
In September 2022, a wave of protests were sparked in Iran by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while she was held in custody for allegedly wearing a loose hijab. Saeivar was one of those who participated in the protests.
“I wish for revolution in Iran,” Saeivar says, adding that he is not afraid of being targeted. “Living in Iran is like living in jail. You go home or you go to prison, there is no difference. We are living for today.”
“The Witness” also reunites Saeivar with his “No End” producer Said Nur Akkus, who will produce via his German-Turkish production company ArtHood Films. The project, to be made in the Farsi and Azerbaijani languages, has a total budget of $332,000 and has secured $47,600 so far.
“After our collaboration on ‘No End,’ we knew that we wanted to work together again on another project. In terms of the content, Nader’s new film ‘The Witness’ makes another strong and important statement, not without some personal risk, of course. His spirit of political resistance and continuous efforts to share the truth with international audiences is something that I deeply admire and wish to support. Though the story is set specifically within Iranian society, I believe that all audiences will find the film relevant as it touches on topics of domestic violence and class hierarchies. The strong female protagonist gives viewers a fresh perspective on the struggles of women in a patriarchal society, an issue that could not be more relevant today in light of the Woman, Life, Freedom protests in Iran that began in recent months,” Akkus tells Variety.
“On a filmmaking level, we have a script written by Iranian dream team Jafar Panahi and Nader Saeivar, who shared the award for best screenplay in Cannes for Jafar’s film ‘3 Faces.’ Both have an extraordinary command of cinematic language and know how to discuss these heavy subjects while balancing entertainment and respect to the topic,” Akkus adds.
“At FilMart we are hoping on one hand to find financial partners such as investors or co-producers to close the financing, since we are planning to begin shooting in late summer. On the other hand, we are already on the lookout for distributors for pre-sales,” Akkus says. “In any case, FilMart is a wonderful opportunity to promote the film and create more buzz within the industry, and we are very grateful to the HAF team for having chosen ‘The Witness.’”