“Dog Sweat” is a fictional film about young people fighting to be free in Iran. We shot the film in Tehran illegally and at great personal risk to the cast and crew because we wanted to make an authentic film that shows the surprising fun, drama and irrepressible energy of a rebellious generation.
During film school, I developed a script called “This Modern Love” about Iranians who travel to the Philippines for vacation, that explored how Iranians act on their holidays in foreign countries that have fewer social limitations.
When I was selecting cast and crew for “This Modern Love,” I became friends with a lot of the recent graduates of the film and theater programs. I watched the projects they were making – short, underground films about their lives and their relationships. They weren’t bothering to censor their scripts to get approval from the film board. They did this because they wanted to make films that reflected their lives, even if they knew their films wouldn’t have an audience. Inside Iran, the films wouldn’t be shown because of their un-Islamic content; outside of Iran the festivals were only looking for very particular types of films from Iranian filmmakers.
As we were in pre-production for “This Modern Love,” which would have been filmed with the proper permissions and permits and would have featured well-known Iranian actors, my mother was in a nearly fatal car accident. I dropped everything I was doing and focused on nursing her back to health, first in Iran, then in the United States when she was strong enough to travel.
Once I got back to Iran almost a year later, things had changed – both in the country and in terms of my own feelings. My previous script was written at the tail end of reformist President Khatami’s term. Now it was well into Ahmadinejad’s time in office and he had already started a crackdown on artists and dissidents. While I was aiding my mother in Tehran, there were protests at the local university about the recent firings of professors for their supposed ideological leanings. At night, when I would go back to my apartment, I would see the riot police come in. And in the morning I would see students in the emergency room who were severely beaten. They would receive medical treatment, but then flee from the hospital to avoid being questioned by the police. None of it was reported on the news inside or even outside the country. This experience stayed with me for a long time. I felt like the times had changed and the script that I had spent so long on was no longer truthful to reality.
At the same time I was inspired by this unseen generation of Iranian filmmakers that I had met. I decided to write a new script (“Dog Sweat”) that encompassed the things that my friends and I had seen and felt, even if it would have to be shot underground, with the fear of being harassed or arrested.
There is a new wave of artists who sincerely care about being truthful, and who turn down a lot of lucrative work because their conscience won’t allow them to do it. I wanted to help bring this new wave of artists and filmmakers beyond short films that were only seen in the living rooms of fellow filmmakers. Making a film illegally limited us in many ways, but it also gives the movie an immediacy and energy.
We shot all of “Dog Sweat” underground in often very risky situations. I formed a team, and we had to depend on each other and learn how to trust each other in the face of a lot of crazy circumstances. Things would change constantly and a lot of times we could only shoot what we could get. This taught me to truly collaborate with the actors and our DP (director of photography). Often, our plans would fall apart because of something out of our control and I would ask the actors – what do you think? And then we would have to change and re-adjust. Those type of situations made us bond even more.
We had to be careful whom we trusted. We didn’t have the control over production that you’d normally have doing a film. A small example of the challenges we faced happened when we shot the last scene of the movie. It was supposed to be something totally different, which we were going to film over several days by the Caspian Sea. But the actress came and said that her father found out that she was doing the film and forbid her from continuing. She could maybe stick around for a couple hours, but would have to be home by noon. We had two or three hours to shoot something that could wrap up her storyline in the film. I sat down with the DP and the actors and discussed what the characters themselves might do. Then I sat down for a half hour and wrote the scene and we shot it before she had to leave. That scene worked out and I think it’s one of the better scenes of the film.
Unfortunately, a lot of times when something out of control occurred it wouldn’t work and we’d be left with only bits and pieces of footage. Often, for example, we would have two good scenes, but not the critical middle scene to connect them. It made the edit a challenge.
Releasing the movie theatrically is the culmination of a long and difficult film-making process that taught me that amidst all the chaos you have to remember to stay focused on the story you want to tell and how you want to tell it.
Hossein Keshavarz is the director of “Dog Sweat.”
Via Speakeasy - Wall Street Journal