Gesher: Lives on the Fringes
An Interview with Vahid Vakilifar
Gesher, Iranian director Vahid Vakilifar's debut
feature, won the ADFF Black Pearl Award for Best Narrative Film by
a New Director. A naturalistic story about three men who take
menial jobs at a gas refinery, the film features striking
cinematography as well as a documentary-style, ground-level view of
the humanity behind a massive industry. Last week, before
Gesher was screened at the Festival, Vakilifar sat down
with us to talk about the film's production and the real lives of
the workers it depicts.
Where did you find your inspiration
for the film?
I had gone to film a documentary in the
Bandar Asalouyeh, in southern Iran. It's the location of the
largest natural gas field in the world; Iran and Qatar are mutually
exploiting it. Four years ago when I went there my first impression
was a positive one. I was impressed by the progress of this
industrialization - something we in Iran had never seen before.
That was the inspiration for the beautiful long shots you see in
the film. That was my first sentiment upon seeing the area.
Has your outlook
When I went and actually spent time in the
area, I encountered the lives of these people on the fringes - the
people who sleep in the shade of this complex, and in live in these
pipes. When I saw these conditions, from that moment on I had a
People really live in those
Yes, many of the workers who don't have an
official contract, or who are merely day laborers, live in the
pipes, or in other dilapidated structures. The pipes are sitting
there unused, and men live inside them, just as you see in the
film. Every now and then, when the time comes to ship the gas to
Qatar, the pipes are removed.
And the workers lose their
Yes. But it's not really a problem for
them, as there are always more pipes. So they just move.
There's a very photographic quality
to the film. What are your photographic influences?
I love the work of Sebastião Salgado, the
Brazilian photographer who shoots in industrial areas. His focus is
on the conflict between the human element and the industrial. He's
not the only one - this is a story that is taking place all over
the world in any case. But with a lot of the shots in my film -
especially in the shots where you see light coming through the
pipes - I took my inspiration from Salgado's forms.
What was it like filming in the
We used a very basic setup: we shot on
digital, and we didn't take very much equipment into the pipes. We
used very little lighting. Sometimes we just used a few flashlights
for light. Not only did it make filming in the pipes easier, but I
wanted to convey the feeling of what it's like to be inside
Do the workers have health
Very much so. Unfortunately I could not
really find the place to address that in my film. But, to get an
idea of the conditions, imagine if we were sitting here in this
room, and all around us there were gas pipes that were turned on.
And you were meant to live here for many years. That is why workers
who have been there for five years or longer cannot at any point
donate blood. And there are other health problems. The HIV rate is
Did you have to get the permission
of the gas company in order to shoot the film?
Yes, we did. And in fact, we had to modify
the script two or three times.
Did you work with any professional
Only one is a professional: Hossein
Farzizade, who plays one of the three main characters. The other
two leads are non-professionals. The man who plays the bathroom
cleaner, Ghobad Rahmaninassab, is a truck driver in that area. I
met him two years before, when I was making the documentary, and I
was impressed by something in his character. So when it came time
to make this film, I got in touch with him. Beyond that, all of the
workers in the film are actual workers at the gas field.
Since you bring up the toilet
cleaner, I have to ask you about filming that scene! Is the
excrement depicted real?
Some of it is real, and some of it is fake.
Let's just say that my set decorator took a long time to find the
right consistency and color. Finally she called me one day and
said, "I think I've got it!" And when she showed me, I said, "Yes
this is it!" [laughs] It was disgusting.
I felt a little sick while watching
So did we when we were filming it, believe
me! But that's the feeling that what I wanted to convey. To make
the viewer sympathize with what these men go through.
How did the actor, Rahmaninassab,
deal with being covered in it?
He took it in stride very well!