Congratulations on Warring Factions. What was your impetus for making this film? How did it come about?
Warring Factions was started as a short experimental documentary which now stands as the opening scene to the film. I had always wanted to make a film on being biracial but was never motivated strongly enough until I realized how dangerous the idea of war between Iran and the US was. When I first visited Iran in 2006 I thought about the idea of war really seriously because the first wave of nuclear controversy was in full form. While in Iran, I realized that much of the rhetoric in the American media was mimicking the rhetoric regarding Iraq before the 2003 invasion. When it was time for me to begin thinking about my 10 minute UA senior BFA thesis in 2007 the issue was at the top of my list. Also, I decided I would settle for no less than a feature length documentary, considering it was the last project I could use university equipment on unless I went to grad school.
Although the title references US-Iran tensions, the tone of the film is actually not very tense or grim. Perhaps because when approached from the human level as you document, war and conflict between the two cultures seems especially incongruous. Was this by design?
I think mass broadcast media does a really good job in sensationalizing the tensions and I wanted to stay away from their style in every way possible. My approach in shooting and editing the film was to allow breathing room in every scene to digest the scene and not to always be trying to make a particular point. Iran and the US have a long history of problems dating back to before the 50's, in reality the conflict between cultures is insignificant compared to the political and historical considerations. I tried my best to implement that in the tone of the film.
As Warring Factions is largely autobiographical, your experience as an individual straddling two cultures is something many will be able to relate to. Did making this film help clarify your own cultural identity at all? Has it influenced the way you relate to your heritage, your nationality?
My experience in the course of making the film has definitely effected the way I feel about my cultural identity. The episode with Homeland Security gave me a taste of the War on Terror in a way I would have never expected and made me a suspect of terrorism in the country of my birth. Before that experience I felt I had a more concrete position in my American identity but the incident in Atlanta definitely made me question how accepted Muslims and Iranians are in America. I try to not let what happened get in the way of how I feel about the US, but the truth is that what happened to me is happening to hundreds of other Muslims in the US and no one seems to care.
As far as my heritage, my experience training in Varzesh Bastani has given me a lot of cultural context of Iranian nationality. Iran has been a nation that has purged itself of foreign invaders and saved itself from destruction many times in its history. The ideology of the Pahlevan acts as a safeguard for this legacy. The spirit of this phenomenon must remain in the cultural fabric of Iranians for our preservation.
While the political atmosphere perpetuates mistrust and creates difficulties for people, like what you experienced with Homeland Security, there can be unexpected cultural links. A good portion of Warring Factions covers the B-boy scene, which one crew member in the film estimates to be about 600-700 strong in Tehran alone. Were you surprised to find such a thriving underground community in Iran? How did it feel to practice this uniquely American, urban dance with them, thousands of miles away from home?
The bboy scene in Iran is strong in a very primitive way. There may be a lot of people practicing and learning but the culture of bboying is very underdeveloped. I felt like many kids that were considered to be incredible in Iran to be very uneducated in the history of the art. Most young people that break in Iran do so to show off to their friends but I found that those in the film were really hungry to develop their moves and to move to the next level. It was amazing to teach the guys and share my American culture with them in a way that they would never be properly exposed to through the media. I plan on going back and training a core team to compete internationally in the future. Iran has a history of great athletes, and if given the proper support, instruction and coaching, Iranian bboys could make a big mark on the international scene.
What kind of films do you plan to make in the future? Would you like to continue exploring themes relevant to Iran and the Middle East?
Absolutely. I actually want to make a follow up film to bring the Iranian bboys to the US for a battle against an American crew. I think the language of bboying transcends cultural walls and its a great way to bring people together. Other than that, many of the films I have a desire to make deal with the Middle East and the larger Muslim world. It is such a misunderstood region that any film project dealing with it is new information to the rest of the world.
Warring Factions official site: www.warringfactions.com
Justin Mashouf's site: www.mashouf.tv