How Faraz Shariat’s community service at a refugee centre led to a dazzling challenge to German media’s stereotyped portrayals of post-migrant communities
No Hard Feelings – or FUTUR DREI – is a nuanced yet energetic labour of love from director Faraz Shariat that has taken over three years to get to the screen. Inspired by his own experience when he was sentenced to work in a refugee shelter as community service, Faraz was confronted with questions about his own identity and privilege. The experience also brought into sharp relief the 2D misrepresentations of refugee and migrant communities in Germany, set against the rich, multi-faceted reality.
The film follows Parvis, an out-and-proud second generation German-Iranian as he connects with Amon, a recent migrant whose experience means he doesn’t feel the same carefree openness when it comes to his own sexuality.
It takes the threads of culture, identity, sexuality and weaves them together into a ‘polyphonic’ tapestry. Faraz sees the film as a piece of activism that stands out against the mainstream German media which is largely un-diverse in its representation and woefully stereotypical when it comes to depictions of people of colour, particularly migrants and recent refugees. It's also a celebration of a generation of young people connected by a deeply felt sensitivity as well as a shared sense of aesthetics, pop culture and speed.
The film premiered at this year’s Berlinale and had been due to premiere in the UK this month, though, unfortunately the lockdown is getting in the way of that. For now, we can share the trailer, and if you’d like to see the full film, contact Compulsory (who represent Faraz in the UK) or Iconoclast Germany (who worked with Faraz to produce the film).
No Hard Feelings (2020) Official Trailer from COMPULSORY. on Vimeo.
LBB> Tell me about the story - where do we meet our protagonist and where is he at in his life?
Faraz> Parvis is born second generation German-Irani and raised in the hybrid cultures of post migrant Germany. Coping with life in his small hometown by indulging himself with pop culture, Grindr dates, and raves, he lives his life full-on ‘out and proud’. But later, than when he enters a refugee shelter where he meets Amon, Parvis notices that to be out and proud is not an attitude to life but a privilege. Where Parvis identifies as ‘being many’, Amon ripostes, ‘You’re lucky you don't have to decide’.
LBB> What was the genesis of the idea and why was it a story you really wanted to tell?
Faraz> In 2015 I was sentenced to 120 hours of community service at a shelter for refugees after shoplifting. On my first day of work as a Farsi-German translator there, I met some committed fellow students*, and was immediately ashamed of the invisible differences in our motivations for participating. My presence, it was immediately clear to me, brought certain suggestions with it as I somehow carry a similar story as the residents in me.
A little later I made an encounter that I’d experience again and again in similar shapes over the next months: As I smoked a cigarette in the forecourt of a Hildesheim Hotel before a shift, one of the UMFs (unaccompanied minor refugees) approached me and asked me for a light, in Dari. I answered, in bad Farsi. A brief moment of pause, then the realisation: "You were born here?" - I nodded. - "Lucky you." I experienced a coming out as one of the ‘lucky ones’, part of a hopeful second generation, whose parents had dared to take the step several decades ago.
"Ever since we've been here, I've had the feeling that I'm experiencing everything twice: as the person I could have been and the person I am." In the last minutes of the film, Banafshe describes an experience of difference that has accompanied me as a diffuse feeling throughout my everyday work with young refugees. On that hotel court, I handed over the fire. "Glad you're here,“ he said - and I felt that the exchange was somehow exciting.
LBB> Just from the trailer, I think what comes across is that it's a story with some very specific texture and detail and experiences but there's something very universal that anyone can engage with. I would love to know about the context, the immigrant experience in Germany and what you wanted to examine there?
Faraz> Our film is created in a highly-charged media environment: drowning people in the Mediterranean, the corpse of Alan Kurdi, Angela Merkel’s ‘We can do it’, drug-dealing refugees in primetime TV, burning shelters, AfD. In a nutshell: a multitude of media (mis)representations of flight lead to stigmatising narratives of migration as a problem and the migrant body as victim or perpetrator.
Our film draws its strength from all the dazzling, witty and intense encounters within PoC communities in Germany, as well as from their discriminating absence, mis- and underrepresentation in almost all German films I have encountered so far.
Again and again I am asked by white German people where I come from, how long I have been here. In my opinion, one reason for this is the attitude of many German productions, and the access to our stories. Because our stories and those of our parents are told as tales of migration. But, between integration comedies and family dramas, they are repeatedly reduced to punch lines of multicultural reconciliation or romantic depictions of a threatened homeland. As a self-determined, activist popcorn cinema, we want to offer a determined and polyphonic opposition to this and create an offer for fair and honest German cinema.
LBB> How did you cast the film and what were you looking for?
Faraz> First of all, the casting of my own parents as parents of the protagonist was decided. That was important for me because FUTUR DREI was created in a process of intergenerational learning that went on for years.
At the same time, our casting director Raque Moltl and I started to meet with many actors* and amateurs at the treatment stage who met the relatively specific requirements of the role profiles. Because we longed for this project to explore complex, intersectional entanglements of questions of cultural and sexual affiliation, it was especially important to me to find out to what extent I could create a safe and personal atmosphere with the ensemble in which we could discuss and work. I wanted the film's activist concern to be clearly formulated and shared between us all.
Raquel Molt> The casting process lasted a total of three years. Many of the first encounters with actors were both research and casting meetings. In addition to the search via agencies and casting platforms, we went into contexts that were thematically related to our film in order to search for amateur actors. Thus we worked a lot with institutions or associations that consider themselves queer and/or (post-)migrant. In the end, however, we decided against a lay cast in the main cast, because working with lay people would have required a different working process.
Banafshe Hourmazdi was one of the first performers* we cast and became aware of through the Ballhaus Naunynstraße in Berlin. A short time later we met Benjamin Radjaipour, who was then still studying acting at the University of the Arts in Berlin. The casting for the character Amon took the longest, and for more than three years we searched for the ideal cast. It was not until 2018 that we met Eidin Jalali, who studied acting at the Ernst Busch University of the Arts in Berlin. The casting process turned out to be so difficult and lengthy because many of the actors of colour are either not represented by agencies or their showreels mainly show roles that are strongly stereotyped.
LBB> I love the cinematography and the texture of the film - what feeling were you hoping to conjure up?
Faraz> When we were thinking about visualization with our DP Simon Vu, we always talked about FUTUR DREI as a snapshot and meditation of a young generation's sense of community across geographical boundaries. What connects this generation is sensitivity, aesthetics, pop culture, speed.
We have firmly resolved to allow for a variety of visual-narrative methods and logics and, in contrast to strictly formulated visualization concepts, to set new tonalities scene by scene and allow access to images. In this way we wanted to offer a space for the (pop-)cultural openness of our characters and the many potentials and facets of their identities, which is not clearly based on linear development or causality.
LBB> What were the most interesting aspects of the production?
Faraz> Many of us actually know each other from studying at Uni. There they offered practical media courses, but you can't really make films. So we had to create a space for thinking and working somewhere between a modest small town structure, D.I.Y. producer* knowledge and our urgent concerns, in which a feature film could be realized. Jost Hering supported us in a truly honest and comprehensive way with his many years of experience in low-budget films.
Equally significant support came from the prestigious advertising film production company Iconoclast Germany, without whom we would not have been able to afford the many, many Berlin work meetings, castings, editing months and also the technical equipment for the shoot.
LBB> The film had its global premiere at the Berlinale - what was the response there?
Faraz> It was really, really good. We have received so many insightful and precise reviews, a lot of people really saw the film for what it is.