The making of Paradise
Interview with film-maker Kamshad Kooshan
By Liz Jacobson
December 17, 1997
Kamshad Kooshan is one of the young and emerging film-makers who make Independent films in the U.S, a wave that has completely changed the spectrum of films available in the U.S. Last years Oscars, with most of the awards going to the Indie Films, such as "Shine", "Sling Blade", "Fargo", have proved that beyond the high concept Hollywood films, the movie-going audiences are anxious for films that are both thought provoking and entertaining, that they could relate to and be touched by. And the IndieFilms which mostly took off about ten years ago, was due to the rise of the film festivals, such as Sundance Film Festival, founded by Robert Redford and the response the audiences gave to these films.
Amid this new tide Kooshan, who is an Iranian born, and many other film-makers from the diverse ethnic groups have emerged as a force which even Hollywood must deal with. Film-makers such as Spike Lee whose, "Do the Right Thing" and many other films has opened new doors for a new breed of African-American film-makers that have also crossed over into the main stream or Wayne Wang who, after making two films in Chinese, later made "The Joy Luck Club" and then went on to make "Smoke" with Harvey Keitel and William Hurt have made the movies more interesting and diverse.
In addition to making a few short films, such as "The Last Illusion", which was widely seen by audiences and praised by critics through out North America last year, the screenplay for his upcoming feature film, "Surviving Paradise" from among two thousand scripts, went on to become a semi-finalist in last years Sundance Screenwriters Lab, which in previous years had discovered films such as Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs", "Impromptu" and "El Norte".
While Kamshad Kooshan teaches graduate level screenwriting and directing/producing at the Academy of Arts College in San Francisco, he is working on the preparation for "Surviving Paradise" which will be shot in Los Angeles in June of 1998.
Liz Jacobson: How do you see the new independent film-making climate.
Kamshad Kooshan: I think it is a fantastic time for the audiences to have access to films that are made with passion. We are also getting great response to "Surviving Paradise" because of this climate.
Liz: "Surviving Paradise" is the story of Sam and Sara, a 10 year old boy and his younger sister who after arrivaing in Los Angeles Airport and witnessing the kidnapping of their mother by three hit men, realize that they will be sent to a foster home by Police and they decide to find their only relative, their uncle on their own and consequently find their mom. On their search they end up in various tough neighborhoods of LA. How Long do they spend on the streets?
Kooshan: They spend four days and four nights on the streets. Starting from a day before Chahar-Shanbeh-Soori, which is the night before the last Wednesday of the Persian year to one day after Noruz, the Persian New Year.
Liz: Why is the mother kidnapped?
Kooshan: The mother is mistakenly kidnapped by three Mafiosos, who are waiting for a woman arriving on the same flight who is involved in the sale of the newly discovered "Manuscripts of the Poetics", by the ancient philosopher Aristotle.
Liz: Is that really true? Is that book really missing?
Kooshan: That is true. Of all the books that Aristotle, who was also Alexander the Great's teacher, wrote, part of The Poetics, which is his treatise on what makes a good drama, is missing.
Liz: What happened to them?
Kooshan: Well, the twist in "Surviving Paradise" asserts that it has been found in Iran. In reality, originally a lot of these texts found their way into Iran when Alexander conquered Iran. And then these texts were translated from Greek to Pahlavi, a pre-cursor to current Persian language, by the order of Anooshiravan, the Sasanid king, and later on after the conquest of Iran by Arabs, it was again translated from Pahlavi into Arabic by people like Ibn-Moghafah.
Liz: So how did they get lost in the west?
Kooshan: A lot of the classical text was lost or destroyed during medieval times, when the Church ruled Europe. So as the rule of the Church ended, around the 15th century a lot of the classical text by Western philosophers were translated back from Arabic into Latin. In essence the so called Islamic world saved and preserved this knowledge for the West and from the tyranny of the Church.
Liz: But parts of The Poetics is still missing.
Kooshan: Yes. It is.
Liz: How did you come up with this?
Kooshan: I spent about a year researching this.
Liz: But the Mafiosos kidnap the mom mistakenly.
Kooshan: Yes it is just a mistake, but one of the hit men is suspicious about this and as he tries to reason that the woman that they were supposed to kidnap was not supposed to have any kids, he starts to follow the kids in Downtown LA in order to figure out if they are in fact involved in passing information about the selling of The Poetics. But as he follows the kids, he notices that they end up in rough neighborhoods . Meanwhile seeing how tough Sam and Sara are, he gradually connects with his own past, and we find out who he used to be. We find out he was a NYU [New York University] graduate and used to be a aspiring short story writer who came to LA and ended up abandoning his dreams and becoming a hit man.
Liz: The story has a lot of twist and turns.
Kooshan: Yes it does. On one side we watch the ordeals and adventures of Sam and Sara, a 10 year boy and his eight year old sister in rough neighborhoods of LA such as South Central LA which had a riot a few years ago, or Echo Park, the Latino neighborhood, trying to survive. Then there is the mother who must fight captivity. And the hit man who has to survive the new life that he has created for himself. Or in fact try to get out of the life he has created for himself as a hit man.
Liz: So everyone has to survive.
Liz: The story is very touching. It seems it is like a road movie, like a journey. With a lot of movement.
Kooshan: A road movie, but in a city. The city of Angels.
Liz: How does the city of Los Angeles play a part?
Kooshan: The city is a character itself. The city of dreams and illusions and the city of ethnic groups that is a microcosm of America. Instead of being a melting pot, it is a salad bowl. Instead of everything meshed together, all the elements are separate and distinct with its own flavor. Like lettuce, tomato and so on. All the ethnic groups live side by side without having connections with other groups.
Liz: And everyone is trying to survive and make it.
Kooshan: Yes that is true.
Liz: When will the photographystart?
Kooshan: This coming June, if everything goes well. We are right now doing the preparation for that.
Liz: Who is producing this film.
Kooshan: It is being financed by Iranian and American investors.
Liz: And that is what independent film-making is all about.