In 1976, Ayatollah Khomeini, imposed a fatwa to allow people with hormonal disorders to change sex if they wished, because the Koran doesn’t say anything on the subject. Transsexuals don’t have to fear prosecution and they even can change their birth certificates. But the challenge is the traditional, religious Iranian society in which the trans-sexuality is still concerned as a disease.The Birthday follows a young man who decides to become a woman. His conservative parents try to come to terms with their son’s decision and after a lot of discussions they accept the new sexual identity of their son, who already had a boyfriend before the operation.
“The Birthday” is a film which offers a window into a world we rarely see from an Islamic society.
Shohreh Jandaghian –To begin, Please tell about you and your path towards filmmaking.
Negin Kianfar – I was born on 1969 in Tehran and have studied cinema in Art university of Tehran, majoring in film direction. I work as a dubbing actress for feature and documentary projects for IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) and private section since 1367. I am also painter and had 2 years course under supervision of master Aidin Aghdashlou and participated in many exhibitions at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. Also one of my paintings is purchased by the same museum.
Shohreh – Is “The Birthday” your first documentary?
Negin – I made some short films and some more like experimental stuff but The Birthday is my first long documentary.
Shohreh – What was your motivation for making a documentary about Transsexuality?
Negin – I was working with Daisy Mohr, my partner in the film, who is a print journalist, on many different subjects and we crossed this topic and I thought not just the transexuality but the gender crises and identity crises is an issue in the whole world. And I was amazed by my first character to change his life to be able to experience the feminine side of the life in the society which is not the best for women. The other reason was that I found doing sex-change is allowed by the law but it’s not socially accepted and in general talking about sex issues is a big taboo in the society in which I live and I decided to break this taboo.
Shohreh – You mean it is legal to carry out gender reassignment surgery in Iran?
Negin – It is legal but the procedure is quiet difficult and takes long time, because the judge has to be sure that the case is not homosexual because authorities consider homosexuality as a disease and they are not accepted by the law or even the society. And that was another thing which amazed me and inspired me to work on this subject.
Shohreh – For a traditional male-dominant society like Iranians’, which case is less acceptable: male-to-female transsexual or vice versa?
Negin – Male to female is less accepted because we’ve heard a lot through the history like Mard-e-zan nama ( man with female appearance) or female like behaviour, and it’s shame and funny remark, but the other way around is more accepted because they considered as shir-zan (brave as a lion) and it’s a compliment. I think I explained this reason very explicit in the film when Afshin’s brother talks about his sister’s childhood.
Shohreh – What major problems do Transsexuals face in Iran?
Negin – They are not accepted by society, neighbores, family, relatives and etc. And they cannot get a job. Even police officers or moral police forces are not informed of their situation and rights.
Shohreh – Then it shouldn’t be so easy to get in contact with them.
Negin – we did few weeks research and found big group of them and ended up in the clinic and finally found our film characters up there.
It was difficult to persuade them to be present in front of the camera at the beginning but during the research we built up the trust and they got convinced that this film inform the society to break this taboo and send the message.
Shohreh – What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
Negin – Convincing the family to be in front of the camera the first day (just the first day), bringing out Saye and Afshin (two of the transsexuals) together because they preferred to not to come outside. And the most difficult part was getting in to the clinic and waiting room and the surgery room and all the permitions.
Shohreh – You’ve directed the film with Daisy More. Could you tell a bit about your co-directing and how it went?
Negin – It was a very good experience but more difficult for me because she couldn’t speak Farsi and I had to translate everything for her to be able to follow the lines and it was heavy job for me because I had to talk to my characters and build the friendship at the same time and sometimes it was complicated situation and no time for translation. But we agreed on everything and never had a problem during the work.
Shohreh – Could you go into a bit of detail about the production of the film?
Negin – Daisy and I paid for everything and then at the later stage Columnfilm joined us for postproduction and finding a broadcaster.
Shohreh – How about Iranian audiences’ reaction towards the film?
Negin – The film has not shown for public yet but different group of people watched it in private sessions and I received great feed backs. They all loved the film and the characters and were surprised how close camera got to their private life and how open they had been in front of the camera. I had a request from Shahid beheshti University to show the film for anthropology‘s class.
And a prestigious Iranian art magazine (The Seven) had a review and critic for 5 pages and it dragged lots of attention.
Shohreh – What about your upcoming project?
Negin – It’s going to be a film about Religion and Relationship.
Shohreh – I can’t wait to see that! Good luck with it!
The Birthday (Rooz-e-Tavalod)
Director: Negin Kianfar & Daisy Mohr
Color, 63 mins
The Netherlands, Iran, 2006
Production: Gijs van de Westelaken for Column Film
Director of Photography: Behnam
Editing: Ewoud Hendriksen
Music: Rainer Hensel
Involved TV Channel: IKON