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Hot Docs 2023: Qs à la mode with… Steffi Niedzeroll (Seven Winters in Tehran)

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In Seven Winters in Tehran, director Steffi Niedzeroll recounts the arrest, imprisonment and trial of Iranian teenager Reyhaneh Jabbari. We posed our Qs à la mode to Steffi, and here’s what she shared!

If I had to describe my film using only three adjectives, they would be: Empowering. Inspiring. Female.

I decided to make this film because: In 2016, I got to know the cousin of Reyhaneh and his wife in Istanbul. They had fled from Iran to rescue video material that they had secretly filmed, and were now stuck in Turkey. They showed the material to me, because they were searching for a filmmaker that would tell her story. All Iranian filmmakers they asked refused it, because the film would be too dangerous as it could endanger [a director’s] family. Soon afterwards, in 2017, I met Shole Pakravan, the mother of Reyhaneh Jabbari, in Istanbul, and we very quickly found a close connection to each other. She began to tell her story, we drank tea and looked at childhood pictures of Reyhaneh. Shole asked me if I would want to make the film. And it was clear to me at that moment that I had to do it. 

The thing that surprised me about my film’s subject/topic was: How strong the cohesion of the women in prison was. They have built family-like relationships with each other in prison. The fact that Reyhaneh then also started to stand up for other prisoners from prison fascinated me very much and raised the question in my mind: if Reyhaneh managed to stand up for women’s rights under the most adverse circumstances, what do we, who live in freedom, do?

My favorite moment/scene/sequence in my film is: I love all the sequences with Reyhaneh’s voice. It’s so fascinating to follow her development through her texts, diaries, phone calls with her mother, etc., and to dive into her world.

The most challenging part of making my film was: Many people we worked with took quite a big risk, because the film is against Sharia Law — the word of God. We had to be very careful to keep the film secret to protect our protagonists and team members. That was not always easy on an emotional level, either.

My most invaluable piece of doc-making gear was/is: Perseverance.

One piece of documentary-filmmaking advice I’d like to share with aspiring documentarians is: Follow your instinct. Everything will work out in the end — be patient. And it’s all about your attitude towards your subject, your material, so stay true to yourself.

Want to check out Steffi’s film, or just learn more about it?
Get the scoop, and your tickets, here!

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