Lavender Pictures has said that it is going to produce a historical feature about the late Iranian Shah. YJC has made an interview with Michelle Nickelson, whose company MENA CineFinance works with the production team.
YJC. What politically oriented motivations are likely to support the production?
M.N. I believe that film, being an art form, should not be politically supported. We as the filmmakers, are looking to tell a story, if there are political connections to the production, it could have an adverse effect. We want to tell the story of who the Shah was, as a politician, husband, father, the Shah, like most people in his position, had many facets to his personality. It does not matter if one is pro or anti Shah, the fact remains he is a historical character, and his involvement in Iran had an effect on world history.
YJC. How is the film indebted to previous production concerning Iran, including films such as Argo and 300?
M.N. With the 300, that was produced as a high concept action adventure, based on a comic series. One would take a lot of liberties in telling that kind of story, as it's a fictionalized story of a historical event, the Battle of Thermopylae. Argo was based on true events, but as a feature film, the story is done in a way that may have content that is fictionalized to grab the audience. It's my understanding the ending scene was not entirely true, but it did work to heighten the suspense of the story. With Shah, while we have in mind the story we want to tell, it is not a documentary, it is a feature film. The story will be based on true events and historical facts, but you have to consider, even with researching what happened and speaking to people who were involved, we can never say for certain what happened regarding the Shah, as we cannot speak directly to him and get his input on why he did certain things. We can surmise from the events that took place what happened, but there will always be that gray area where we really don't know. One could argue that these gray areas may be fictionalized, but we are not setting out to invent a story or events that did not actually happen.
YJC. How is Kingsley's new role in line with his previous roles as Iranian characters, keeping in mind that he has played Avecina as well as an Iranian military officer so far?
M.N. Ben Kingsley is one of those artists who can take on any role and do an amazing job. I would say that it's not so much in keeping in line with his having previously played Iranian characters as much as it's in line with his innate ability to play any character, and have the audience completely believe him. He is an immensely talented actor and we believe he will bring to the role of Shah the intensity and professionalism he brings to all his characters.
YJC. How is the production going to support the production companies' universal missions?
M.N. Our goal with Shah is to tell a story about a man who lived through an incredibly interesting and tumultuous period of time, and what happened to him during the last years of his life. Remember, in the mid to late 1970's the US was recovering from the Vietnam War and Watergate, and Margaret Thatcher had just become Prime Minister. I believe that the creative team behind the Shah film, the story subject, and the timing with what's going on internationally right now, make this the perfect opportunity for a strong interest in the story. If we execute our goal and strategy as planned, then we will achieve the mission of entertaining the audience, perhaps educating them, but ultimately let the audience decide what they feel about the character of Shah.
In the mid 1980's, China opened up to independent foreign tourism. Then in 1987 when Bernardo Bertolucci's, The Last Emperor came out, people were fascinated by the location, as most had not seen The Forbidden City. We have been invited to film in Iran and if we are able to put together filming in Shah's Palace, it will give the project the same opportunity to generate interest and continue the dialogue about Iran. That's the thing about a good film, it gets people talking and once that starts, things happen.