Originally entitled BEGINNING OF AN END, Golnaz Jamsheed’s AVO has long been lighting up cinema screens at festivals around the world.  2016 proved to be a busy year for the director and her film, screening at no less than twelve festivals, the highlights of which were the wins at the Lakeshorts International Film Festival (Cinespace Award), the Tallgrass International Film Festival (Outstanding Narrative Short Film Golden Strands Award) and being awarded first place by David Lynch in the David Lynch MFA in Film Scholarship Competition.  This was intertwined with official selections at:

Showing no sign of slowing, 2017 has seen AVO picking up where 2016 left off.  The Cinequest Film and VR Festival screened the 9 minute short film earlier this month, and no sooner had the curtain come down on that appearance, than AVO was accepted at the Riverside International Film Festival (RIFF), which runs between 21st and 30th April.

AVO is a coming of age film about an Iranian-Armenian boy who experiences the definition of death for the first time through his grandfather’s passing.  Avo, in his fantasy world, finds a way to stay in touch and connected with his recently deceased grandfather beyond the grave.  “Although I take my inspiration from people and their surrounding elements and behaviours, I ultimately wish to distill the essence and emotional content within me…through art, ”, says Jamsheed in her director’s statement.  “My art merges imagination and memory, drawing on the people, style and myths of my childhood."

Writer, director and producer Jamsheed is understandably very busy, balancing the promotion of AVO with the production of new projects, but was kindly able to take time out to discuss her experiences with AVO and her upcoming feature-length scripts.

What questions came up in your thought process for the film?

Many questions came up in my original thought process…Is death the end? Is there life after death? Do we truly get over and ever forget losing a loved one? Does life go back to its normal pace and routine after someone dies? Because no doubt; life goes on until our turn has come. The circle of life, someone’s happiness can be someone else’s misery and someone’s death could possibly be someone else’s beginning. Beginning doesn’t necessarily start at birth. It begins with your mind breaching open and facing the truth. When your infinite soul grows from within and becomes massive. A loved one’s death had that effect on me.

How difficult is it to make a film culturally relevant and yet at the same time have international appeal?

Film is 80% visual and 20% dialogue, which makes it stand miles away from a theatrical experience. And as a visual person, my whole intention was to not only tell the story through the eyes of our little hero, Avo, but also use no subtitles for so little dialogue that we used in the film. The dialogue did not play an important role in the film and were just placed there to make it look as normal and lively as possible.

We don’t necessarily need to know what is being communicated between two people. When watching a foreign film, I sometimes get so drawn to what I see on the screen that the dialogue fades into a playful poetry to my ear. I like my audience to experience the visual aspects and give their full attention to what they see on the screen rather than missing out the points by reading the subtitles. At least, this is what I was trying to experience with AVO.

How has being accepted into the LFS and Maharishi University of Management affected you, not only as a filmmaker, but as a person?

My acceptance to LFS had me move to one of the major cities in the world, where coming to Fairfield to attend the David Lynch Graduate School of Cinematic Arts at MUM meant living in a little town with no movie theatre and only one sushi bar.  The goofiness aside, both places have had a large impact on my life and me. Each route you take, some doors may open and some may close. My destiny is in my own hands and the decisions I make affect it entirely. Going from Los Angeles and Tehran, where in all it’s madness one sits in traffic for hours, to living in London where one observes the close human interaction on the public transportation. Living in Fairfield is like living in David Lynch’s A STRAIGHT STORY. People here are very calm and live an organic lifestyle. They still wave at you while driving and say “Hi" on the street.  

What other blessing does a writer and director need but to experience all this contrast in such a little time and a short life?

What’s next for Golnaz Jamsheed?

I wish I could live long enough in several bodies to manage all the things that I feel the need to do. But until that day arrives, I’m working on several scripts, some new ideas and some fairly old. I’m hoping to get them made but not sure in which order since it depends on many different factors. But in terms of the shooting locations I can say that I have a feature length film for Iran, which is a road movie and starts from Neishabour, the birthplace of the poet Omar Khayyam in Khorasan province also known as the land of sun. Khorasan is where my parents are from and is also famous for its saffron and turquoise. I also have a short script based on a true story that is more likely to be shot in Lebanon, where I fell in love with the city of Beirut last year. And last but not least there is second feature length work in progress that will be shot in New York City and revolves around a Muslim family living in Queens.