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Expressions in Mariposa: A Conversation with Hamideh Moeinfar

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014 by

A tense, revealing conversation is given visually distinctive flair with inspired use of animation in the short documentary Mariposa, directed by Hamideh Moeinfar. Annika, covered head to toe in traditional Islamic garb, and Mathilda, a Swedish fashion model with once-overpowering body issues, get together to discuss their ideas on how women should be allowed to express themselves. As they delicately veer towards the edge of dissent, both subjects reveal unexpected commonalities about how women view others’ bodies, as well as their own.

Filmmaker Hamideh Moeinfar was born in Tehran in 1983. After receiving her Bachelors and Masters in Sociology from the University of Tehran,  she continued schooling at Lund University where she majored in gender studies. Her passion has always been film, however, and in this disciplined animated doc hybrid, she’s created a colorful examination of women’s body image via an international perspective. 

Your short film, Mariposa, treats the issue of body image within the context of contemporary Sweden, a relatively progressive country. Would you say the film’s perspective is influenced by its politics?

The film’s perspective was definitely influenced by my own experience. So if by politics you mean the political sphere then no, I did not have that in mind. But if by politics you mean the process of inclusion and exclusion, then yes, the film has political undertones in reference to both Sweden and Iran.

When did you begin to reevaluate traditional assumptions about women and their bodies?

It began at the same time that I was experiencing a new life in a new country: Sweden. There I began to rethink my assumptions about women, body and freedom. I realized all my preconceptions that I had attained growing up in Iran were changing rapidly. What was odd was that whilst I never felt free in revealing myself in Iran due to the mandatory hijab there, I saw that I felt the same uneasiness in Sweden, despite the lack of mandatory dress codes. It felt as though I was still perceived through watchful eyes of a new society in which I had to adapt to certain strict codes of attire (though it may not seem that way to you). In Iran (and maybe in the West too) we grow up with this image of the free Western woman and the repressed Middle Easter counterpart. I don’t really believe in this image anymore.

The film engages the viewer on a global level. The title translates to ‘butterfly’ in Spanish; the interview subjects and production are Iranian and based in Sweden.  How did you decide to include these varied perspectives?

The interesting thing about Mariposa is that a multinational crew created it. That was not how I intentionally planned it. I am from Iran, Winston the DOP was from New Zealand, and our sound and music composer was from the US. The animator was from Germany. Annika was also originally from Germany and Mathilda was from Sweden. The name Mariposa also came from an American friend of mine born in Philippines who was also familiar with Spanish. I was wearing this butterfly necklace – the one you see in the film – and he called me Mariposa for that reason. But I believe the main multinational context in the film comes from the background of my own thinking. Iranian Hamideh and Swedish Annika/Mathilda. As you see we all share very similar stories.

Annika wears discreet dress popularly associated with traditional religious garb. What is her background? How did you decide to use her?

Annika and Mathilda both had a brilliant self-awareness, especially in relation to their body experiences. Annika became a believer in Islam few years ago but her ideas around hijab and covering up is more enthusiastic and self-driven. She feels more comfortable in that dress, although her dress code is not something that is really welcomed or even accepted in Sweden.

 At some point in the short film, the discussion between Annika and Mathilda, the model, becomes tense.  How did you manage the expectations of the subjects behind the scenes?

The good thing was that they were both familiar with the subject because we had all the discussions before filming and they were exactly aware of their positions and point of views. So the only thing I did was to raise questions and guide them through their battle; but this time on set. So what we see in the film is the natural reactions and responses.

What is the significance of the butterfly, or the Mariposa?

A butterfly is free to fly. I think the whole point of this film for me was to get free from my own caterpillar stage and think freely of all dominant pre-assumptions; and this will not happen unless you try to gain a new understanding of your self and the world around you.

When Mathilda says, “we are personalities, not bodies”, this circles back to Annika’s initial credo that “Annika is not just a body”. When filming this exchange, did you interpret this as an agreement between the two?

Yes, exactly. This is the point where we all as the characters in the film unite.

Can you discuss the decision to use animation in the piece?

We thought the most impressive way of picturing my own story is through animation. Although the work was compared to Marjane Satrapy’s “Persepolis” and was criticized for the similarities, I still believe the cartoons are unique in their style and fit into the form of the film.

Do you have a “favorite” animated film that treats social issues in a similar light?

Yes, the film is titled Red Ink, which has some very interesting animation. It is a film by Iranian/American director Kusha Sefat and deals with the relationships between money, politics, and media in America.

Without a doubt, politics play a role in film in general and in this one in particular. What are your thoughts on that?

I suppose the role of politics in film industry is to function as propaganda. No matter what country, we see many powerful productions, which serve the politics of that society. They can’t stand as objective expressions but as contributors to power relations. For example, even in Sweden I could see that mainstream media is basically into the mundane propaganda images of repressed Middle Eastern women compared to free Western women; the expression which is complying the country’s political standpoints. This is why independent films hardly get louder voices, as they should get.

Speaking of louder voices, what do you believe is the role of the filmmaker/artist in relation to society?

I have a passion for film, because I have a passion for change and I think an artist – especially a filmmaker- is usually a person who wants to raise questions or “awareness”, which is the key to individual and social change.


Watch Mariposa now via IndiePix On-Demand.

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