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Sundance Audience Award-winning family dramedy 'The Persian Version' is released nationwide

A still from "The Persian Version." (Courtesy)
A still from "The Persian Version." (Courtesy)

For the original audio, click here.

Iranian-American writer/director Maryam Keshavarz made history at the Sundance Film Festival this year by becoming the first filmmaker ever to win the Audience Award twice.

Now, her acclaimed film, “The Persian Version,” is coming out in theaters nationwide in a rolling release across the country. It’s a sweeping family dramedy about three generations of Iranian women. It bounces across continents and decades to tell the story.

Keshavarz chose to make a film about an Iranian family chop full of humor and fun.

“Comedy was a way to break through all of these political barriers,” Keshavarz says. “I really feel like any story about immigrants, any story about Iranians truly needs to have a great dance sequence, a lot of amazing food and music because that’s so much part of our culture.”

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Much of the film hues closely to Keshavarz’s actual life, family story and experiences. She used to smuggle cassettes of pop music into Iran in the 1980s bringing Michael Jackson and Cindi Lauper passed airport security checkpoints.

“I used to smuggle different things for my cousins,” she says. “When we would get home and I would pull out those tapes, and it was such a celebration of music, such a celebration of family.”

The film has many specific details but is also universal, centering on the relationship between mother and daughter.

The mom is sometimes cold but also loving. At first, she shuts out her daughter for being gay.

“My mom is an incredible woman, and I wanted to start with our conflict,” Keshavarz says.

Then Keshavarz learns some secrets of her mother’s past that help her understand and their relationship grow.

A still from “The Persian Version.” (Courtesy)

The film also puts the immigrant gaze on some seeming illogical situations they find in America. Her father has been a doctor in Brooklyn serving low-income families for decades. He ends up himself needing heart surgery.

To pay his medical bill, the hospital suggests he sell his doctor’s office. Keshavarz says that experience is sadly not unusual.

“In one illness, you can lose everything. It’s a real issue for a lot of people,” Keshavarz says.

Her mother rejects the idea of selling her husband’s doctor’s office and instead charges forward to get her high school diploma and real estate license at the same time. She then sets her sights on selling to an unmet market of new immigrants.

“What do immigrants want most in the world, they want a home, they want stability,” says Keshavarz. “And so my mom tapped into that.”

“The Persian Version” has opened in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles and is opening in movie theaters around the country over the next two weekends.

Shirley Jahad produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Jill Ryan. Jahad also adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.