Iranian Muslim Plays Jewish Father in Israeli Drama Opening New York Film Festival (VIDEO)
An Iranian-Muslim plays the role of a Jewish father in the opening movie at the Israel Film Center Festival which opened on Thursday night in New York City.
Baba Joon — a Farsi-language film — portrays tensions between three generations of an Iranian-Israeli immigrant family. Iranian-Muslim actor Navid Negahban, who also starred in season 1 of HBO’s Homeland, plays Yitzhak, a Jewish father proud to maintain the turkey farm his own father built when he moved to Israel from Iran. Yitzhak hopes his son, Moti, will take over the family business, but Moti is more interested in reconstructing old cars. Yitzhak sees the rejection as an insult to all the traditional Iranian values that he believes in.
Following the screening, at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Manhattan, Baba Joon‘s director, Yuval Delshad, told the audience about the backlash he has received for the casting choice. He explained, “I never thought about it as a political issue. I just saw Navid as a human being, a good actor, the best actor for me. I didn’t ask if he’s Jewish or not. It just worked.”
Delshad, who said the film is semi-autobiographical, explained that he wrote the script for Baba Joon over the course of six years and originally had Israeli artists in mind, but in the end could not find “actors that know the Iranian culture precisely.”
Negahban, who joined Delshad on stage, chimed in to say that after the film was released, reports in Iran criticized his decision to “make movies with Israelis.” He said that from his own perspective, the film has no political connotations.
“It’s about family,” he said. “Three generations trying to understand and respect each other…It’s the story of all of us. It allows you to take a journey back to where you came from, when you were a child and your experience with your children.”
Baba Joon is Israel’s first Farsi-language film. The movie won the 2015 Ophir Award for Best Picture and also took home awards for cinematography, music, art direction and casting. The 91-minute drama is also Israel’s official submission for Best Foreign Film at the 2016 Academy Awards.
Talking about those who have tried to politicize the film, Negahban shared with the audience a humorous encounter he had with an Israeli journalist at the film’s premiere in Israel, after it was announced that Baba Joon was nominated for an Oscar.
“[The journalist] asked me, ‘You are a Muslim-Iranian coming here, and the film is Israel’s official submission at the Oscars. If you win an Oscar, how would you feel to go and represent the flag of Israel?’ I said, ‘How does it feel for you guys? You guys have been nominated six times. If we go up there and win, you’ve won with a Muslim actor in your film. How does it feel for you?'”
The audience roared with laughter before Negahban added, “They are trying to make it political, which it’s not. It’s just art. What I love about art is that it doesn’t have any borders; it doesn’t have any religion, gender. It’s just art.”
The film has not yet been screened in Iran, and Delshad noted that thousands of Iranians have posted comments on the film’s Facebook page asking how the Israeli government allowed him to film a Farsi-language movie in Israel. He had to explain to them that it’s only in Iran that directors need to be granted a license from the government in order to film a movie.
“They really want to watch the film,” said Delshad. “It was beautiful to see people connecting just because we have similar issues, like family.”
The Israeli Film Center Festival runs from June 2-9.
Watch the trailer for Baba Joon below: