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Sam Razi
Founder of Pressimus. Technologist that writes from time to time.
Sam Razi
Interview and conversation with Richard Raymond, director of the must watch movie -- Desert Dancer

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Sam Razi
Founder of Pressimus. Technologist that writes from time to time.


(Richard Raymond, Director of Desert Dancer)

On Thursday April the 2nd, I had the opportunity to attend a private screening in Beverly Hills of a very special movie called Desert Dancer, directed by Richard Raymond, who, in his directorial debut, with an amazing cast and team, has managed to create a memorable and deeply touching cinematic work that must be seen.

This is a can't miss movie.

It tells the riveting story of Iranian dancer, Afshin Ghaffarian (played by Reece Ritchie), and is set in Iran.  It is a tale of passion, love, friendship and the struggle to express, to be seen and heard in a country that bans something as basic and integral to human nature as dance.

I was deeply touched by the film.

It captures the plight of Iranians, and humanizes them in a way that very few movies made outside of Iran depicting Iranians has been able to do of late.

Even so, it presents a story that is at once universal and accessible to everyone.  It captures the essential struggle we all face in our lives in trying to do what it is that we want to do the most.  To make of ourselves what we wish to make.

The movie has a stellar cast, including Freida Pinto, Reece Ritchie, Tom Cullen and Nazanin Boniadi.

The combination of the deeply compelling and personal story, beautiful cinematography (shot all in film) and epic soundtrack create a sense of presence and connection with the characters in a way I haven't experienced in quite some time.

The movie pulls on your heartstrings but leaves one with the sense of profound hope and the desire to follow in the bravery of Ghaffarian and his friends.

Throughout the screening, people applauded, and cried.

I am honored to have had the opportunity to spend time and have a conversation with the director of the film, Richard Raymond.

Here is the transcript of our conversation.  Read it.  Then make sure you go watch the movie on April 10th in theaters.  This is definitely a movie you'll want to watch at the movies.

As for Richard Raymond, I found him to be amicable, unreserved and keenly focused on his craft and his mission.  This is a man who literally wears his heart on his sleeve.  His energy is infectious and you can't help but have confidence in him. 

Desert Dancer is all the more impressive, and carries even more gravitas because it is his debut film.   It was a reflection of its director in many ways -- simultaneously courageous and humble, inspirational and unified.   

-- Sam Razi

“I’m a story-teller, and I just fell in love with the story of Afshin Ghaffarian, and what he did and how he fought for his voice — and how he fought to keep discovering his voice before it was extinguished — before it could be taken away from him.”

Sam Razi: Richard, thank you for taking the time to do this. I am honored, enjoyed watching the movie.

Richard Raymond: Thank you for coming last night. It was definitely a very special screening. It was an incredible audience.

Sam Razi: Indeed, from what I got from it, it resonated quite deeply. How did that make you feel?

Richard Raymond: I can’t even sum it up. It’s such an incredible journey that I’ve been on, as well as all of the actors, as well as everyone that’s been on the film. It’s been an incredible team with me from day one. It’s not just me.

But when I first discovered the story I had no idea that it would be possible to make it into a film. When we started to get the screenplay together I had no idea that we would be able to get it financed. When we got it financed I had no idea if we could actually get it made. When got it made I had no idea we would get distribution and the get a proper release with a company like Relativity.

So — all these unknowns — and here we are a week out at the time of this recording before our release, and I have no idea how audiences are going to embrace the film.

But last night was one of the first indications, especially ’cause last night was — it’s not like the audience was predominantly from Iran — there were Persians, and so that gave it an extra bout of nervousness before the screening because I’m not from Iran.

I’m a story-teller, and I just fell in love with the story of Afshin Ghaffarian, and what he did and how he fought for his voice — and how he fought to keep discovering his voice before it was extinguished — before it could be taken away from him.

I connected to that very strongly, so as a non-Iranian to be embraced in the manner that I was embraced by that audience is one of the most moving moments in this journey that I have ever had. It felt incredible. And I feel a responsibility now to keep moving on with the film, to keep pushing it and to keep showing it to audiences. And I think last night gave me a huge boost of confidence that — to be embraced by the Iranian community — I was telling Freida Pinto last night about it and she was overjoyed. We’re both very nervous about how the Iranian community are going to react to the film.

(Freida Pinto as Elaheh)

Richard Raymond: Last night, you know, there were a lot of people that came up to me that had been crying, but in tears of happiness. It’s an incredible thing to have happen to you, to have people expressing themselves so openly, and with such fragility as well. It’s not something I can put into words other than what I just said.

“…you cannot help who or what you fall in love with in life, whether it’s a person or a story. It just sneaks up on you. It just enters your life. And you end up… so passionate… so committed to wanting to make that story your first film because, essentially, there is no other choice.”

Sam Razi: Well I think you expressed it quite well. You know, being from Iran — but having lived most of my own life in the west, in Canada — one of the things that we Iranians, I think in the diaspora — as well as Iranians within Iran — struggle with is being seen almost as inhuman, as human beings. We are, because of how the mainstream media portrays a lot of the political issues between the west and Iran —

Richard Raymond: — It forgets about the human being –

Sam Razi: — it forgets the human side of it. And what struck me about your film — one of the things that struck me about about the film — was how you clearly left no stone unturned in trying to understand the plight of Iranians. But you also did so in a way that I think at least should relate to anyone who has ever experienced oppression or been unable to express something that they are passionate about. Clearly, you poured your own passion into it. Essentially, I guess, tell us: what was it that motivated you to do this particular film as your first film, given that it is fraught with so much risk to do a film about Iran to begin with, let alone a story about dance within Iran.

Richard Raymond: Yeah, it’s not something you consider, because you cannot help who or what you fall in love with in life, whether it’s a person or a story. It just sneaks up on you. It just enters your life. And you end up… so passionate… so committed to wanting to make that story your first film because, essentially, there is no other choice.

You know, you’ve fallen in love with this story. You felt a deep connection to it. You’re resonating to it. And it becomes the oxygen that you breath, in a rather crass way of saying that. But I think I connected very strongly, instinctively to Afshin’s story because — first of all just as a fellow artist, as a filmmaker, the fact that you wouldn’t be allowed to do something as natural as dance, as an artist I connected to that. I was really shocked, and I felt compelled to tell his story.

Also, I think what you were saying, there is a lot of merit in that. It’s not just a story about Iran. It’s a film that’s very — and that’s what I felt I could bring to it. If there is one thing I connect to in life it’s that daily pace in life hassle of trying to fight for what you want to do in life.

Sam Razi: I definitely felt that throughout the whole movie.

“When I first met Afshin, he was by his own admission a very angry young man. And I was too. I definitely was. And both of us had gone on a five year journey together where we had both changed. We are both a lot calmer now, but we both have this passion to do what we want to do, and we’re both finding our voice. So, in a sense, I felt a connection with Afshin personally.”

Richard Raymond: Yeah. And it’s the one thing that I know the most in my life. I could never afford to go to film school when I was younger so I would sneak in to studios sweeping the floor and trying to learn by watching filmmakers. I never had any family in the industry, while everyone else I knew — they could get the job — I was never of the right class at the time in the UK to be accepted and get jobs, so I was always, always, always up against it.

And my reaction to that, was rather than assimilate, was to just do it myself and to find my own voice.

And that’s — I don’t know — I think it was my father instilled that in me. You know he came from the UK as an immigrant from the middle east with nothing. And, you know, I was always inspired by the stories my father would tell me. Especially, he would always say there were two types of people in this world, the sheep and shepherds. Do you want to lead the flock, or do you want to follow it. And I did think the simplest little parental advice back then probably really effected me when I was younger.

And so basically, I just connected to Afshin’s story as a fighter for what I wanted to do, and at the most basic level I understood that.

When I first met Afshin, he was by his own admission a very angry young man. And I was too. I definitely was. And both of us had gone on a five year journey together where we had both changed. We are both a lot calmer now, but we both have this passion to do what we want to do, and we’re both finding our voice. So in a sense, I felt a connection with Afshin personally.

I also — On a cinematic level, I love cinema. And I love the intention of wanting to tell a story with the signature of cinema. And I couldn’t think of anything more cinematic than a story set in a country like Iran, focused in on the desert, where you’re using such a visual narrative story-telling form that is dance.

I’ve found a lot of people would say, “Oh you should do an action or you should do a thriller and I couldn’t disagree more. You need to — I think why it took me a long time to become a filmmaker, and to get my first film off the ground is I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know what I wanted to say. And what I realized who I was, and when I realized what I believed in, and when I realized what I wanted to say, and then Afshin’s story came about — and it just became this very instinctive moment of “I want to talk about that, I want to say that.” This belief that we are all the same. That we should all have the same rights and we should all have the opportunity to fulfill whatever, however we want to express ourselves artistically, and how important art is in the world.

And I have so many friends whose families are not from western cultures, who those families squash their dreams of working in the arts. “It’s not a proper career. It’s not something that you can make something of yourself.” And how many incredible artists have we lost because of that notion–and of that oppression?

And so I found this story — I found Afshin’s story to be an allegory, I found it to be a reflection of all of that belief, and I felt people would connect to it. I just had in innate belief in myself that people would connect to it and see themselves in Afshin’s story. And that’s why I wanted to make the film in English and not in Farsi.

I was talking last night, I said that the plight of the Iranian people was known only too well by the Iranian people —

Sam Razi: You did.

Richard Raymond: And it’s just important to tell a story for everybody else. The Iranian people will embrace the film, or not, but — and it’s lovely to see that they have — but it’s more important to show an Iranian story, to showcase the heroes of Iran, who are the youth of Iran, to the rest of the world, in a universal, in an accessible way that showcases to everybody else that we are all the same.

Sam Razi: Indeed.

Richard Raymond: That we love the same. We have the same hopes, the same aspirations, the same problems as everyone else. And that just as one race of human beings we should all have the same rights and the same opportunities in this world.

Sam Razi: I think the movie accomplished that. To say it in short and sweet, you did accomplish that.

And I found that — there have been movies made about Iran, or in Iran, or with Iran peripherally attached to it, and when they have actors speaking in English, you know, some of the essence has been lost. At least for me personally watching those kinds of films. The closest to I think what you’ve been able to accomplish where the opposite happened — the actors in your film, speaking in English were able to portray not only universally what people are like as friends — exactly what you had said just now, but they’ve captured how Iranians are with one and other. I could relate to characters in the film as if they were my own friends. I could see my friends in those characters. And I was struck by that, and was thinking to myself, “well done!”

Richard Raymond: That’s the cast well done. That’s nothing to do with me. That’s all the actors. They — all you can do as a director is cast something right. Then you literally have to just embrace the talents of the great people you’re working with. They all committed to their research and their characters in a way that inspired everybody. I, you know, I enjoyed working with those — I was so spoiled with the actors we worked — it will never be like this again.

Sam Razi: How did you get this cast together? Tell us the story of the cast.


Richard Raymond: Well, okay the lead Reece Ritchie — I saw him in a movie, The Lovely Bones directed by Peter Jackson. I’m a big fan of Peter Jackson’s old work, and so I was looking forward to seeing The Lovely Bones, and I was struck by Reece’s performance, a very small role, but I was struck by his performace. It was a beautiful performance. And then I was also struck by the fact that he literally is the doppelganger of Afshin Ghaffarian!

(Freida Pinto, Afshin Ghaffarian and Reece Ritchie Photocall during the 65th Annual Cannes Film Festival at Martinez Hotel on May 18, 2012 in Cannes, France)

Sam Razi: Yeah, I couldn’t believe it!

Richard Raymond: Yeah, they are literally separated at birth, those two. And when I did my research on Reece — ’cause when I cast the film I always ask people who’ve worked with actors before who I liked to see who they are — because when you go into working on a movie it’s never about anything other than the chemistry as you with people, and you want to work with great people that you’re going to be — the films that I want to make I want to have a family there. I want to create a family. And these are relationships that are going to last for years so I wanted to find out about the makeup of him, and everyone I spoke to was just like, “he’s such a beautiful human being.”

And then I found out that Reece had a background in martial arts.

Sam Razi: — okay —

Richard Raymond: and I thought right I could use that.

Sam Razi: Perfect.

Richard Raymond: That’s amazing. That means he has control over his physical body. And also when he was a child, his dad had put him in Michael Jackson dance contests.

Sam Razi: — Oh wow –

Richard Raymond: — as a child. And so I thought, “here you go.” And when I met Reece — Reece himself says he was made to play this part. And he is — and he was. He’s born to play many parts. But he’s born to play this part. And he — I met him in a party. I was with an actor and we are at some film premier in London, and the actor I was with, Joseph Moore, turned and around and he said to me, “you know that guy that you want to cast in Desert Dancer,” and I go “Yeah,” and he goes, “he’s over there!”

So I ran up to him and I said, “Reece, you don’t know me,” I pitched him the movie and I Reece turned around to me after I was talking to him for about twenty minutes and and he said, “Call my agent.” [laughs]

So I go, oh ok. So I did the next day. I called his agent — lovely man, John Grant — and then Reece and I met up professionally, and we talked about Afshin and I gave him eight hours of Afshin’s videos, and I said goodbye and that was that.

And then about six months later I was in Jordan, directing a short test film in the [...] desert to prove to people that I could direct this as a feature film, and I had cast some actors to play some of the parts, and the real Afshin Ghaffarian was going to be coming from France to Jordan to play himself, and I was going to film it. And I was going to use this test film to show people like Reece and other financers and other actors what I was going to do with this movie.

Afshin was stopped at the airport and was not allowed to come to Jordan. Even though we’d gotten the Visa, the immigration officials — the Jordanian immigration officials — didn’t want a political asylum seeker from Iran coming into the country.

So we were stuck with the camera crew — I was stuck with a camera crew and some actors in Jordan with no lead!

Sam Razi: Oh my.

Richard Raymond: So I called up Reece Ritchie [chuckles] and he picked up the phone and I said, “Hey Reece, you know we met six months ago and I talked to you about Afshin Ghaffarian, and he went “Yes” —

Sam Razi: Wow.

Richard Raymond: — I go, “Well I’m in Jordan, and I’ve got a camera crew. You want to get on a plane tomorrow and come for a couple of days and shoot a test?” And he was like, “It’s funny you would say that because I’ve been researching Afshin since we met.”

He had a book half an inch thick of notes where he had been studying the man’s dance, studying the man’s mannerisms and said, “I’m ready to play him.”

Sam Razi: Fantastic.

“Why dance if no one can see us?”

Richard Raymond: So Reece literally, the next day he gets on a plane. I made sure he had some lenses with him. He got on a plane, came to Jordan and then we shot the test together, and then we bonded on that test.

And Reece was amazing! He improvised — and this is before we had a choreographer — he improvised a dance sequence and we shot it, and then we used that to showcase to other financers and other people. Reece was there, honestly from like the first moment. Then, I sent the script to Freida Pinto.

Sam Razi: Okay.

Richard Raymond: Then Freida’s agent read it, liked it and sent it on to Freida.

Sam Razi: Why did you pick Freida? What made you send the script to her?

Richard Raymond: I think she’s amazing!

Sam Razi: She was amazing, in the movie.

Richard Raymond: Thanks. I think she’s amazing and I just thought, what an opportunity for a young actress to go to a dark place, to go to a place she hasn’t gone before, and to also immerse yourself in something like dance. I just thought she might find it really interesting, and I would be fascinated watching her play that part.

And also casting someone like Freida would give this film a voice that it might not necessarily have. And I also thought that the chemistry between her and Reece would be beautiful.

Sam Razi: It was brilliant.

Richard Raymond: Yeah, I’m so proud of her. She spent — sorry — Freida spent twelve months in dance training, five to six days a week, every week. Twelve months, dedicating herself to this role and this character before we started shooting. And this is unpaid. This is turning down other movies while we’re doing this. This is total dedication. And so the responsibility and the weight that I am feeling when you have an actress of the caliber of Freida Pinto doing that level of training –

Sam Razi: — inspires you —

Richard Raymond: — Yeah and it gives me a lot of bloody pressure! [laughs]

Sam Razi: Pressure and gumption. It pushes you and pulls you at the same time.

Richard Raymond: Absolutely. Absolutely does.

(From left to right: Richard Raymond, Tom Cullen, Reece Ritchie and Freida Pinto)

Richard Raymond: And then Tom Cullen — he had done an incredible independent film called called The Weekend, and I was at the British Film Awards when he picked up Best Actor, best newcomer, for Weekend, and I loved — I loved — Tom Cullen is a beautiful human being. He’s a very very aware and perceptive young man who is brilliant at, he’s got an impeccable taste in music, he’s got an impeccable taste in the arts, and [...] we can ask for from somebody like that. And he’s a great actor.

He gave something — he gave a huge, bigger physicality to Ardy as a character [short for Ardavan, the character played by Cullen in the movie].

And Marama Corlett, she’s from Malta, she auditioned — actually Marama Corlett I found on Twitter, she sent me a tweet — she played Mona in the film — she sent me a tweet saying, “I hear you’re doing a film, good luck” and she didn’t say anything about being an actor, and I looked at her picture and I thought, wow, that’s exactly what I’m looking for! SO I start researching –

Sam Razi: She was great for the role, and when I mentioned to you earlier that how some of the characters felt like friends — she captured an Iranian girl perfectly. I mean she’s universal, but she captured it perfectly.

Richard Raymond: Marama Corlett’s biggest passion are people from the middle east. She has an affinity with them. She’s from Malta originally, but she spends a lot of her time in the middle east, and she has an affinity for people all over. And she just is a very beautiful person, and an incredible actress.

And then the other cast — you have Simon Kassianides, and Bamshad Abedi-Amin, who is Iranian. He played Mehran, and he comes from theatre in London. He comes from the youth theatre in London, and I just loved — I thought he was a great actor, he’s a great guy.

Sam Razi: He was great.

Richard Raymond: Yeah and he — he’s like the unsung hero of the film, Bamshad. He’s an incredible guy to work with. He’s very smart. He’s very passionate about theatre. And so what you had there is you had a troop of young actors who all are very very opinionated. And what’s great is that the reason you felt friendly with them is because they had all that time in advance to connect and bond, and become real friends.

Reece Ritchie and Tom Cullen stayed in my house for two months — a month and a half recently. You know, I think Freida last night, we all feel a family. And it’s like a mini version of the Lord of the Rings [chuckles]. Everyone has gone on to become good friends. Same with Bamshad, same with Marama, Simon, all of them. We’re all really close, and it’s just — we did become a family making this film. That’s why the audience I think feels like you do.

Sam Razi: You could feel that clearly. And you could feel the passion that everyone poured into it. You know, again it’s a testament to what can be done when you bring a group of committed people together and have dedication and — you know, a passion for bringing something. And it showed from the beginning through to the end of the movie.

Richard Raymond: Thank you very much.

But passion is not enough. It has — that’s the thing — there’s a lot of people in the world that can be passionate about something, but you have to envelope that with good story-telling. You have to envelope that with a sense of cinema, and a sense of — of just doing it in the right way. You have to protect people’s passion by presenting the story and presenting their characters in the right way, you have to protect them. Yeah, I’m just — that takes trust, and I’m very very grateful for the trust that everyone gave me on the film. And the time, ’cause it took a long time.

Sam Razi: But it’s here, and it’s ready to go.

So there is a key point in the movie where the stakes get raised by a simple question by one of the characters, and I don’t want to give away too much about the movie so I won’t name the character, but the question was, “Why dance if no one can see us?”

That struck a chord, when that question was asked. I flipped out my phone — you’re not supposed to do that in a movie, I did it anyway — and I just jotted it down because I wanted to ask you about it. I felt that in a way that captures the essence and the reason d’etre for creating this movie. “Why dance if no one can see us?” Dance, obviously the creative metaphor throughout the film through which you expressed the story, but you also combined that with beautiful cinematography and an amazing soundtrack.

The film was cohesive as a unit, with all of those things together, and I think it clearly showed. There was no sort of dissonance between the dance, and the music and the cinematography.

Richard Raymond: That’s all because of the incredible team that I worked with. You talk about cinematography — Carlos Capelan, our cinematographer, what a great guy! What a talented man. He was nominated for Desert Dancer for best cinematography at the Golden Frog nomination at the Camerimage in Poland this year, which is a very prestigious — the most prestigious cinematography award ceremony. I’m so proud of him.

I think, in terms of the cinematography, it’s shot on film. It’s not shot on digital. It’s very important to me to shoot on film, because it just looks so much better.

Sam Razi: It looks amazing.

Richard Raymond: I could get into it in a very cineaste-type way but we are so inundated nowadays with digital photography and it all looks flatten and it all — it just doesn’t feel right. When you shoot on film it gives such a beautiful, mature and cinematic texture. It also puts a glass window between you and the movie so you feel like you’re watching a movie, rather than this hyper-real thing that you’re getting nowadays with cinema. And that was very important to me and to Carlos, and I think he captured the dance beautifully.

It wasn’t about showing the entire body. It was about being with the body. So the choreography — if you watch it live, live choreography makes you feel one thing, but in a movie you have to replicate that feeling and the only way you can do that with great cinematography is by being with the body and cutting off some of the choreography, sacrificing that for the right composition that will make you feel things.

And in terms of the music — wow, I am so proud of the composer Benjamin Wallfisch. He wrote the score before we started the last draft of the script. And then when we finished the screenplay he then wrote another score. And then when we started pre-production he started another score. And when we started dance rehearsal he started another score. And then after we finished the movie he wrote another seven or eight versions of the score.

Sam Razi: Wow!

Richard Raymond: And then it was a long, long process to get it right for the film, and he’s a perfectionist. And we both love the same movies. We both love that feeling of epicness and intimacy — the true language of cinema.

And this just gave us the opportunity. Because Desert Dancer is a movie that wears its heart on its sleeve. There is not a sense of cynicism in the movie and so musically we were free. We just thought, well, let’s just go big or go home. Let’s go for it. Let’s give the audience — it’s not The Avengers, there’s not these big set pieces, but we have massive set pieces at the dance. Let’s just go for it and it’d be great.

And Ben did that and captured it beautifully. And the first four or five reviews came out now, all getting four or five star reviews for him.

Some people called it the soundtrack of the year. We can’t believe it. It just feels so well-deserved for him, and it’s also so nice to see young composers — and Carlos — young cinematographers, being recognized in the industry today instead of always going to people who’ve been around for a long time. Because these are the new voices.

Sam Razi: Right.

Richard Raymond: And this is the next generation and they’re going to be making good movies, hopefully with me, and with other directors over the next — over their lifetime. And so it’s just great to discover people like that, and I’m blessed to work with them.

If you look at the great filmmakers of our time, they’ve all worked with those people that are now the John Williams, that are now the greatest cinematrographers that have lived today, but you have to start somewhere.

Sam Razi: You’ve got to start somewhere.

“But they were just smart young people. They didn’t think it was in any way exceptional.”

Richard Raymond: And yeah, I’m very blessed to work with them. They’re good people.

Sam Razi: So coming back to that pivotal question in the movie, which you addressed in the movie of “Why dance if there is no one can see us?” In a way, your movie is an expression of that question as well. How does that question resonate for you, with respect to the movie?

Richard Raymond: It’s really interesting because that question is a direct quote from what Afshin told us. Interesting, you’re the first person to pick up on that, and that’s, I think it’s how we feel sometimes. Why dance — why make a film if no one is going to see it. There are questions that — Afshin is not entirely right. I mean if you ask a dancer, why dance if no one can see you, their reaction is always going to be “Because I feel. It makes me feel.”

Because if you ask a dancer how they feel when they dance — I mean, Billy Elliot said it the best when he said, “Electricity! Electricity”

Sam Razi: Great answer.

Richard Raymond: It’s a great answer! And, you know, but Afshin might think — Afshin always told me it wasn’t about anything other than sharing. They wanted to share their art. Yes you cannot dance in public in Iran. But you can also not watch dance in Iran. And so in a sense, the audience was sharing in what they were doing, and what they had discovered. And no one had ever watched a live dance performance. None of the students had, that had come to watch the dance performance in the desert.

And so essentially that’s the answer to the question. Why dance is no on can see us? And the reply is: because it’s too dangerous.

You know, and it’s interesting. It’s dramatic in the film. It’s much more complex in real life.

Sam Razi: Indeed.

Richard Raymond: And Afshin is a very smart, smart man. But they were just smart young people. They didn’t think it was in any way exceptional. When I spoke to Afshin he was just like, “We just danced in the desert. Okay, big deal. It was a big deal for us, but why would anyone else be interested. It was our plan to dance in nature, because the regime can’t exist everywhere.”

After the desert dance their plan was to dance near the sea. Their plan was to dance on in the mountain. Their plan was to dance in the forest.

Sam Razi: Beautiful.

Richard Raymond: Anywhere that nature was, the regime wouldn’t be there and they were going to dance, but the groups broke up and those plans were squashed.

Sam Razi: They just wanted to openly express themselves and to feel that expression.

Richard Raymond: Yeah, absolutely. Also I think it was a journey. Like, if you’re in school — if you’re in film school and you’re learning how to make a film, if you’re in dance school learning how to dance, it’s all going to build to a performance at some point. It’s all going to build towards a film at some point. And so I think that’s just natural — nature — by nature, that’s what they did.

Sam Razi: You take a step. It leads to another step. It leads to another step. You keep going. Because it’s almost — a mission. You’ve started it –

Richard Raymond: Yeah, finish it! Or keep going.

Sam Razi: There’s beauty in that. So, you mentioned that both Afshin and yourself have change in five years. You’ve mellowed. I think I may be paraphrasing you.

Richard Raymond: [Laughs] I’m probably not mellowed.

Sam Razi: How has the movie changed you? How has going through the experience changed you?

Richard Raymond: I think anyone that goes through any experience like this is going to change. I think — I don’t know — I feel more aware. I feel more confident with the process of film making and the process of story-telling. I feel more awake. I feel a greater sense of responsibility, of telling true stories. My next two films are based on true stories as well. They’ll probably end up completing a trilogy of true stories. And I feel a greater responsibility on those true stories than I did initially on Afshin’s true story.

But I feel that responsibility today, so it woke me up a lot. But also I feel — at the end of the day — I feel huge gratitude. And I just feel like every day is a very lucky day at the moment. And I’m not taking anything for granted. I am working very hard to get this film out there.

And working with some — one of the most wonderful things that can happen to film makers like myself is, when your film does get picked up, when you are on this journey of a big American release, you meet and you work with so many great people. And you can’t help but being effected by all these meetings, and out of everything, I think that’s what I value the most — like last night, I just met a hundred and fifty people! And it happens all of the time. And always everyone — I want to know about everybody. I want to know about how they think and how they feel.

Sam Razi: You’re very empathetic. That definitely shows through.

Richard Raymond: That’s what you can ever be. You know, I mean, I love what I do. I take it very seriously. I’m very open. But when it comes to the quality of the work I take it extremely seriously. And when it comes to the quality of people I work with I take that very seriously too. But at the same time, you know, you want to have fun while you’re doing it, and you want to have a good time, and you want to meet good people.

Sam Razi: That’s the only way people should live. And, again, I think your film is telling that. It’s saying that.

Richard Raymond: Yeah.

Sam Razi: I think that’s why it resonates with people. You mentioned that you were going to do some more movies and that they were going to be true stories. And that was my next question for you. What’s your next step because as you mentioned last night [Thursday April 2], with Afshin, once freedom was in his hands, when he was in France, he had to define himself differently, or that without the repression his dance would metastasize differently. How does that apply to you, and having gone through this, what is your next move? Where do you see yourself metastasizing and taking your career?

Richard Raymond: I can’t go into the specifics of what the stories are about just because I always believe that films get too old very quickly if you go to early with it. But there was a film that I was going to start filming six months ago actually, but it is set in West Africa, and it’s very important for me to shoot it in Sierra Leone, but we had to delay because of the Ebola situation at the moment, and we need about six months of no cases before we can go into the country so that’s delayed until the summer of next year probably.

And then hopefully it becomes more relevant when we shoot the film there, with the movie stars that we’ll be bringing into the country, that will give a real big confidence boost to the economy, and that will give a big boost in confidence in people to want to go back to Sierra Leone. And so that’s delayed.

And there’s another film that I literally just last week finished the screenplay, and gave it in, and I think we’ll start shooting that in October if all goes well.

But essentially it’s just great stories. I just see myself as a story-teller first, and a filmmaker second. And, I’ve no interest in going to see a remake because I know the story. And yes, you can tell a story in a different way visually, but you’re still being told the same story. And I kind of just have an attitude of I want to be told a story. I want to go on an experience — if it’s an emotional experience, or a physical experience, I want to have an experience by going to the cinema. Everything else is bells and whistles. And fun and games. And art.

But first and foremost is great story-telling. Afshin’s story was a great story. I always have what I call the chill factor. If I tell a somebody great story, and someone says at the end if it, “I just got chills,” then I know I’m going to, I have to make this film. And the next two stories do this.

But basically, the one thing I look for is is just great stories. And I need to know where they are. But if I can connect to them in a way, and I see that they’re universal and I see that they’re doing something outside of themselves and they’re connecting in different ways, then I’ll go for it.

But it’s funny, I don’t know what will lie ahead after that. Maybe there’ll be a different path. But at the moment there’s two projects, I’m really really keen on, and that I’m really excited to get going, but they’re all related. Even though one’s set it Japan and one’s set in Sierra Leone, they’re all related in a way.

Sam Razi: How exciting. That’s fantastic.

Richard Raymond: Yeah and so — but these stories found me.

Sam Razi: Right.

Richard Raymond: You know, I didn’t find them. They found me, and I think they found me for a reason. And we’ll see. You never know. You know how it will go.

Sam Razi: You’re a story-teller. That’s clear. And I thank you for sharing this story with me.

Richard Raymond: Thank you. I’m so grateful for your interest, and for your passion for the project, and I hope your listeners and your readers will seek out the film and will go out and experience it, and I’m looking forward to hearing what they think about the film. And from all the cast, we are very grateful for you taking the time.

Sam Razi:: Thank you very much.

Richard Raymond:: Thank you.