THIS IS JASMIN.
THE AWARD WINNING FILM DIRECTOR AND WRITER OF FIRECRACKERS - JASMIN TALKS CREATIVE PROCESS, EMPOWERMENT, AND RECONNECTING WITH HER ROOTS.
Jasmin, for those who are meeting you for the first time, let’s do an ice breaker - tell us two truths and one lie.
I don’t have a middle name.
I used to forge my parents’ signatures on notes used to explain my absence from high school when I secretly took the Greyhound bus to Toronto to see bands play.
My first word was “elephant.”
Which one is the lie?
Until a few weeks ago, I was led to believe that my first word was “elephant”. My mom told me that my whole life and I was quite smug about it. However, I recently unearthed a baby book that said “elephant” was the second or third word I said. My first word was actually “baba” - the Farsi word for “dad.” I’m kind of happy about this.
Here’s a truth we know about you: you’re an incredible filmmaker and writer, we saw ‘Firecrackers’ at TIFF, your first feature film. It is such a phenomenal film - there are so many scenes that still stick with us to this day (we won’t spoil anything but we can say it is a must-watch). We’re especially in awe of how well written your female characters are. In fact, all the characters in the film were multifaceted and authentic. How did you write such genuine characters?
I wanted the characters in ‘Firecrackers’ to feel as authentic as possible, and that definitely started with the script. I always want the audience to feel that they are watching real people, not actors. For me, one of the key ways to achieve this is to look at every character and embrace all their flaws, their strengths, and move away from the rigid dichotomy of hero versus villain. I was specifically looking at how toxic patriarchal-thinking manifests, not only in the male characters, but in the female characters as well. The film wouldn’t feel authentic if all the men in the film were simply evil. In a way, I had to allow myself to understand that they too are victims of patriarchal oppression. This meant that I had to create complex backstories for every character and develop empathy even for someone as contemptible as Kyle who sexually assaults Chantal. I was asking myself questions like - what was he subjected to in his childhood? How did his father treat him? I guess I work in a similar way to actors as they prepare for roles, in these sense that I try not to judge any of the characters as I create them. I don’t think it’s possible to understand a character’s motivations - good or bad - if you don’t develop empathy for what they have been through in their lives. Eventually these characters became real people in my mind, and I think that’s a place I will have to get to every time I write a script.
What was the creative process like for the making of that film? What were you inspired by?
The feature version of Firecrackers was inspired by the short film of the same name that I created in 2013 while at film school in Toronto. A couple of years later, after making a few other shorts, I returned to this idea with the goal of expanding it into a feature. Some of this film was inspired by my upbringing as a teenager and the girls I hung out with, but the main driver of the film for me was to explore one perspective of how patriarchal oppression limits our freedom. I was pretty dead-set on waking audiences up to this fact, even if that meant that not every moment was comfortable to sit in.
The creative process was extremely collaborative amongst all the key creatives (who were mostly women) and myself and the actors. Working with mostly women behind the camera meant that we as a team fundamentally understood the message we were trying to communicate with the world through this movie.
The casting and rehearsal process was very long and intensive. From the moment every actor auditioned, they were improvising and building their character. Over the course of a year leading up to production, we did a lot of improv sessions to create character backstory and create a real bond between characters in the film. This way, the actors had actually lived through these moments, and they were able to draw upon those lived experiences. Since all the actors were non-union and fairly inexperienced, this whole process was key to ensure that we were all on the same page about the level of authenticity we were striving to achieve in this film.
We shot in the summer of 2017, and because we had prepared so much as a team, we felt so in our element on set. As cheesy as it sounds, we were like a big family experimenting and taking risks together. It still remains one of the best experiences of my life.
What was it like for you, growing up in a predominantly white bedroom community?
My mom is a white, working-class Canadian, and my dad (who has since passed away) was an Iranian immigrant. In the community I grew up in, there weren’t many BIPOC people, let alone mixed kids. There is obviously a lot of privilege in the fact that I am half-white, and white-skinned. However, during that post 9/11 time in the early 2000s, I was often seen as an ‘other’ to most of my peers in a homogenous community that had problems with racism. On many occasions me or my siblings were referred to as ‘paki’, amongst other things. I really didn’t understand where I fit in, especially because I had no other Middle Eastern kids to talk to. My father often encouraged us to play down our Iranian heritage in order to fit in, but at the same time wanted us to be proud of it. I don’t blame him because this was his way of surviving and assimilating as an immigrant. However, this was obviously very confusing for me as a teenager. Trying to fit in with the white kids didn’t feel quite right, but I also didn’t speak Farsi which in some ways kept me a bit isolated from that community/extended family. So I felt sort of stuck in this weird limbo. It delayed my personal development and messed with my sense of identity which followed me into adulthood. As I’ve talked to other mixed kids my age who grew up outside of big cities, I hear a lot of similar sentiments. This experience is obviously very nuanced and varies greatly from person-to-person, but it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. If you’ve been conditioned for so long to make yourself small, how do you negotiate taking up more space in your adult life, and in what way?
How do you, personally, take up space now?
I think I take up space through my work - my filmmaking. I’m always aiming to create work that is mindfully disruptive, and I think Firecrackers was just the beginning of this mission for me. Taking up space for me means finding my own voice and using my work to challenge long-held beliefs without watering down the message to be more palatable for people who want to cling onto the status quo. It means owning my unique identity and upbringing, embracing it rather than trying to erase it. Outside of myself, it also means collaborating with other women and non-binary individuals to take up more space together in a system that is not necessarily designed to help us thrive.
It’s been a while now since the creation of Firecrackers, has your creative process evolved?
Making Firecrackers allowed me to understand what my creative process is. I had never written a feature film script before Firecrackers, and I didn’t realize how gratifying, frustrating, and challenging that process would be. I now know what I need to write, which is time and frankly a bit of isolation. That has proven to be more difficult now since I also direct TV and music videos, and my life is much, much busier.
I think the types of stories I want to tell is also evolving. I am still very passionate about examining this huge topic of toxic patriarchal patterns and thinking, because that manifests in a million different ways. However, I want to connect more with my Iranian roots. Since my father passed away 6 years ago, I’ve been left with a huge hole in my heart and in my identity. I feel through reconnecting more to my heritage through my art, I will in a way feel more connected to him even though he’s gone. I also just care a lot about putting more Middle Eastern people on screen in a way that is not stereotypical or expected.
Are there any new projects we can look forward to?
I’m starting to write a new feature script and a TV pilot. They are in the very early stages but touch upon some of the topics I spoke of earlier. I’ve directed a lot of other people’s work this year, and I’m eager to create more of my own original content.
If you could make anything - what's your current dream project?
I’m very enamoured by television right now. So I would love to create a TV series or limited series for a risk-taking network like HBO that examines patriarchy in some way.
I’ve also always wanted to do a big-budget female-led action film with BIPOC cast that, for once, does not look at girls kicking ass through a male gaze.
When do you feel most empowered?
In my day-to-day, I feel empowered when I’ve slept enough, exercised, eaten well, worked hard, and treat myself respectfully both emotionally and physically.
I also just feel most empowered when I’m creative. There are moments when you’re watching the playback of your film, or watching a scene on the monitor on set and all the elements you’ve brought together are working. And this has nothing to do with what other people tell you - you just know in your gut it’s working. I don’t know a more empowering feeling.
Which of your physical attributes do you love the most?
Photography by Mary Chen.