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“The Turning Points of the Story are Painful and Challenging Moments”: Editor Hayedeh Safiyari on In The Land of Brothers

An Afghan woman in gloves and overalls holding pruning shears is gathering isfahan tomatoes from the vine.Still from In The Land of Brothers. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Raha Amirfazli and Alireza Ghasemi first co-directed the short Solar Eclipse, and they have teamed up again for In the Land of Brothers, a feature debut for each. The film tells the story of three members of an Afghan family who flee to Iran as refugees and struggle to find acceptance and security.

In The Land of Brothers‘ editor is Hayedeh Safiyari (A Separation, The Salesman), who has edited many of contemporary Iran’s best-known filmmakers. Below, she discusses the novel challenges of editing a film with sharply delineated chapters and the importance of an editor connecting emotionally to the script.

See all responses to our annual Sundance editor questionnaire here.

Filmmaker: How and why did you wind up being the editor of your film? What were the factors and attributes that led to your being hired for this job?

Safiyari: I often decide whether to edit a film or not after reading the script. And of course, in the case of people whose work I’m familiar with, I am surer that I will edit their film.

I really enjoyed the script of In the Land of Brothers on the first read. I think it is very important for an editor to connect with the world of the script, to know if their abilities can support the story’s needs. I felt this deep connection with the script of this film and that’s what made me ready to collaborate.

Filmmaker: In terms of advancing your film from its earliest assembly to your final cut, what were your goals as an editor? What elements of the film did you want to enhance, or preserve, or tease out or totally reshape?

Safiyari: Creating the right emotional atmosphere of the film is always a priority for me. In each chapter, the turning points of the story are painful and challenging moments, and if the film did not succeed in conveying these moments and atmosphere, it would not be in such a position now. The film being structured in chapters was a very interesting challenge for me. I had very little experience in this type of storytelling. Each moment was a challenge to find the connecting elements of these stories and strengthen their plot as much as possible. This was one of the most important editing strategies of this film.

Filmmaker: How did you achieve these goals? What types of editing techniques, or processes, or feedback screenings allowed this work to occur?

Safiyari: From the stage of the script, we had many conversations with the directors about the method of narration and the unfolding of the stories. These conversations helped both me as the editor and the directors to have a better understanding of our visions. Since the film takes place in different seasons, the filming was naturally done during multiple seasons of the year. This gave us the opportunity to simultaneously start the edit, and it was in the shaping of the sequences that new ideas were born. In the final phase, feedback from a limited audience helped us to see the film from the perspective of people who encounter it for the first time and to be able to make changes in some sequences. Finding the right tone of storytelling and technical trial-and-errors were key during the editing of this film. The scenes that we imagined while reading the script had come to life and created a new connection with us as viewers. This was an amazing experience that made us make new decisions based on this new experience in the editing room.

Filmmaker: As an editor, how did you come up in the business, and what influences have affected your work?

Safiyari: As a child, my mother was a member of the women’s organization, which organized many film screenings. From The Sound of Music to Doctor Zhivago, Gone with the Wind and Anna Karenina. The magic of cinema was with me until I went to the school of television and cinema. I had no understanding of montage, but I was looking for a job in cinema that would be more individualistic and more compatible with my introverted nature. I found my passion when I had to edit a few student films as my thesis. From there, I started my career first in television, and then I worked as a sound editor on a feature, and then in five others. I became an editing assistant to one of the greatest cinema directors, Bahram Beyzaei, who edited his own films, and also very limited projects for others. While working with him, I got many other offers and I was lucky to get into the Iranian cinema industry and work on many valuable films.

Filmmaker: What editing system did you use, and why?

Safiyari: Editing systems and software are not a priority for me and I like working with all of them. Currently, I am working with Avid, as projects often have a post-production flow that leans heavily on that. For projects that don’t have that restriction, I edit on Premiere, including this film. But, to this day, my favorite software is Final Cut Seven.

Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to cut and why? And how did you do it?

Safiyari: The endings for each chapter were the most difficult. It was very important for us that the end of each story be connected to the beginning of the next story with a suitable rhythm. This film is a narrative of the life of an immigrant family spanning 20 years in Iran, and the characters are completely intertwined, so this coherence should also be reflected at the end of the stories. Likewise, the high points of each chapter were also very challenging since they had to be realized in the best way emotionally. I can’t draw a precise path of how we dealt with these challenges, but I can say that doing a lot of trial-and-error and testing different ways of editing these sequences helped us a lot to finally reach the best choice.

Filmmaker: What role did VFX work, or compositing, or other post-production techniques play in terms of the final edit?

Safiyari: I always prefer to edit the film with a primary VFX work done and not include scenes with green screen still included in them. This, even if the work is still very raw, will give the editor a better understanding of the final work.

Filmmaker: Finally, now that the process is over, what new meanings has the film taken on for you? What did you discover in the footage that you might not have seen initially, and how does your final understanding of the film differ from the understanding that you began with?

Safiyari: Today, when I look at the film, I am not only concerned with the twists and turns of the story, which we worked on a lot, but also with the moments of the lives of the people in the story, who are all immigrants. I think about the actors of our film, who were mostly immigrants themselves, and it was the first time they were in front of the camera, and how amazing they acted.

From the start of the editing process of this film up until now, I also have gone through a similar experience of migration and been in a similar situation as our characters. When I look back at the film now, I notice details in their lives that I considered myself far away from and emotions that I wasn’t aware of. But now, I understand them very deeply. I wonder where we belong. And what do we do with this sense of belonging in a land that doesn’t treat us like brothers?

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