“THE GLASS HOUSE” writer-producer, Melissa Hibbard
[PREMIERE SCREENING: Friday, Jan. 16, 12:15 pm — Holiday Village Cinema IV, Park City]
The idea for making The Glass House came organically when the director, Hamid Rahmanian, and I were invited to the Omid e Mehr Center in Tehran during a short visit to Iran (for what should have been a couple of weeks and turned into two years). At first we weren’t interested in covering a women’s crisis center in Iran — it had been done a few times already. Our biggest hesitation was the difficulty in penetrating the thick façade of pretenses that dominate Iranian culture; intimacy with one’s subject is almost unattainable there. However after spending a couple of hours at Omid, surrounded by an incredible group of resilient teenage girls, we knew we would be fools not to accept the challenge, especially when the founder of the center, Marjaneh Halati, gave us unfettered access to the center and the girls.
Over the next 13 months, we were able to attain a very intimate relationship with the girls, spending eight hours a day at the center getting to know each one individually, working to gain their trust. Usually it was just Hamid and his camera following the girls around, rarely asking questions, melting into the background, capturing whatever happened. I think it was the fact that we were a very small team — only Hamid and I — that gave the girls a sense of ease. The intimacy experienced in the film came as a result of nothing less than time.
The story came much later. Once we had identified who our characters were, we focused on getting to know the girls and their lives. One could say that we let the girls lead us. It was not until we had shot more than 125 hours of footage that we sat down to think about the story, and it took us another year to flush out what that story would be, again just Hamid and I. We knew we had a gem but wrestled with a big, unrefined rock for months before we saw results. Back in Iran we didn’t want to impose a “story” on the girls, and we would pay for that over the long winter and spring months it took to construct a cohesive narrative that takes the viewers into the gritty reality of urban Tehran.
I wouldn’t say that the story was impacted by the current state of cinema any more than any previous state of cinema. Good storytelling is good storytelling — although through the Internet we were able to raise a good chunk of change for postproduction after we ran out of money. That is something one could not have achieved five years ago.
What modern cinema has afforded us is the opportunity to shake off the heavy — and expensive — shackles of our trade and become individual artists again. The technology has become so small, cheap and uninvasive that we as individuals (or an army of two as in our case) can focus on sculpting our stories by creating more intimate spaces where we, as filmmakers, and our subjects can live a closer, tighter existence.