Tehran-born filmmaker Abtin Sarabi’s “Land Lot S7” featured in this year’s Pardi di domani short film competition at the Locarno Festival. Now, the director is prepping two feature length documentaries, and has shared early details of each with Variety.
“The mad proliferation of the wind gives the trees strange outlines,” reads “Land Lot S7’s” cryptic synopsis. “The wet thread of our slumber ruptures in the night. The hand plunges into the beginning of the fire. The burning entrails of the fields suddenly appear at dawn. Here man is alone. In this loneliness, the shadow of sugar cane flows into eternity.”
Following sugar cane field workers as they chop and burn their way through seemingly endless fields of reeds, the documentary-styled short features brief cut-aways to tribal mask wearing, machete wielding figures in place of the modern-day laborers. One can’t help but feel an overwhelming solitude among the workers, even as they are crammed onto the back of trucks or squeezed together on a log for a brief break from their backbreaking labor.
Sarabi’s surrealistic delivery will be a fine fit for the first of his proposed features, a documentary-fiction hybrid based on celebrated Iranian surrealist painter Ali Akbar Sadeghi.
“Since my childhood I have known him through his illustrations, books for children and his cartoons,” Sarabi explained. “Then, when I was a studying painting at the University of Art and Architecture of Tehran, I learned more about his work.”
Beyond what he was able to absorb at school and in books and stories of the man, Sarabi also visited Sadeghi’s home and workshop to better understand the man. In his own work, Sarabi often includes dreamlike sequences and enjoys playing with time, themes often explored by Sadeghi.
“His work gives me a lot of ideas for creating the images in the film that I would like to make,” he explained.
Sarabi’s second proposal is a more personal project in which he will tell the incredible story of his 102-year-old uncle who lives in Russia, and the many similar tales of other Iranians who were imprisoned in the country when Stalin was still alive and in power.
Sarabi began the project in 2016 and has already finished interviews with his uncle and gathered footage but hopes to return to Siberia and record additional video of the prison and surrounding forests during winter.
To that end, Sarabi is looking to partner with a Russian producer who can facilitate the trip, as well as aid in acquiring archival footage from the period he will be looking back to.