Rouhollah Zamani, the lead actor of Majid Majidi’s Oscar shortlisted child labor drama “Sun Children” and winner of the Marcello Mastroianni Award for best young actor or actress at the Venice Film Festival, has been cast in a TV drama series, “Mehdi Bakeri,” about soldiers in the Iran-Iraq War. Variety has been given the first image from the series (above).
Meanwhile, sales agent Celluloid Dreams has told Variety that “Sun Children,” which is shortlisted in the International Feature Film category for the 93rd Academy Awards, has been acquired by additional distributors, including Mongrel Media in Canada, and Bodega Films in France.
Other territories sold include German-speaking Europe (MFA+ Film Distribution), Benelux (Cherry Pickers), Scandinavia (Angel Films), Spain (Caramel Films), Turkey (Filmarti Film), Mexico (Alameda Films), Indonesia (Falcon Pictures), Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam (Suraya), and Taiwan (Filmware). The film was previously picked up by Strand in the U.S.
“Sun Children’s” production team held more than 3,000 auditions over a four-month period before identifying its child actors. Some are child workers, like Shamila Shirzad and her brother Abolfazl, who are Afghan immigrants on screen and also in real life, and attend a school for child workers.
Like Shamila and Abolfazl, Rouhollah had never acted before. “He was pure, with a raw energy, determined to give more than expected,” Majidi said. “To cast the main character was the hardest task. But Rouhollah surpassed all the others because he had such an intensity, such a desire to get the lead — much like the character in the movie, so determined to find the treasure and save his mother.”
In the TV series, Rouhollah plays a teenage volunteer who has gone to fight in the Iran-Iraq War, and finds himself besieged by the enemy along with another teenager. The series is directed by Hadi Hejazifar and produced by Abolfazl Safari at Sima Films.
Majidi told Variety: “It’s so gratifying for me to see Rouhollah continue as an actor. He’s a lot like the boy in ‘Sun Children’ — resourceful, brave, full of initiative. I know he will thrive because he now has opportunity.” With the film team’s assistance, Rouhollah has enrolled in an acting school, which he will attend once the pandemic is over.
“Sun Children” is the story of 12-year-old Ali and his three friends. Together they work hard to survive and support their families, doing small jobs in a garage and committing petty crimes to make fast money. Ali is enlisted to find a treasure hidden underground. He recruits his gang, but first, to gain access to the tunnel, the children must enroll at the Sun School, a charitable institution that tries to educate street kids and child laborers, close to where the treasure is located.
Majidi said: “The real treasure, in my opinion, is these kids and their potential. Education is their inalienable right and it is the key to their futures. Of course, not all children are natural scholars, and many don’t like sitting in a classroom, but it gives them time to breathe and to grow and to discover themselves and others around them. It’s a chance all kids need. The juxtaposition of the school and the treasure creates a metaphor to highlight the importance of education and the need to dig inside yourself to find your treasure.”
The film’s producer, Amir Banan, told Variety that the film’s team are campaigning hard for more schools for child laborers, like the one featured in the film, to be set up in Iran.
“Using the movie, we intend to launch a popular campaign in Iran so that people, in addition to watching this film, can help increase the number of these schools for child workers, as well as raising the awareness of child labor,” Banan said.
“Children need to take their proper place in the world. In the past the Iranian public has been very responsive to Mr. Majidi’s career-long advocacy for young people through his films—we are optimistic about creating opportunities and change.”