Photography, graphic design, animation – Iranian creatives are fantastic at creating great visual stuff. A little while ago, we came across A Woman Sings Under the Ice, a beautiful short film from Tehran-based animator and illustrator Maryam Khalilzade. She invited us into her world, where poetry and fantasy reign.
Maryam, please tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative work.
I was born 1979 in Tehran and have a BA in graphic design and an MA in animation in art. The first animation I did was in 2008 when still at university. Since then, I’ve worked on three different projects: A Woman Sings Under the Ice, White Pigeon by the Mirror and a new animation that I’m currently working on, Like a Butterfly on the Heart. I’m still in the first stages of that last project. Animation takes a lot of my time, but I also try to do other projects: children’s books, illustrations and paintings. I like these things too.
How did it all begin?
My animations always starts with an idea – a story or a poem maybe – and then I convert the idea into a script. After that follows a process of making storyboards and creating the layout, working on different concepts, doing the animation itself and adding things like sounds and music. People who do animation usually work on it as teams but I do my work alone. It’s very much like painting to me. I do it bit by bit and follow my own feelings.
What sorts of things, places, art and people inspire you?
I actually have quite little communication with people. I live in my own fantasy world which is filled with tales and stories. I read a lot of books; literature has a great influence on me. Poetry as well. I like poetry. I don’t write poems but I paint them. That is how I see the world – I think of it as poetry. And nature always inspires me. The sun, the rain, the sky and the birds: it calms and inspires me. Every day before I begin work, I feed the birds. I hold my hands up to the sun and the sky gives me life. I live my life in the poetry of nature.
A Woman Sings Under the Ice is dreamlike in a beautiful way. What did you want the watcher to experience?
The film is similar to the story of my own life. It describes how life to me is poetry. The sounds of rain, clouds and the birds in the sky: everyone can hear these things but few actually do. I pay attention to all such details. People who talk too much don’t hear the sounds of nature. Sometimes silence is required.
There’s a boy in the film who hears a voice – I always hear a voice calling me too. The boy can hear something that nobody else hears: the voice of his dead mother, who was killed and wants to tell her son that she was innocent. When making the film, I put myself into his position. I thought, laughed and cried in his place. That way, the audience can feel what he feels as well. I always treat my characters that way.
Music has an important role in A Woman Sings Under the Ice. How did you work with Pejman Khalili who wrote the music?
Pejman Khalili is one of the best musicians in Iran for short films and animations. It was a good experience working with him: we talked a lot about the different scenes and he chose a theme for each of the characters. When the father appears for instance, we hear the cello; when we see the mother we can hear her singing.
You work a lot with animations, often using imagery from the world of children. It seems that your animations are informed by this special way of connecting with the spiritual and otherworldly that children have?
Yes. I have grown up, but I have also kept alive the spirit of the child and feel that I see the world like children do. Children see the world in detail: they hear the softest of sounds and see the tiniest of things. I think that poets and those who create things for children don’t grow old.