Ali Abbasi’s dark thriller Holy Spider may be one of the most eagerly-anticipated titles in Cannes, but even before the film has its world premiere on Sunday at the Palais its lead star has already landed another juicy role.
Iranian actress Zar Amir-Ebrahimi (Tehran Taboo, Morgen sind wir frei) is set to star in Shayda, the directorial debut of Iranian/Australian writer/director Noora Niasari. HanWay Films has come on board to handle international sales and distribution, while UTA Independent Film Group is representing the U.S. sale.
Shayda follows a young Iranian mother (Amir-Ebrahimi) and her six-year-old daughter who find refuge in an Australian women’s shelter during the two weeks of Iranian New Year (Nowrooz), which is celebrated as a time of renewal and re-birth. Aided by the strong community of women at the refuge, they seek their freedom in this new world of possibilities, only to find themselves facing the violence they tried so hard to escape.
Shayda is produced by Vincent Sheehan (The Hunter, Jasper Jones, Animal Kingdom, Lore) through his new production venture Origma 45. Cate Blanchett, Andrew Upton and Coco Francini at Dirty Films (Apples, Carol, Little Fish) are executive producers.
“Shayda is a powerful, timely and important story to be telling and Noora’s unique Iranian/Australian voice as a director will be a potent combination,” said Sheehan commented. “I am thrilled to be working with such a quality stable of producers and market partners with a shared passion and commitment to backing Noora and her story.”
Melbourne-based Niasari is well known for her award-winning short films including Waterfall which screened at the 66th Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) where it was nominated for best short film, Tâm and feature documentary Casa Antúnez.
“We first encountered Noora’s talent watching her short films, The Phoenix and Tâm. We were blown away by her precise, emotionally-driven filmmaking and her capacity to draw out gripping performances,” said Dirty Films in a statement. “We are excited to be working alongside Vincent again to help Noora fulfil her bold and distinct vision for Shayda.”
Heads of production on the film will include cinematographer and Niasari’s closest collaborator, Sherwin Akbarzadeh (Stories From Oz). Osamah Sami (Ali’s Wedding), Leah Purcell (The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson), Mojean Aria (The Enforcer), Jillian Nguyen (Expired) and Rina Mousavi (Alexander) will star alongside Amir-Ebrahimi. Production will commence on July 11 in Australia.
“We are delighted to be part of an incredible team supporting Noora Niasari’s feature debut,” said HanWay Films managing director Gabrielle Stewart. “Noora has written a beautiful piece that reflects much of her own experience of moving to Australia as a child. There is an intimacy to her storytelling that brings to life what it is to honor the traditions of the culture you have left behind as a mother raising her young child, whilst together bravely embracing a whole new one.”
Shayda received major production investment from Screen Australia in association with The 51 Fund and is financed with support from VicScreen and the MIFF Premiere Fund, while local distribution in Australia and New Zealand will be handled by Madman Entertainment. The 51 Fund (Cusp and the upcoming Shari & Lamb Chop) provides financing to feature films of any genre that are directed by women, with the goal of providing support to the most exciting female voices within the creative industry. Caitlin Gold, Lindsay Lanzillotta, Naomi McDougall Jones, Lois Scott and Nivedita Kulkarni also serve as executive producers on behalf of 51.
“Rising talent Noora Niasari has created a well-crafted script, vibrant characters and an authentic world and Screen Australia is delighted to support her debut feature through development and into production,” said Screen Australia’s head of content Grainne Brunsdon. “Shayda offers a unique perspective on a story with universal themes of survival and the cost of freedom.”
Niasari is represented by UTA and Granderson Des Rochers. Amir-Ebrahimi is represented by Agence-Adequat.