Sonia K. Hadad’s Interview: “Stories that challenge humans in a particular situation are so fascinating to me.”

Sonia K. Hadad’s brilliant short film Exam focuses on a young woman who has to make a very important decision on the day of her exam, leading to unanticipated events that endanger her own life. We had the chance to speak with the incredibly talented female director about the short film which kept us all on the edge of our seats the entire time we were watching it!

1. Your short film follows the journey of a young woman throughout an oft tense exam day. The tension in each scene is very poignant and filled with subtext about the repressed helplessness of Sadaf’s situation.  As a student, everyone can relate to the universal stress of exam day, the familial pressure she faces, and the strict regime of school administration.  When you set out to write this story, did you take any reference from your own student exam day experiences?

Yes, the story is the combination of the experiences I had at high school, the atmosphere I experienced, and the actual incidence I had heard from one of my friends. I placed the real story in my school’s environment, surrounded by the actual characters. For me, the school was all about restraint and stress. In the movie, the school’s atmosphere is a symbol of a cultural crash, in which you could see the social failures’ signs in the film! I always wanted to illustrate the experiences I had faced. When I came across this real story about drug dealing at high school, I decided to recreate the situation and the actual characters.

2. The narrative of this film is brilliant in its simplicity and there is great thematic depth to it. You make no obvious damning statement against drugs, the repression, and abuse of women in societies, by those who are supposed to nurture, protect, and care for them. Rather, the journey we are taken on screams in the face of all this, without making a direct referral to rejecting it.  Was this a conscious decision you left to audience interpretation, or did you believe, as was the result, that a more honest portrayal of events was enough?

We must keep in mind that the most significant events and injustices are rooted in the heart of simple everyday happenings. All the repressions, aggressions, and incidents take place in its most minimalistic way. That is why we pass them quickly without any attention. What happens to Sadaf (the main character) may seem short and insignificant. We also witness that she survives the catastrophe, but before and after of those minutes will be two completely different worlds to her. Not only all the events of our lives seem simple, but they also carry a heavy burden of meaning. I hold, dramatizing this short and simple story is much more effective than portraying a significant incident; This is an example of everyday and real life. 

3. What are the stories that most appeal to you as a writer? What triggers your inspiration and drive to bring such a story to life?

Stories that challenge ordinary humans in a particular situation are so fascinating to me. Everyday life is not dramatic by itself, and it is a specific/ unique situation, event, or action of a character that gives it a dramatic-tragic burden. The viewer or reader must feel him/ herself in that moment and condition and accompany the story or character.

4. The way each scene was shot, with a focus on Sadaf as she lives through such a harrowing day, the tension is built and anxiety reigns supreme.  What made you believe she would be right for the role? What do you believe was the crucial piece of direction you had to give her, to best tell the story?

In my first meeting with Sadaf, I realized that she is very talented and influential in portraying the character. By the analysis, she gave me about the leading character’s personality and characteristics, I recognized her talent and acting potentials. Sadaf and I talked a lot about the role and even the character’s behavioral details. I explained to her the character’s behavioral image in detail and arranged her acts step by step. She was so smart that she could quickly get into the role. 

5. Your film crosses borders and cultures and holds a universal truth we all face as we grow up. Do you believe that despite all our differences that we all share these universal experiences growing up? That we are united by our own growing pains? 

Undoubtedly, we all experience common feelings and emotions with all our cultural and geographical differences. It is just our different experiences that isolate us. Consequently, cinema is a tool and the best way to portray these commonalities.

6. Lastly, are there any future projects in the works that you would like to share with us?

These days, I am working on my next short film to shoot it in a month and write my feature film’s plot, which I have planned to make it in the next year in Iran again.

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