Stories of fragments

Sam Yazdanpanna Ardekani (Iran 1980) left his native country at the age of sixteen and arrived in the Netherlands in 1998. Most of his time spent studying at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy he was an illegal immigrant, but his stay was legalised by means of a general pardon in 2007. In his work, he researches the transformation of identity, the tension between fiction and documentary and the fragmentation of the story. In 2010, he started the NFTA's Master’s Programme. Which projects will he be doing in the second year of his studies?

"The first project is Forgotten Heroes. I want to use it for my graduation in 2012 and it was developed as a result of audio fragments I found on the internet of interviews with children of opium-addicted parents in Teheran. Iran's three million drug addicts are a taboo. No journalists are allowed to report on them, because the phenomenon does not fit with the regime's world view. But there are addicts and the stories of their children in particular got me thinking. One wants to be a professional footballer so that he can look after his family, while another wants to be a policeman so that he can tackle drug crime.

Neither a documentary, nor fiction
I filmed children here in the Netherlands, traced the images at 15 to 18 images per second using Flash and Illustrator, deleted the live action images and added motion graphics to the drawings. Instead of just figures, you see a hyper-realistic cartoon. The combination of animated images and documentary gives me unique opportunities. While addressing a little-known problem, thanks to animation I can create a completely unique world. Animation gives me the freedom to do what I want, liberating me from more limitations than any other medium. Whether this is a documentary or fiction? I don't know. But like with poetry, animation enables you to create a world that didn't yet exist. A world that is new.


I will never forget my own long journey from Iran to the Netherlands. That experience forms the basis for my second project: a short live-action fiction film. While I kept wrestling with well-trodden paths and psychological clichés in previous versions of my script, now I have returned to the starting point of my experience: five people are sitting in the cargo area of a vehicle. They have no control over anything. They are smuggled by road to a new, different country and sever ties with their native country. They have no idea what the future holds, except that they face risks and dangers all along the way. This experience dominates my life. The question is, what do I do with it? Rather than put it to paper on my own, I now work with my actors in a sea container. I give them instructions and write the dialogues on the basis of their improvisations. I research how I can tell a story with fragments and with my analyses of those fragments. We're rolling in September – without improvisations.

What went wrong?
Fragments are a recurring theme in my life. For my third project, I'm researching the fate of Iranians from all kinds of political backgrounds who have fled the country since 1979. In many cases, they were members of progressive parties such as the Tudeh Party of Iran, the Organization of Iranian People’s Fedaian (Majority), People's Mujahedin of Iran or the Union of People's Fedaian of Iran. They were chased out by the ayatollahs after 1979 and are no longer allowed to participate in life in their country. I'm in the research stage and my main research question is: what went wrong? The revolution of 1979 was a success for the progressive parties, but once Khomeiny took power the age of democracy was over. I'm trying to find out how this could have happened. Here, too, I encounter endless collections of fragments. I hope to be able to tell the story after I have finished my Master's course.

Personal research
This course has yielded so many great things for me. I will not forget the workshops with, for example, guest teachers Ulrich Seidl and Eyal Sivan in a hurry. The freedom after the first half-year and, no less important, the opportunity to spend the budget as I see fit enable me to do things that I otherwise wouldn't do. I had to take in so much in the first year. Too much; sometimes I was overwhelmed by all the different input I received. Moreover our quest for cooperation as a group of Master's students was sometimes far removed from my personal development. I have still yet to resolve that tension between the group’s and my own interests. But now I work with complete freedom, with plenty of guidance from my tutor Marjoleine Boonstra, and precisely on my chosen research question: how do fragments result in stories?"

July 2011

Sam Yazdanpanna

See Sam's profile

Alumni 2012