“I got into film during my final year of architecture school,” Nora Niasari tell us. “I was one of 60 students selected for an international short film workshop in Wales, led by Australian artist/architect Richard Goodwin.”
Nora’s first film project was the story of a forgotten migrant resident block in Cardiff. Nora says that “it was a beautiful experience to tell the stories of migrant residents and it triggered my passion for filmmaking.” This led her to making a short documentary about post-war Beirut following the lives of taxi drivers, as they discuss what it was like before the war. “I continued making independent documentaries for the next few years until I attended the VCA film school [in Melbourne] and started making narrative work,” says the filmmaker who also holds a Bachelor Degree in Architecture.
Her latest narrative short-film, titled Waterfall, is inspired by one of her own family road trips in Hawaii, as they travelled along a windy rainforest road, “but the screenplay was fictionalised to a large extent. Once the seed was planted, the growth of the story and characters took their own paths during the writing process.”
The story follows 14-year-old Zahra, an Iranian girl on a road trip with her mother and her mother’s Australian fiancé. Tensions arise as they lose their way, with dilemmas and conflicts revealed. “I wanted to explore the concept of feeling alone or alienated within a family unit. Acceptance and connection are the main themes of the film, but these notions are complex for a new family, particularly when cultural and language differences are at play.”
The setting of Waterfall is a beautiful juxtaposition that Nora says was born from a workshop “in Barcelona in 2015. I made a shorter piece during that workshop called HIGH TIDE about a divided family on the beach and so the genesis of Waterfall started there because I wanted to continue exploring the juxtaposition of a troubled family against a beautiful setting.”
Every element of this short film has been thought through to build upon that contrast. “The rental car is conducive to a claustrophobic, tense environment in contrast to the endless, open expanse of the rainforest they are surrounded by. Therefore, the conflict is not only explored between the characters but also through their relationships to their physical surroundings.”
Nora’s Iranian-Australian background has always been an influence on her life. “[My mother] introduced me to Iranian cinema and poetry from childhood and we always spoke Farsi at home.” Her Iranian background and life in Australia has given her a unique perspective, but one that has not been championed up til now. “The lack of diversity in Australian film and TV has always felt frustrating. What bothers me the most is a question of authenticity. Oftentimes producers and writers want to tell multicultural stories but they don’t engage us beyond creative consultant roles.”
But she does believe that opportunities for those of different ethnicities is beginning to change. Certainly, being able to see the world through her own unique lens has helped influence her own projects, as she consciously aims for diversity in all aspects. “I strive for diverse characters and perspectives, often drawing upon my own experiences or observations.”
Perhaps the main aim of this method is that she believes “if more diverse storytellers were encouraged and supported, it would be a huge benefit to Australian film and television, not only to authentically reflect the makeup of our society but to cultivate a broader spectrum of talented cinematic voices.”
When asked what she’d say to women entering the field, she tells of how much better the Australian environment is. “There is greater awareness about gender disparity in the film/tv industry, and policies are being implemented across the country to ensure certain opportunities and targets are met. There are many countries with much more difficult circumstances, gender prejudices and no unions or guilds to protect discrimination.
“It’s a very supportive industry,” she states. “But like every creative industry it’s also extremely competitive. The most important thing is to remain hard working, persistent and passionate about what you do, but I don’t think this is gender specific advice.”