Reza Riahi interview: ‘The Musician’ director
“I was listening to this instrument called the kamancheh that’s the instrument that the musician plays in the film. And when I was listening … I was really drawn by the mysterious and mystical part of this instrument,” says writer-director Reza Riahi about the inspiration for his film “The Musician,” which is on the Oscars shortlist for Best Animated Short. We talked with Riahi as part of our short-film directors panel. Watch our exclusive interview with him above.
“The Musician” is set during the 13th century when Genghis Khan and his Mongol Empire invaded and occupied Persia. Two young lovers are separated during the invasion but are unexpectedly reunited decades later. “Before I finished my study in animation, I first was studying painting in Tehran in Iran,” Riahi explains, “and back then I was really drawn into all the Persian miniatures and all the history about lovers and kings,” which informed the film’s story and visual style.
The animation in the film was inspired by Chinese puppetry in addition to the Persian miniatures, but “I had never done these techniques,” he admits. “So I started to do all the research. Everything started with the paper. I went to the art store and I bought so many papers for months and tried everything.” Riahi also tells the story without any spoken dialogue. “I love this challenge because I really wanted to aim to every culture that can see this film without any dialogue, without any language, without any translation or subtitles.” That allows the film’s music to serve as its “international language.”
The Mongolian occupation “had a huge impact in this region, not just Persia, and still resonates today,” he notes, “and the people of the Middle East are paying for it.” But he was also “struck by the history of the resilience of the people of this region, that they keep having hope and going forward. I consider myself one of them because I moved to France after 20 years growing up in Iran.” The history and culture have survived to this day because “we still paint, do music, do film, tell our stories.”