First-time director Maziar Lahooti gets ready to go ‘Below’

Maziar Lahooti.

Thirteen years since he completed a film course, Maziar Lahooti is preparing to direct his debut feature, darkly comic action-drama Below.

While some filmmakers may rue such a long apprenticeship, the Norwegian-born Lahooti, whose parents fled the Iranian revolution in 1979, has no complaints.

“I wouldn’t say it’s felt like a long wait but only because it’s been so much fun this whole time. There’s been five solid years of study, another few years of work in film, TV and documentary in various departments, then my own shorts and writing on the side until my own work slowly took over my life,” says Lahooti, who settled in Perth with his family when he was 16.

While undergoing Screenwest’s Feature Navigator directors’ program in 2014 he met producers Nick Batzias, who now runs Good Thing Productions, and Veronica Gleeson. She had optioned Ian Wilding’s stage play Below, which was set in a mining camp, and decided to  change the setting to a refugees detention centre. The producers introduced Lahooti to Wilding.

“We all just started jamming on how to turn it into a movie. So over the next two-ish years I worked with Ian to develop the story and script, which has been pretty humbling given the senior experience of everyone else involved, and  their faith that we can do this,” he says.

Produced by Gleeson, Batzias and Kate Neylon (Hotel Coolgardie) and funded by Screen Australia, the MIFF Premiere Fund and Screenwest’s West Coast Visions, the film will shoot in WA in early 2019. Madman Entertainment will distribute in Australia/NZ.

The plot follows darknet grifter Dougie, who is recruited by his stepdad to work security at a detention centre, where he is drawn into an operation blackmailing detainees to fight for profit. When tragedy strikes champion Iranian fighter Azad and his young sister Hamasa is left alone, Dougie locates his hitherto dormant conscience and takes a stand. Yet to be revealed, the cast will be a mixture of established and emerging talent.

“I think it will appeal to people who want their movies to be movies. The film does have its provocations and we’re all about adding voices to a debate but the intention is to make a wildly entertaining, darkly comic action drama that explores ideas around the lines that separate good and evil being borders that cut through every human heart,” he said.

After completing a three-year film course at Perth Central TAFE in 2005, he graduated from AFTRS in 2009 and went back to do a  Master of Screen Arts – Directing  in 2012. He pays tribute to numerous mentors including Neil Peplow, Nell Greenwood, Catherine Millar, Dante W. Harper, Tony Ayres, Jocelyn Moorhouse, P.J. Hogan and the late WA actor Wayne Davies.

As a director’s attachment on Kriv Stenders’ Red Dog: True Blue he marveled at Stenders’ ability to balance the artistic and technical problem-solving of directing into a seamless, fluid process.

Another mentor is screenwriter-director Peter Templeman (The Wrong Girl, Offspring, Wanted), whom he credits with instilling in him the value and importance of script and story development. “I’m in awe of Peter’s talent for story and drama and his commitment to get his own work absolutely perfect, and I believe he’ll one day be known as one of the great filmmakers of our time and I just want to help him tell his stories when he’s ready to,” he adds.