SHAYDA director sources true life experiences for compelling mother/daughter drama at Sundance Film Festival
An Iranian mother fights to protect herself and her daughter from an abusive husband in the compelling drama Shayda.
Can a Sundance drama ignite a women-led revolution in Iran? The compelling mother/daughter melodrama, SHAYDA, makes the case. Writer/director Noora Niasari sources her own childhood experiences to tell the story of Shayda (Zar Amir Ebrahimi), an Iranian mother living in an Australian women’s shelter. Shayda is hiding to protect herself and her young daughter Mona (Selina Zahednia) from an abusive husband named Hossein (Osamah Sami).
SHAYDA, premiering in the World Dramatic Section of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, is not about the present-day Iranian protests per se. However, its scenes of female bravery, sisterhood, and strength against male cruelty provide a powerful boost to the women-led revolution. I believe that Watching Shayda will inspire audiences to chant “Women, life, freedom” and join the Iranian Women’s Rights Movement.
Niasari lifts SHAYDA above a Lifetime channel melodrama level with empathetic storytelling, realistic performances, and a natural visual style. World cinema fans will recognize the humanistic characteristics of the Dardenne brothers (Rosetta, Lorna’s Silence) and a Ken Loach movie (it’s a free world).
The highlights throughout SHAYDA are subtle but powerful. Lead actress Zar Amir Ebrahimi, gaining worldwide attention for her role in the crime thriller Holy Spider, provides SHAYDA countless moments of tiny heartache, flickering hope, and limitless love for her daughter. Thanks to Ebrahimi, the most emotional scenes throughout SHAYDA are far removed from Hossein’s bursts of violence.
Shayda ducks in embarrassment in a Persian grocery store so as not to be seen by someone she knows. Shayda smiles brightly, dancing with her daughter and preparing her wheatgrass planting for Nowruz or the Iranian New Year.
Niasari and cinematographer Sherwin Akbarzadeh wrap the film’s delicate moments in a beautiful dance of shadow and light. The storytelling throughout SHAYDA may be verite-inspired, but its photography dazzles like a Persian flower.