My Tehran for Sale: The Persian Connection

Unofficial co-productions work better for smaller projects, the creators of the Australia-Iran drama  My Tehran for Sale told Miguel Gonzalez.

The story about a young female actress forced to lead a secret life in order to express herself artistically, takes place mostly in Tehran and is spoken in Farsi. It was not produced using one of the official treaties or MOUs, yet My Tehran for Sale is the first Australian-Iranian feature film co-production, and according to its creators, there is something inherently Australian about it.

“We had long discussions about the Australian component,” says 34-year old director Granaz Moussavi. “It’s not on screen for very long, but its presence is dominant throughout the film, and strong enough to make it an Iranian-Australian story. From the first  moment, the character is trying to migrate to Australia; that makes the story important to this society and encouraged Australian bodies to invest on it. Going ahead with this film and funding it was very courageous of them. It’s the first time that an Australian team  has gone to Iran and collaborated with local crews; considering the language and cultural barriers, they took a risk.”


Already a published author in her native Tehran and around the world, Moussavi migrated to Adelaide with her family in 1997. She worked with migrant and refugee communities and completed a degree in Screen Studies at Flinders University, and a postgraduate  degree in Film Editing at AFTRS.

Moussavi had also worked as an interpreter for the Adelaide Film Festival, translating for Iranian directors Abbas Kiarostami and Bahman Ghobadi. Moussavi left such a good impression on festival director Katrina Sedgwick that when she showed her an early draft of a script she had written, Sedgwick called Julie Ryan and Kate Croser (who were then working at Rolf de Heer’s Vertigo Productions), to tell them about the project. They met Moussavi at the 2006 SPAA Conference – where she won the pitching competition – and then  again at the 2007 Adelaide Film Festival. That second meeting proved crucial, as both production company Cyan Films and My  Tehran for Sale were born then.

The South Australia Film Corporation and the Adelaide Film Festival Fund provided most of the investment and helped raise the rest of the money; Bhaman Ghobadi offered production assistance on the ground in Tehran by providing advice and helping get key  Persian talent on board – reliable and with previous experience working with foreign productions “Finding a producing partner in any country enables us to make more stories,” says Ryan. “We happened to be in the right place at the right time. It’s great that festivals bring people here, giving us producers the opportunity to meet with filmmakers from around the world.”

Shooting in Tehran with an Iranian crew posed a number of challenges, but having worked with Rolf de Heer in different, yet similarly remote and difficult locations, Julie Ryan welcomed them.

“There were millions of cars on the road, so it was always peak hour. The heat was about 45 degrees, and we had to wear the hijab even at closed sets, to make sure there were no complaints about us.”

“We had the permission to shoot, but we tried to stay  out of the spotlight as much as possible,” adds Croser. “We knew it would be a lot easier and faster not to have the involvement of anyone official. We shot a lot indoors, and for the exterior shots, they happened  without a hitch.” Shooting during the summer, the production also faced the scheduled blackouts that affect the city. Croser describes the crew as “very hard-working”, to the extreme that one of the difficulties was trying to get them to stop working.

“There are no standard shoot days or weeks there, they usually work 16-18 hour days, seven days a week, until the film is finished. Our director and DOP (Australian Bonnie Elliott) needed to have some down time.” Ryan adds that the camera and sound teams were “world class”, even if they had not worked with digital formats before. “They adapted to that very well.”

Ryan, who worked on French-Australian co-prod The Old Man Who Read Love Stories with de Heer in 2001, believes official treaties can be very useful because they enable producers to structure strong finance plans. “You have two equal partners coming together,  and for bigger budget films, those treaties are perfectly fine. Some work better than others and that is a cultural thing; Australians work better with the UK and Canada for instance, and it is difficult working with a non-English speaking country,” she explains, adding  that such agreements can also be “slightly limiting”. “We would have never made this film if it were an official co-production with Iran.”

Croser adds that, in this particular case, the lack of an official co-prod structure and pathway was in no way an impediment for the project.

“We wanted to keep the budget as low as possible (under $1 million) and make the film with the money that we already had – we weren’t actually trying to access funds from Iran and we don’t know if we could have kept some of the stuff that’s in the film if we had relied  on Iranian money.

It just made things simpler and enabled us to go into production a lot faster, not having to go through that international contracting process. It’s been the right thing for this particular project, but there are others down the track for which we’d consider using official co-prod treaties.”

On the other hand, Moussavi explains she’d like to stay independent. “I don’t like working directly with the authorities. I’m not a politician.”

The producers believe that the creative combination of nationalities is not only beneficial to the practical aspects of filmmaking; it is also reflected in the unique angle of the story.
Granaz comes from Iran but has been living in Australia for ten years, so she’s able to comment on what’s happening over there, but from an outsider’s perspective. It’s one that Western audiences will find interesting.”

In fact, they are relying on that, on positive word of mouth and a strong performance in the festival circuit. At press time, the film had not secured Australian distribution yet.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.