An old former captain suffering from PTSD, lives with his daughter in a humble house by the sea. They live in solitude and struggle with a harsh life. The old captain wants to be a caring and loving father but he cannot. One morning something unexpected happens. This happening can be either a new trouble or a blessing in disguise.

Film credits
Directors, Scriptwriters, Producers: Shirin Sohani and Hossein Molayemi
Animation: Azad Maroufi, Hessam Javaheri, Hossein Molayemi and Reyhaneh Sadat Mirhashemi
Music: Afshin Azizi
Technique: 2D digital 
Running time: 19:33

In the Shadow of the Cypress is a refined 2D animation short film directed by Iranian directors Shirin Sohani and Hossein Molayemi.

This film carefully portrays the characters’ behaviours by delicately reflecting their inner lives in a minimal narrative environment. It allows us to closely observe the relationship between a father and his daughter while sympathizing with their kindness and the mental conflicts caused by PTSD.

In the Shadow of the Cypress is making its global journey around many international animation film festivals, including the nominations for the “International Competition” category at the Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film (ITFS) 2024 and “Short Films Official Selection” at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival 2024.

We interviewed Shirin Sohani and Hossein Molayemi, the directors, scriptwriters, and producers of In the Shadow of the Cypress.

Shirin Sohani and Hossein Molayemi

Interview with Shirin Sohani and Hossein Molayemi

Hideki Nagaishi (HN): What did you most want to portray or deliver to the audience through the film?

Shirin Sohani: One of the attractions of cinema is that viewers can experience different lives through films. Our goal was for the audience of our film to “touch” the lives of individuals with PTSD and their families with their whole being, but we didn’t necessarily expect them to draw any specific conclusions from it.

Hossein Molayemi: In our film, you can observe various elements such as war, PTSD patients, women’s issues, environmental importance, and so on. However, what holds primary importance in this film is deep human relationships and the priority of family. If we are supposed to briefly express what the audience takes away from our film, we can point to the concept of love and a parent’s support for their child. Ultimately, we hope our film leads to a form of catharsis for the audience.

HN: How did the film project start?

Shirin Sohani: After completing the film Run Rostam Run in 2017, Hossein and I wanted to collaborate on a film project. We decided to choose a subject that would be a shared concern for both of us and on which we had a mutual agreement.

HN: Where did the initial idea of the film come from?

Hossein Molayemi: As I mentioned before, the parent-child relationship was very important to us, and at the beginning of the project, we had no other idea in mind than wanting to make a film about a parent and a child.

In the early stages of working on the screenplay, the characters of the film were a mother and a son. As we progressed, we decided to change the characters to a poor father and his musician daughter. The daughter was supposed to immigrate to another country to pursue her dreams. The issue of migration and the choice between staying and leaving has become a significant concern for the current generation of Iranians, including ourselves. Gradually, other ideas came to our minds and changed the course of the story. We considered various locations for our film, and eventually, we decided that the story should take place by the sea, as it provided a good dramatic potential for our narrative.

In the initial sketches, there was a ship stranded on the shore after selecting the seaside location. After some time, a whale became part of the story. Instead of the ship, we grounded the whale and sent the ship back to the sea. In fact, the story itself guided us. You can see that multiple changes occurred in the process of creating and developing the story, and gradually, the main elements and characters of our film transformed into what you see in the film—an old sea captain suffering from PTSD, his teenage daughter, a stranded whale, a humble house, and an old, damaged ship.

HN: How did you develop the film’s entire story from the initial idea? What did you take care in the most, and what were the difficult parts and how did you solve them?

Hossein Molayemi: The screenplay for this project developed through numerous two-person sessions, and a considerable amount of time was dedicated to reaching the final screenplay. During these sessions, we raised multiple questions and challenged our story from various points of view to discover potential story problems.

We had achieved eighty percent of the story structure and its quality, within about twenty or thirty percent of the total time devoted to the screenplay. However, the final attention to details and final retouches took a significant amount of time, as reaching the details that would elevate the film from being good to excellent in our eyes was quite time-consuming.

Moreover, while progressing with the story and turning it into a screenplay, we had to conduct research on various aspects, including PTSD patients, stranded whales, traditional Iranian ships, customs, traditional music and clothing from southern Iran, sea birds and their behaviour, war and its adversities, and so on.

Throughout this long journey, we constantly reminded ourselves to harmonise the multiple elements of the story in a way that our initial idea, the importance of family and the parent-child relationship, would not be sidelined.

Shirin Sohani: The absence of dialogue, the limited characters, and being confined to a certain location, made it challenging to expand the story. While the narrative of this story and its complexities might require more than 30 minutes, we needed to be able to tell it within a shorter timeframe and make the most out of the available time. We couldn’t afford any unnecessary shots or movements, and we had to maximize the use of the time we had. Arranging this story was like a difficult puzzle for us. It can be said that taking care of the story meant not overlooking any script loopholes, being meticulous, and dedicating time to it, which guided us in reaching the final screenplay.

early concept

HN: Regarding the visuals of the story’s universe, what did you take care in the most on the visual design of characters and backgrounds?

Shirin Sohani: One of the challenges we faced in this aspect was that we didn’t want to rely on a specific style or a certain film as a reference. Creativity, originality, and visual authenticity were crucial to us, which made our task more difficult.

Hossein Molayemi: Our goal in this project was not to show off and showcase our technical abilities because we wanted to keep the focus of both ourselves and the audience on the story and the drama. We didn’t want technical complexities to distract the viewer. Simplicity and minimalism allowed the story to keep the top priority.

On the other hand, the consistency and coherence of images, shots, and animations throughout the film was of great importance to us. In terms of animating, despite each artist collaborating with us having their own different style and personal touch, we managed to maintain a visual coherence in the overall animation of the film using certain techniques.

colour palette
character “Guishoo
character “Father

HN: What do you think are the strengths of this film’s visual style and colour palette in portraying the story?

Hossein Molayemi: I believe the final judgment on the strengths of the film in different aspects lies with the audience and critics.

However, in my opinion, the simplicity and minimalism in the visual style of the film help the audience to stay focused on the story. It emphasizes the fact that the characters live in a secluded and remote place. For depicting the isolation of the characters, naturally a desolate and secluded environment was needed.

Additionally, the use of perspective and three-dimensional space adds to the believability and tangibility of the environment and characters in a film created using a two-dimensional technique.

The color palette of the film also contributes to portraying the heat and warmth of the location while maintaining a sense of hope. Furthermore, the color scheme in the final scene depicts a post-apocalyptic world for the audience.

Shirin Sohani: There is no reflection of the characters’ life struggles in the colour and lighting of the film. The colors are sometimes vibrant and sunlit, and I can’t say that it was a deliberate choice. It has been partly conscious and partly subconscious. Perhaps it’s because we always feel a glimmer of light and hope behind every hardship.

HN: I directly and strongly felt the emotion and inner struggle of the father throughout the story, and that was impressive and memorable for me. How did you create the characters’ inner lives and in the film depicted them in such a lifelike manner? I’m especially interested in what you think were the key points for that creative achievement.

Hossein Molayemi: The moments when we delve into our own lives in the deepest way were a source of inspiration for creating the inner world of the characters in the film. The not-so-friendly relationships I had with my father, as well as the fact that Shirin’s father was an Iran-Iraq war veteran, were among the elements that helped us in shaping these characters.

Moreover, dedicating a significant amount of time to the screenplay and striving to enhance the quality during the pre-production stage made the characters more convincing and believable. We constantly reminded ourselves that the emotional and sensory impact in this film is important to us. We often had discussions among ourselves to make decisions about the details. We aimed to create characters that weren’t simply black and white.

Interestingly, the fact that the characters’ eyes were small and narrowed was one of the challenges we faced in reflecting their inner states in their facial expressions. Overall, working on the pre-production stage, especially the story, is like brewing tea or herbal infusion; it requires sufficient time to slowly take shape and achieve the desired outcome.

HN: Could you please let us know the story behind the music of the film?

Shirin Sohani: The music of the film was one of our biggest concerns. We knew that the right music could elevate the film, while the wrong music could significantly undermine it. Additionally, we didn’t have the luxury of spending a lot of money on multiple music compositions. The initial sessions with the composer were challenging because we had to effectively convey what we wanted, and he had to deliver on that. We aimed for minimalistic music that served the essential needs of the film while preserving the silent moments within the film.

One fortunate aspect of this film was our acquaintance with the composer. He quickly grasped our intentions and started playing small pieces with various instruments to familiarize himself more with our taste. From that point on, we trusted each other more. He would progress with certain parts according to our preferences, and for other parts, we gave him the freedom to express his creativity. In the end, all three of us were satisfied with the result.

HN: What was the biggest challenge or difficulty for the non-creative parts of the film project as a producer?

Hossein Molayemi: We faced numerous challenges throughout this project, and the path was full of twists and turns. I can’t mention one of them as the biggest challenge. We had to overcome many obstacles, such as budget constraints and a shortage of skilled personnel due to migration. The COVID-19 pandemic also led to remote work and slowed down the production process. Additionally, sanctions and economic issues directly affected the project, and problems like family and personal difficulties and also my diagnosis with Alopecia Universalis disorder, indirectly disrupted the project’s progress.

Shirin Sohani: In my opinion, the biggest challenge was securing skilled personnel. Considering that this film was a large-scale production as a short film and required a significant number of individuals for various stages, we live in a country where more and more professionals are leaving due to migration or changing careers to secure a minimum income. One of the reasons for the prolonged process of making this film was that Hossein and I had to take on many roles ourselves in order to make up for the lack of enough skilled artists.

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