Supervising Producer Mo Whelan on set with cinematographer John Wilbers.
Photo as seen on More Horror.
The Seeking Valentina team filmed three days in Big Bear Lake, CA.
Armin Nasseri, right, and his crew film in Ojai, CA. Photo as seen in Malevolent Magazine.
One day of shooting took place at the geodesic dome at Soul Centered of Ojai. Photo as seen in More Horror.
Seeking Valentina, written and directed by Armin Nasseri, follows Benjamin (played by Ali Bavarian), a Jewish Iranian-American writer, in the pangs of grief. When Benjamin takes in a whimsical and an engaging tenant and she mysteriously disappears, it is for the audience to decide is she a ghost, a hallucination, a dream or a runaway.
Kristin West (Hell's Kitty, Circus of the Dead), Nasseri's producing partner, also plays the title role of Valentina. She says of this compelling project, "I have always believed in Armin Nasseri's vision for Seeking Valentina and at this moment, with the controversy swirling around the Middle East and specifically with America's relations with Iran and Israel, the film we've worked so hard on for a year-and-a-half is now more important than ever. Our film put real Iranian Americans in a psychological thriller as an American Jewish Iranian family--not jihadists, not terrorists, not stuck in 70s--but living, breathing today."
Nasseri vigorously resisted stereotyping throughout his production, which attracted acclaimed Persian-American Actress Vida Ghaffari (The Mindy Project, Mind of Mencia) to Seeking Valentina. Ghaffari said, "I was really drawn to this project as it forgoes all the ridiculous stereotypes I often have to portray as an artist." She adds, "It's refreshing and empowering as an artist to portray someone who is just a human being living her everyday life with no labels." Ghaffari plays Benjamin's sister Ana in Seeking Valentina. Portraying a Persian-American family was a priority for Nasseri, as often minority characters are not given the context of a family in much standard programming in the U.S.
West and Nasseri point out that they committed to not only having an ethnically diverse cast but also a gender balanced cast and crew. Five of the ten crew members were female. Of the principal and supporting cast of nine, five were females and four were male. Nasseri also made an atypical casting choice in West for the title role of Valentina. "I am not a size 0," says West, "I usually get supporting character parts, not the romantic lead in a film like this." West's past roles have included playing a diverse array of character roles such as a fortune teller, ghoul, duchess, crime scene investigator and almost everything in between.
Nasseri and West's production took them over 500 miles, over three counties throughout Southern California, in the course of six days, filming in North Hollywood, Big Bear Lake and Ojai. They shot each day of those six days-no small fete for any production. On the last day of production, it snowed in Big Bear, which is seven thousand feet above sea level. "We were packing up our gear as the snow began to fall," West said.
Though the film very prominently features Iranian-American actors, Nasseri cites the work of Ingmar Bergman as a strong influence for Seeking Valentina. He believes that his short is very much a "film with universal themes," toying with what's illusion and what's reality throughout the short.
"I grew up in the south as a minority. I live in America, but my heritage is Persian. Obviously, the two countries haven't had a diplomatic relationship since the 1979 Revolution," Nasseri added, "There is no prediction on when their relationship will ever heal, but I do hope through artistry, that movies will showcase a universe where minorities, especially Iranian born citizens or Iranian Americans, can be seen as superheroes, agents, diplomats, writers, athletes, professors, restaurant owners, engineers, physicians, lawyers and homeowners." Nasseri and West anticipate the film will be screening at film festivals sometime in 2015 and 2016.