Emelie Mahdavian is a Persian-speaking filmmaker and Fulbright scholar who has spent over ten years working in Central Asian arts. Her feature documentary After the Curtain premiered at Lincoln Center as part of the 44th Dance on Camera series. Her experimental motion capture dance film Intangible Body, exploring censorship of women’s dance in Iran, was exhibited at museums and international festivals. Emelie studied filmmaking at London Film School, and has a Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis, where she also teaches Film Studies and Cinema and Digital Media. She lives off-grid in the mountains of Idaho where she is developing her debut feature.
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Director: Hassan Fazili
2019, USA, Qatar, Canada, UK, 87 minutes, Digital, NR
Language: Persian and English with English subtitles
After death threats are leveled at director Hassan Fazili by the Taliban, he and his family are forced to flee their home in Afghanistan and begin a three-year journey toward western Europe. Wielding camera phones and bags of SD cards—newly erased since their last meeting with editor Emelie Mahdavian’s contact on the ground—the Fazili family traverses the notorious Balkan smuggling route in search of a safe harbor. They record over 300 hours of startling home video footage along their way, capturing the route’s dangers and delays, but also their deep bonds and interstices of joy. Through this footage, Midnight Traveler witnesses a family of filmmakers who cling to their art in a time of duress, producing a first person account of life as a refugee that’s both intimate and unforgettable.
The story of Midnight Traveler begins in 2015, with Hassan’s documentary Peace in Afghanistan, which profiled a Taliban commander who decided to lay down his arms. After the film aired on national television, its subject was assassinated by the Taliban, who also put a price on Hassan’s head. The director fled to Tajikistan with his family, where they spent 14 months submitting applications for asylum that were all rejected. Then, together with his daughters Nargis and Zahra, and wife Fatima, who is also a filmmaker, Hassan decided to return to Afghanistan momentarily, before setting out on a 3,500 mile journey toward Germany. Over the course of the film that follows, we watch as the Fazili family endures threats of violence, racism, and degrading living conditions. Their perseverance through these ordeals exposes the strength of their relationship. Looking on as Nargis dances to songs on YouTube and Fatima teases Hassan, we forget, momentarily, about their confines and remember Midnight Traveler is also a warm and captivating home movie.
Fans of Cameraperson would be remiss not to see this remarkable documentary made in a unique working dialogue between director and editor. Dispensing with establishing shots and embracing the aesthetic flaws of low-grade video, Fazili and Mahdavian have cut a gripping, alarming travelogue from a family whose struggles are representative of so many lives in the balance. (Mitchell Goodrich)
Sundance Film Festival
Berlin International Film Festival
Maryland Film Festival
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for No Borders
Sundance Film Festival