In Conversation with Nora Niasari: Waterfall, the cross-cultural family, and connection through language

By Mihika Hegde | @mihika_h

Having worked in Lebanon, Chile and Tehran, writer/director Nora Niasari is one to watch. At the age of just 26, her filmography already spans an impressive number of continents. Tackling the heavy topics of estrangement, adaptation, and loss, Niasari is no stranger to telling stories that make you catch your breath.

Taking a look at the dynamic of a cross-cultural family, her latest film Waterfall follows 14 year old, Iranian-born Zahra on a road trip with her mother and step-father, Peter. Tensions arise when the family find themselves lost and are forced to confront the underlying tensions of their relationships. Niasari said she was particularly interested in exploring how language creates connection.

“Zahra speaks to her mother in Farsi, so they have [an] intrinsic bond through language that Peter can’t access.

“That’s something that’s not really addressed in terms of migrant families and how they deal with communication while retaining their cultural identity within a broader Australian landscape.”

Drawing upon her own experience, she said she created Waterfall in part to broaden the conversation surrounding what it means to be Australian. Zahra and her mother first migrate to Australia by themselves, and so their bond is that much stronger.

“They’re quite isolated, and so when someone else comes into their world, it shakes things up a lot more.”

Telling the story though such a young character in Zahra was a interesting choice, but not one without deep consideration. At such a formative age, Niasari said it gave the film an interesting dynamic.

“Zahra doesn’t really know her identity as an adult would. She’s really still finding her place in the world, so I was interested in exploring that coming-of-age story.

“When you’re at that age, things happen outside of your control and you just have to eventually come to terms with it. It can be really frustrating, and it can really shape a person’s future.”

With a number of accolades under her belt, Niasari has a considerable track record. Speaking of her approach to filmmaking, she said came down to living a story to tell it. “I always try and find a common ground between me and the subject,” she said.

“You really need to empathise with whatever story you’re telling. In order to tell it in an authentic way, you need to be embedded into that world and those people’s lives”.

Waterfall will be screening this Saturday 19 August, as a part of MIFF’s Australian Shorts program.

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