04 June, 2010
by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor
Manyar I. Parwani American Editor
, age 34, is an Afghan film director and screenwriter who is currently making films in Denmark. He was born in Afghanistan and has lived in Denmark for 23 years, but feels neither Afghan nor Danish. He just wants to be a creative filmmaker who tells stories that touch people across cultures. He has wanted to be a filmmaker ever since he worked as an usher in a Copenhagen cinema and dreamed about seeing his own name on a poster over the ticket counter. He didn’t take the well-travelled path through the National Film School of Denmark. Instead, he simply made a lot of movies and never stopped to ask himself, if he could.
He started out making short films, which he made as part The Danish Video Workshop, specifically THE POET (1998). He then turned to documentary film, making the film AVIATION (2003), which was shown at film festivals worldwide. After making several well respected short films, IN MY WORLD (2006) and IBRAHIM (2007), he ventured on his biggest project yet, a feature film, produced by Lars Von Trier's celebrated company Zentropa. His feature debut WHEN HEAVEN FALLS is being screened at the Zlin Film Festival in the European Debuts Competition section.
Parwani has made a sensitive and knowing film about the difficulties of returning home. In WHEN HEAVEN FALLS, a 28 year old woman decides to visit her original home in order to pay her last respects to her recently deceased mother. Even though she is determined to go immediately back to Copenhagen, she can't resist seeing her family - her brother Danni and father Kjeldat - at least for a while. Her fleeting memories of a difficult childhood and being abandoned come up strongly for her. Her feelings of self-image have been relentlessly intertwined with her bitterness over ancient wrongs. When she discovers that she actually has two much younger sisters, her next steps are harshly affected by her memories.
In the handling of this explosive subject, Manyar I. Parwani had no intention of sneaking out a polite debut feature. He wanted to make a splash and shake up the audience with a movie about an important issue. Inspired by true events, the film's dramatic showdowns seem inspired by his own past.
The screenplay for WHEN HEAVEN FALLS began as a multi-plot story titled DK-LAND in the vein of films like 21 GRAMS and SYRIANA. But as the script was being refined, another story kept elbowing in. It was a story inspired by an ongoing Danish criminal case, the so-called Tønder case, involving the sexual abuse of two sisters in a small provincial town.
Parwani wrote the script over two years based on extensive research into the criminal case and on studies of neo-Nazi milieus, which also play a prominent part in the film – both of which he knew nothing about at the time. A major challenge was getting close to people he had no immediate understanding of, plus finding the right way to tell a very tough story.
In a recent interview published by the Danish Film Institute, Parwani described his approach to filmmakiing and in wanting to be a distinctive film atist. "I wanted to debut my first feature film with a splash", he said. "I wanted this film to advance Danish cinema. It was important for me to ask myself the question: What can I do for Danish cinema? How can I add something new? If you’re too afraid of doing something stupid, your film gets boring. You shouldn’t just play it safe. Instead, be challenging! I didn’t want to sneak out a polite debut film and be, like, ‘Thanks for having me.’ I wanted to make a film that makes a difference to those who see it.”