Shayda – Celebrating strong women

An Iranian woman and her daughter hope for a new life while in an Australian women’s shelter. Noora Niasari’s Shayda is a story about escaping fear and finding new beginnings. It is also a story about finding strength and confidence to buld that new life. Shayda is Australia’s submission for Best Foreign Feature consideration.

Shayda (Zar Amir Ebrahimi) has moved into a shelter with her daughter Mona (Selina Zahednia) to escape her controlling and abusive husband (Osamah Sami). Mona longs to be back in her home instead of living in this arrangement with other women and children. She misses her father. Shayda tries to keep her grounded and entertained by preparing for the upcoming Persian New Year (Nowruz). She keeps the various traditional trappings of Nowruz so that Mona will feel comfortable and because she wants her daughter to be connected with her heritage.

Zar Amir Ebrahimi as Shayda in SHAYDA. Photo credit: Jane Zhang. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

When her husband is given visitation rights, Shayda worries that he might steal Mona and leave the country. Although he brings her back, he still uses various micro-aggressive and controlling behaviors that to create tension in the family.

Nowruz serves as an anchor in the story. Mona looks forward to the holiday and the gifts that come with it. Shayda teachers her daughter the traditions and how to dance in a Persian style. Mona still primarily speaks Farsi. Even though Shayda has no desire to return to Iran, she wants Mona to have an appreciation of her culture.

Nowruz also functions as a metaphor of new life. Just as we tend to think of a new year bringing new possibilities, Shayda is looking for a new life—free from the abusive marriage and free from the strictures of Iranian society. (She is seeking refugee status to avoid having to return to the oppression in Iran.) Nowrus is tied to the new life that comes in springtime. But in Australia, Nowruz happens in autumn. The discrepancy emphasizes that even as Shayda tries to hold on to her heritage, the new life she is trying to find will also be very different.

Zar Amir Ebrahimi as Shayda and and Selina Zahednia as Mona in SHAYDA Photo credit: Jane Zhang. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

At the screening of the film at AFIFest, the director noted that this is a very personal film for her because when she was five years old, she and her mother entered a women’s shelter. She calls it her first taste of freedom. She uses this film to celebrate the freedom that her mother found and the strength that was needed to secure it.

Shayda begins a limited theatrical release on Dec. 1

Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

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