Iranian film bows at Film Center

Hossein Khandan’s film “Chrysalis” plays at the Film Center’s Films of the Iranian Diaspora.

Iranian filmmaker Hossein Khandan was so drawn to Chicago when he first visited in 1994 that he decided to stay.

Khandan was in town for the screening of “Sara,” an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House” on which Khandan worked as production designer and first AD. “Sara” was playing in the Siskel Film Center’s Festival of Films from Iran.

After the festival, Khandan applied to Columbia College, enrolled, and he’s lived here ever since.

Khandan’s own film, “Chrysalis,” is having its world premiere at the Film Center this week in the Films of the Iranian Diaspora series.

Although Khandan shot the 30-minute “Chrysalis” in 1996, “The topic is so fresh it seems like I made it yesterday,” he said.

“Chrysalis” stars Ezzat Goushegir as an Iranian teacher who takes a job in a fellow Iranian’s beauty salon, where she is forced to hide her language and culture to avoid alienating the American clientele.

The chrysalis of the title represents the cocoon of isolation at latent transformation that Khandan sees as characterizing the immigration experience.

“I started this film because as a new Iranian American I experienced what the main character has gone through, a life totally different from one’s previous life, a period of transition from which I at least have always emerged stronger and more successful,” Khandan said.

“Chrysalis’ story is about an Iranian woman, Ezzat Goushegir, forced to hide her culture.

“The film is part of the conversation of the current crisis in the Middle East,” Khandan continued. “This is just one example of how the recent crisis has impacted the lives of Middle Eastern immigrants.”

Khandan is in the final weeks of postproduction on “American Burqa,” his second feature as director. “American Burqa” combines elements of documentary and narrative in a tale that seeks connections between the lives of American and Middle Eastern women.

Shooting in DV, Khandan documented three American women, a black singer, a white painter, and a Latino dancer, wearing the full-head covering burqa that women wear in some conservative Moslem communities, famously Afghanistan under the Taliban.

“Each of the women consented to have us film portions of their professional lives, their personal lives, and later share an artistic piece they created in response to their experience under the burqa,” Khandan said.

Khandan grew up in a strict religious family in pre-Revolution Iran. “Until I was 18 my family didn’t have a TV,” he said. But as he was beginning university study shortly after the 1979 Revolution, he found himself drawn to film. “I found that it is a very strong tool to express yourself, particularly in a country like Iran where half the population can’t read and write,” he said.

Khandan spent the ‘80s working as an assistant director in film and television, then also worked as a production designer in the ‘90s. He was production designer and first AD on the 1994 Iranian film “Shadow of Fright,” shot in Germany; production manager on the 1998 L.A. production “The Last Stop;” and the 2001 Argentinean-Iranian co-production “Dances with Dreams.”

His feature directorial debut was the 16mm “Rodell,” the story of a Filipino- Iranian boy who uses music to transcend the linguistic and cultural barriers that separate him from his extended family.

“Chrysalis” screens with Persheng Sadegh-Vaziri’s 60-minute documentary “Women Like Us,” April 23 and April 26 at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Khandan and Sadegh-Vaziri will attend the Saturday screening.

Learn more at Khandan’s and

— Ed M. Koziarski,