SIU faculty documentary on childhood trauma caused by racism earning acclaim

Award-winning filmmaker: Students in SIU’s School of Media Arts have the opportunity to learn from well-established filmmakers, including Pirooz Kalayeh, an assistant professor in scriptwriting and film production. His feature-length documentary, “Sometimes I Dream in Farsi,” is earning numerous awards and accolades at film festivals. (Photo by Russell Bailey)

Students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale have the opportunity to learn — and interact daily — with internationally recognized faculty who not only are gifted instructors but also talented artists such as Pirooz Kalayeh. An assistant professor in scriptwriting and film production in the School of Media Arts who arrived in last August, Kalayeh is receiving accolades for his documentary feature, “Sometimes I Dream in Farsi.”

The film will be screened during the Ocean City Film Festival, March 3-9. Audiences can visit the festival’s website for information about streaming the film or viewing it in person.

Already, it has earned “Best U.S. Documentary Feature” at the New York Independent Cinema Awards, was a semi-finalist at the Flickers Rhode Island Film Festival and Dumbo Film Festival and was a finalist in the Dances With Films independent film festival in Los Angeles. The film made its world premiere in 2021 at the Galway Film Fleadh in Ireland. Watch the trailer.

Kalayeh said his goal for students is they become “creative problem solvers who can be equally comfortable leading or supporting a team in any writing or production scenario — and that they’re continually filled with imagination, hope and possibility.”

Weaving together a story

Kalayeh uses his experiences as an artist, touring musician, writer, actor and director in weaving together genres and mediums into film. He wants students to realize the way content is created and distributed “allows for many different paths forward.” His classes often incorporate multiple working scenarios within writing and production, including editing, design and distribution, so students learn about operating on large budget film projects, smaller independent films or other creations. He also throws in various restraints and allows for individuals and teams to work to finds solutions.

“In this way, through practice and execution, students obtain a diverse set of tools that will allow them to be content creators that could work across all digital media platforms,” he said.

Kalayeh spent several years working on the film. His teaching experiences have included universities in Malta, South Korea, Southern California (including Hollywood), and Rochester, New York.

Film focuses on Kalayeh’s childhood

Kalayeh has been making films for the last 12 years and said he believes “Sometimes I Dream in Farsi” to be his first film on the path finding his voice within cinema. The 93-minute film focuses on a traumatic racist incident in Kalayeh’s childhood when Kalayeh was refused a haircut from a barber in Wilmington, Delaware, because of his Iranian heritage. Kalayeh’s family immigrated to the United States after their forced upheaval following the Iranian Revolution.

The film documents Kalayeh’s journey through filmmaking over the past five years, which includes returning to the barbershop and a “series of role-plays with family, friends and children to understand how racism leaves lasting effects” and how Kalayeh and others can move forward.”

The film is different from any of his other works, Kalayeh said.

“It’s about how children and adults can heal themselves after going through prejudice and discrimination,” he said. “It’s also about helping start conversations about how to bring people together. That is why I get very happy for what’s happening, because I recognize the film is potentially helping a lot of people and that, above anything else, makes me proud, grateful and hopeful for a world with equality and well-being for everyone. ”

Attracted to SIU for several reasons

Robert Spahr, the School of Media Arts interim director, noted Kalayeh’s “strong teaching portfolio and a creative practice that incorporates short films across a variety of media platforms including his most recent feature length film. He represents the exciting pedagogical and creative work being done in the School of Media Arts.”

This spring, Kalayeh is teaching film production and scriptwriting courses. He was attracted to SIU and the College of Arts and Media for several reasons, including that the School of Media Arts was “geared toward making a program that would meld media arts under one umbrella, which is exactly what students will need to be successful content creators within our current media landscape.”

Kalayeh added that before coming to SIU he was taken by Spahr’s comments that students can receive just as good an education as they would in Los Angeles or New York City but one they can afford.

He also wanted to experience the Midwest, “like one of my heroes, Charles Ingalls,” he said.

“I figured having a little house on the prairie would be just what the doctor ordered. Maybe, even my very own highway to heaven.”

H.D. Motyl, interim associate dean in the College of Arts and Media, noted the college’s belief that faculty “should model for our students how to be a successful, practicing artist and creator.”

“Dr. Kalayeh’s continuing exhibitions of his short films, and now his feature film, is a prime example of this,” Motyl said. “He is only in his first year here, and students in CAM already are benefiting from his experience and expertise.”

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