This week’s FUTURESTATES short depicts a future where a cyber attack on the United States Immigration database puts a young woman, Sonia, at risk of being deported back to Iran – but remaining in the U.S. may come at a greater price than she’s willing to pay. Director Mohammad Gorjestani gives us this inside look at the inspiration behind the short film, which is available to stream for free at futurestates.tv and on pbs.org.
As an Iranian American, I find myself on both sides of an escalating geopolitical situation between the United States and Iran. When invited to pitch a story for the FUTURESTATES series, I began to realize that I wanted to further explore the potential repercussions of the brewing U.S./Iran conflict in the not-too-distant future.
As I explored the landscape and hypothesized various scenarios that I felt deserved attention, I stumbled upon two profound realizations. The first was that the nature of warfare has evolved to the point that cyber warfare is no longer rooted in fiction, but rather an aggressively approaching reality. The second was that a large number of Iranian immigrants living in the U.S. could find themselves victims of political backlash similar to the experience of Japanese Americans during World War II. I knew, however, that while history could repeat itself, it would likely not replicate the past but come in a new form.
After many drafts of a treatment for the film, I finally landed on a story that explored all the themes I envisioned, and could be told in a style that was achievable and representative of my voice as a storyteller. As the writing began, the goal was to build a character that was relatable and could serve as a vehicle through which to study and explore this not-so-distant world. An element critical to the film was the theme of a world where technology, immigration, and government had dovetailed in potentially perilous ways. Within this context, I wanted to look at the question of why immigrants are often willing to pay a high price to live a life that many of us take for granted.
With Sonia, we have a young, ambitious, and independent character that left a troubled situation in Iran to pursue an education and the American dream – which ultimately proves to resemble more of a nightmare. I wanted to place Sonia in a situation and give her a choice to make which blended irony and allegory, and which directly conflicted her values. Ultimately, Refuge is a story about a character facing an extraordinary circumstance, and falling victim to a geopolitical conflict reflective of a world we could all soon live in.
— Mohammad Gorjestani, Writer/Director