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Juan Carlos Nieto produced a short film about Anis Zunuzi, whom we paid tribute to here on Baha’i Blog. The 30 minute movie is called Anis: The Companion and it’s available in English, Spanish or Persian. It dramatizes events from the life of this outstanding hero of Baha’i History.
Juan agreed to tell us more and give us a glimpse behind the production of this movie:
Baha’i Blog: Hi Juan! To begin, please tell us about yourself and your experience producing films.
My name is Juan Carlos Nieto. I was born in San Juan, but I decided to live in the city of Córdoba, Argentina where my two children were born. Because of my faith, I love saying that I am a citizen of the world. I got to know about the Baha’i Faith when I met my wife, who was born in Iran. We have a family with two children and two grandchildren.
I got to know about the Faith when I was an officer in the Air Force and I think God wanted me to quit the Air Force a few days before the beginning of the Falkland (Malvinas) War with the United Kingdom. I always had the idea that being a military pilot was incompatible with being a Baha’i.
When I retired as a pilot, my knowledge about the Cause of Baha’u’llah was more advanced. When I studied the books of the Ruhi Institute, I decided to become a Baha’i, and to start serving the Blessed Beauty, and I served in all of the positions in the institutions and committees, including the National Spiritual Assembly of my country. I often recorded home-made videos about the Faith. And I understood that it was necessary to make them better. That is why I decided to learn about cinematography. I graduated as a Director.
The first screenplay I wrote, for my thesis, was: ‘Anis: A Different Love’, which later became ‘Anis: The Companion’. I was able to write it, but it was not accepted because it was religious. According to my teachers, I had to delete the whole epilogue, among other details, for them to accept it. But, I refused to alter the short and, after graduating, I could change it to its original format.
Baha’i Blog: What inspired you to make a movie about Anis?
Even before being a Baha’i, the fact that my wife had ‘The History of Anis’, by Mr. Mehrabkhani, on her bedside table, caught my attention. She told me about it and I read it. My wife said her mother had read it to her when she was a child. In our screenplay courses, the teacher asked us to write, in two hours time, a text about a story that we knew well. We had to include details and the screenplay had to include a moral. This immediately reminded me of Anis. Although the only thing we know about him is that he accepted to drink from the Cup of Martyrdom side by side with the Herald of the Faith. And that he unhesitatingly walked with him; and he was a kind of shield to protect the young Bab. Being myself a Catholic, the image of Jesus Christ accepting to sacrifice his life for Humanity came to my mind, and the fact is that Anis, who was an ordinary man, did not hesitate to give his life for a Manifestation of God.
Such goodness, so much humility… being rather naïve and innocent, he tried to use his body as a shield to protect The Bab, so that none of the bullets of seven hundred and fifty rifles could damage the body of the Herald of the Faith. When the execution was under way, Anis even asked his Well Beloved if he was happy with what he was doing.
Baha’i Blog: How has the movie been received so far?
First of all, I want to clarify something to those who do not know the film.
When it was in preproduction, I had to make a decision whether to make the short in the original language of the story, Persian. Because, if it were in Spanish, and with a Córdobés accent, the original spirit could be lost. That is why some Persian Baha’i friends were asked to play the roles, even if they were not professional actors, plus some actors who were Argentinians had to be taught Persian phonetics. That was not a good idea, because the final version was often unintelligible to some Persian friends, who said they could not understand anything.
This moved me to make the decision to look for a group of Persian friends who could dub the voices of all the characters. This was at the same time a dramatic and a beautiful chapter that let me see the bounty of the Blessed Beauty, Baha’u’llah, and how He could open the door to save the project from failure because of the language. This group of friends did an impeccable job dubbing the film. I am forever thankful to the Nehal group.
I attest that this is an adapted version of The History of Anis but, according to Mr. Mesrakhani, the author of the book, who saw the short, “although it does not follow the book, this short maintains the spirit of my book.”
The film had two premieres, one in Rio Gallegos, Argentina, which is one of the most southern cities in the World. In fact there are few Baha’is there to check if they could appreciate it like they would any other film. The opinion of the non-Baha’i public was quite favorable. Some of them said it looked like an Iranian or French film, because of the narration.
The other premiere was in Brazil, at the Soltanieh Institute, at a national conference for Iranians in Brazil. I know they were very happy with the Persian language spoken in the short. And, best of all for me, some young people were crying. They said the short reminded them or the tale their parents used to tell them before bed.
An internet channel in the US, NoviTV, popular with Baha’is, got to know about “a crazy film director” in Argentina who was making a film in Persian about Anis, and they were surprised that the director could not speak Persian. That is why we had an interview on Skype and the result was that the channel decided to broadcast the short ‘Anis’ on the internet to Iran and to the whole world.
We know that these broadcasts were seen not only in Iran, but also in Germany, Canada, the US, Spain, and Russia. There is an anecdote about those who saw it in Iran, some of them were not Baha’i. One of the actors’ sister – the actor plays the role of a bad guy – saw it and she called her brother in Argentina to tell him she had seen it and that “she did not know she had a very bad brother.” The film was also seen in Latin American countries such as Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brasil, Argentina, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua. It was also seen in Spain, Australia, and Haifa, Israel. I know they all liked it.
Baha’i Blog: What was your favourite part of making this film, or what part had the greatest impact on you?
I now know that if I make a long film, I would not repeat the mistake of being the director and the producer at the same time.
It is also important to learn that in the Baha’i world there are many good friends who, unselfishly, accepted to be part of the team, and helped not to let the project fall apart. I will always be grateful to them, and also to Mr. Mehrabkhani…. and especially to the Blessed Beauty.
Baha’i Blog: What advice do you have for Baha’is interested in producing films?
I have no authority to give advice to anybody, but I became a Baha’i late in my life, and I am a child of the Institute process. That is why I could experience a spiritual transformation, to understand the ABCs of the Ruhi Institute, which affords you the conscious knowledge that comes from the Creative Word, the Mother of All Words. It unerringly guides you to serve all human beings that you may come across; to reestablish a connection with the Blessed Beauty, and to perform good deeds. The Word of God is so beautiful that we can make the mistake and think that it is just good poetry when in fact it is an absolute reality; and you have to have the courage to make it real up to the last consequences, as Anis Zunuzi did.
Baha’i Blog: What other projects are you working on?
As far as my future projects are concerned, on the basis of this short film ‘Anis’, I am now working on The Life of The Bab. This screenplay has a step-by-step structure. The life of Anis is the axis around which the life of the Herald of the Faith is told. Tabarsi, Tahere, Badi, Qudus, etc. are all included.
I would like to take this chance to invite my Baha’i friends from all over the world to add small pieces to this project in order to put it together.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much, Juan, for talking to us and for sharing your story on Baha’i Blog!
*PLEASE NOTE: Unfortunately ‘Anis: The Companion’ had a technical glitch and the film is currently not available but we hope it will be soon.
If you’re interested in some behind-the-scenes footage, check out the YouTube page for ‘Anis the Companion’.
You can also read more about Anis here in this Baha’i Blog article called A Tribute to Anis Zunuzi.
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