Longing for the Soul, A Quest for Rumi, a full-length documentary film, will take the viewers on a mesmerizing journey through the lands of ancient Persia, to modern days Afghanistan, Turkey and United States, to tell the story of a mystic man, Molana Jalal-El-Din Rumi, who’s message of love and peace has been passed on for centuries.
Rumi, departed from the world in 1273, late in the day of December 17. To his followers, this date is known as Sheb-Urs or the Wedding Night. At his funeral, people of all religions gather to celebrate his passing to the realm of god. Rumi reveals mysteries of the universe, in language of poetry and mysticism unfolding in the realm of science in the 21st Century?
Aryana Farshad independently produced 5 documentary films since year 2000. Her first major project "Mystic Iran: The Unseen World", a full-length documentary was broadcast at international level and screened, awarded and praised at major spiritual events and film festivals and received “Audience Favorite Award.”
She is recipient of “ABU Award”, “Telly Award”, and ‘Davey Award” “Audience Favorite Award, London Independent Film Awards Barcelona Planet Film Festival
What was the inspiration behind the making of “Longing for the Soul: A Quest for Rumi”?
We come whirling out of nothingness
Stars make a circle
And in the middle, we dance
Molana Jallal-E-Din Balkhy (Rumi)
From my student times in Paris and then living in Tehran to migrating to Los Angeles, I always meditated and took yoga classes not knowing the real effects of the rituals. My response to people who asked me about yoga was:” I’ll be calm and will end up with amazing legs.”
Later on, in Los Angeles, I was invited by a friend to participate in a meditation/ Zikr ritual at a Sufi Center which was my introduction to a different way to relax, release excess emotions, and tap into my deeper level of soul.
It was actually after this mystic experience thru knowing the existence of our inner self that my view of the world started to change and I was seeing a clearer VISTA of life, the outer world, and journey into the inner world and I felt an urge to share that journey with people knowing they will profit from the ritual or I call it SOUL exercise.
To follow the practice, I traveled back to Iran and by knocking on Sufi centers’ doors, I was guided to visit dervishes in Kurdistan, Iran. There, I spent time with Dervish women in remote villages of Najar, where I participated in their incredible zek rituals, sometimes till 3 am in ecstasy. Once, initiated to their sacred circle, I was allowed to film their rituals, which became the base for my first long documentary film “Mystic Iran, the Unseen World “.
Upon my return to Los Angeles, while working on my film, I was invited to participate in the “Whirling Dervishes” Sama ceremony and that was the beginning of a long journey of filming Sama, learning and understanding Molana’s messages.
Molana Jallal-E-Din Balkhi simply known as Molana to his lovers, departed from the world, late on December 17, 1273, in the ancient city of Konya, in Turkey. And for centuries, this day has been known as the Shabeh Arus or “Wedding Night”.
In 2007, I traveled to Konya to visit and film Molana’s mausoleum, the “Wedding Night” ceremony and celebration for his passing which became the base for my ‘Longing for the Soul, A Quest for Rumi” film project.
What is it like to write, direct, produce, and edit an independent documentary at the same time?
Difficult to explain but it is like you have the entire film in your mind and every aspect of it whirls into your psyche to materialize.
As an independent documentary filmmaker, I prefer to research, write, fundraise, produce, direct, and edit. I travel with a small crew, including a line producer, 3 camera crew, and a driver/caterer.
We do not want to attract attention while filming in those parts of the world, like Iran, Afghanistan, and even Turkey.
Usually, I shape the film in the editing process which takes some months as in the case of “Mystic Iran” or years in the case of the Molana project.
Then I write the narration, with the help of professional English or French-speaking writers, as English and French are my 2d and 3d languages, after Farsi.
I think my style is the “AUTHOR” of the film, what we call L’oeuvre d’auteur, a filmmaker whose work is based on personal experiences and favors having content and artistic control over the project.
How did you start making films and what was the first film project you worked on?
I studied film and editing in Paris, France, and worked as a documentary film editor in Iran.
Years passed and 20 years after migrating to the US, I went back to Iran to make a documentary film about mysticism and spirituality, along with religions which became “Mystic Iran, the Unseen World.” Mystic Iran was very well received and was broadcast at the international level.
What was it like to work on a project that deals with ancient mysticism and spirituality? Let us know about the research that went into making your documentary.
The project took 17 years to be completed since one; I had to fundraise at different steps of the project and then I had to understand the subjects thru the poems which was and is difficult to comprehend the deep spiritual meaning of the poems. Hopefully, I was able to gather a group of prominent Molana scholars which helped me to understand the poems better and be able to shape them for the audience to grasp the spirit of this mystic man.
At the same time, THE PHYSICAL practice of meditation, zikr, and whirling, with the help of music guided me into my inner self. Molana wants you to dance and chant to the music to open the secret door to the inner realm.
Before filming "Longing for the Soul", I attended Molana Education classes in Los Angeles and participated in zikr and Sama in the US and later in Iran.
We live in a time that spirituality and mysticism are crossing science. Every Molana poems have multiple dimensions, and meanings depending on the realm it is described. It is like a puzzle that needs to be solved constantly. Molana reveals the secrets of the universe, cosmos, and life in mysterious ways and secrecy. He forces you to look deep inside and be reborn from there and this is why Molana fascinates us.
What was the most creative aspect of directing the project for you and why was it important for you to make this feature documentary?
One of my most important reasons to materialize this project was to practically experience the physical and spiritual side of the project. Molana’s poems, tales, fables, and teachings walk you thru life, and for me, I had to study it, practice it and share it to understand it, be able to use it in my daily life, and pass it to others.
It was a difficult project to create due to the subject of Molana's spiritual teachings. The project required immense footage of locations where Molana lived; Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey, filming interviews and ceremonies in 3 different countries, and additional footage of NASA and stock footage.
So, I had to film, edit and film again and edit till I felt the project could be completed.
The story is told in a very simple classic documentary film style. The mystic poems and fables are revealed with the help of prominent Molana scholars in Iran and the USA.
And it is narrated by my longtime friend and muse narrator, Emmy-winning actress Shohreh Aghdashloo.
Does the language of cinema stand out more than other arts to you? And why?
I think it does because I like the complexity of the cinema language, which is created by many elements of creativity, like the style of moving images, still images, use of music, sound, painting, use of all 7 arts but “editing” is my favorite part of filmmaking. Editing a documentary film for me feels like solving a puzzle of images and the way to juxtapose those images to tell a story. I am very visual, I paint, love creating beautiful artwork and I am good with colors too.
What kind of impact would your work documentary film have on your audience and the world?
My experience with screenings of Mystic Iran, The Unseen World was very surprising and uplifting. I had people in the audience coming to me, hugging me, holding me in their arms, crying in tears, thanking me for making this film, and opening their hearts; yes, opening their hearts. So what would a filmmaker want more than giving deep love to her or his audience?
Why do you make documentary films?
A documentary film gives me the freedom of telling the truth, and show people’s real life and the reality of the world around us. I love to travel to places not seen before, find different lifestyles, experience unknown cultures, and meet with incredible souls.
Documentary filmmaking is a different world than feature films or TV series. I worked on all genres in different positions but in the end, documentary nourishes my soul, mind, and heart.
I learn I meet extraordinary people, visit legendary places, and gather great stories to tell. I love history, geography, languages, spirituality, mysticism, rituals, and different civilizations.
I have so many behind-the-scenes stories to tell about my journey in Iran, like our frightening trip to the remote village of Najar in Kurdistan or the dangerous roads we traveled from Kabul to Mazaar Sharif in Afghanistan. This is what gives me pleasure in life to overcome obstacles to reach my goal. AND YET:
Molana said: "Attar has traversed the seven cities of Love,
We are still at the turn of an alley.