Hot Docs 2017 Interview: Hesam Eslami Talks “20th Circuit Suspects”

How often, it may not apply to you of course, does an individual takes a camera to film a group of people who has stolen the cameraman’s car? Not that often, and may never. But Hesam Eslami did that in a very delicate way. He spends six years of his life to show the demise and the rise of a gang and one particular member, Ehsan.

Due to the filmmaker’s visa issues that made it impossible for him to attend the World premiere of his film 20th Circuit Suspects, I was able to conduct an interview via email, to which Hesam Eslami kindly agreed.

MOVIEMOVESME: First of all, it is sad hearing about the refusal of your visa to enter Canada. I wonder what was the reason given in order to reject your application?

Hesam Eslami: Actually my visa is not rejected officially. But I have not received any answer from the embassy after about 2 months. I sent them many Emails and mentioned the purpose of my travel and the time of the festival but they just sent the mechanical Email that showed me they not even read my messages. You know that tolerating a negative answer is more simple compared to waiting for 2 months and getting disappointing day after day.

MOVIEMOVESME: You have worked 6 years on your film. Which year was most challenging and upsetting for you?

Hesam Eslami: It was the year that I gave up Ehsan and his gang. I was disappointed at that time and I thought Ehsan was not going to change at all. I was seeing him going to darkness and at that time I disconnected from him. You know, when you don’t see someone, you could imagine the worthy thing about him. And at that time, I imagined really bad about Ehsan’s life and it was so tough for me.

MOVIEMOVESME: You had very interesting life journey during the time you worked on the film. Ehsan was a great example that after hitting rock bottom there is only one way up. How was it for you to capture such a happy ending for him?

Hesam Eslami: Before Ehsan was arrested, I was going to make a movie and help Ehsan. After that, I thought the film was not going to be made. But also I wanted to help him. I was not hopeful of the end of his story but I was daydreaming about his future all the time. Ehsan deserve a happy ending, but there was a really long way to happen. When the end of the story happened, I completely felt like facing with a miracle. I saw my dreams.

MOVIEMOVESME: Everything began with your car that was stolen by Ehsan and his gang. How did you earn their trust in order to allow you to film them?

Hesam Eslami: It took me a whole year. At the first months, they acted completely different in front of the camera. I had to use a technique. I tried to show them my career was unimportant. I was with them every time with my little camera and after a while they believed that I was not doing it seriously. They mocked me and my ridiculous job sometimes. I knew that I could not use that footages I had captured at that time, but I never gave up filming them. After almost one year they forgot about me and my camera.

After that year, I also changed. I forgot they were thieves that I want to make a movie about them. They became my close friends and being with them was not only for the film.

MOVIEMOVESME: During the filming of the moment when they were stealing radio system from the cars, you witnessed it. How was it for you standing there and do nothing to prevent it, but documenting them?

Hesam Eslami: I was not one who could advise them to do or not to do that. Of course they knew that stealing is a terrible idea. Although I really wanted to do something, but preventing was not going to work for them at that time. I had to find another idea.

MOVIEMOVESME: How was it to witness such a strong bond between Ehsan and his friends and even Assan. They would stick to each other no matter what and would have protected themselves from the police?

Hesam Eslami: Ehsan always loved to have a gang. The gang made him courageous and important. He had a strong responsibility about his group. He liked to care about members, not only against the police but also about their lives. It was the one of his important properties that shocked me every time. Now that gang does not exist anymore. But Ehsan made another gang for himself: his family.

MOVIEMOVESME: It seems the society does not do much to help young generation to find a well-paid job, an education… And even there is a lack of encouragement from government to reduce the amounts of crimes in the street. As you were filming them, what is that you have realized that is an urgent matter to be done to help teenagers to find a decent job and build a better future?

Hesam Eslami: I always like to help them. As I mentioned at the film, at the first, I was going to that NGO for helping children of Labour. But I found that filmmaking is the only job that I know. So I decided to use it for help. At that time I hadn’t any idea about how the film could help but nowadays I’m organizing some semi-private screening in law universities. Lawyers, judges and their students that will adjudge about teenagers like Ehsan in future, are watching the film and argue about it. I hope Ehsan’s story help them to feel more sympathy about them.

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