Interview with Exam director Sonia K. Hadad – ‘We have all experienced life situations we did not like.’

We caught up with the talented director Sonia K. Hadad on her film Exam which tells a story of a young girl who makes an endangering sacrifice on the most important day in her life. An Award-winning film which won the Grand Jury Prize for Live Action Short at AFI Fest 2019, we were able to speak with her about her film and how it came to life.

What was it in particular about the anxiety and stress of exam day that inspired you to write such a story? Are there any truths to scenes from the film?

Exam is inherently a stressful situation and is a condition that everyone has experienced, and the audience or viewer can easily communicate with it. The school environment and the actions we see in the movie are mostly my personal experience during high school. The school’s principal role characteristics are very similar to my high school’s strict and creepy principal. Additionally, the film’s story is a combination of my personal experiences and a real story that I heard from a friend. The combination of these two conditions and narratives have built up the exam script structure.

In your own life have you found yourself making decisions and taking actions that didn’t sit right with you and your own beliefs, simply to appease a supposed authoritarian?

We may all have experienced life in situations we did not like, or we were overwhelmed by an authoritarian that we did not have enough strength to deal/ fight with. I may have been in a similar situation, and I have dealt with dominant people, but not on a dramatic scale! Social and geographical determinism, prevailing condition, and patriarchal society are perhaps the most outstanding controlling elements that we all deal with in most cultures, societies, and communities worldwide.

For yourself, your cast and crew, was filming an enjoyable walk down memory lane, or were there moments of cringe worthy realization as you all reflected on your past selves?

A Film project is a collection of good and bad nostalgia. I think making a movie is so fascinating as it is a process of recreation, especially the story of Exam, which was a reference to the academic environment/ atmosphere that my actresses and I had experienced it. The school’s atmosphere we see is a symbol of a cultural crash, in which you could see the social failures’ signs in the movie! I always wanted to illustrate the experiences I had faced. When I came across this real story about drug dealing at high school, I decided to recreate the actual characters and situations.

While you were making this film, did you face any resistance or backlash?  Did it affect the way you approached the direction you wanted to take the film?

No, I never faced any struggle through this path. Fortunately, the process of making this film went very well and without any worries, and I owe this peace to my fantastic team. My project’s strength was my incredible cast and crew, as they were so supportive. Moreover, by trusting me and my decisions, all my team members performed their duties in the best possible way, especially my producer, my DP, and my talented and amazing actresses.

Do you believe that despite all our differences that we all share these universal experiences growing up? That we are united by our own growing pains?

I firmly believe that human experiences, pains, and joys are very similar, so it does not matter if you live in Iran or anywhere else in the world. The only difference is in the social factors, the prevailing environment’s impacts, and the form of incidents. Besides, today’s technology and social media have made us witness and become more aware of these commonalities in human experience. These experiences can be disseminated through the internet and news and sometimes through mediums of art such as movies and written stories!

Would you like to share with us what you hope audiences will take away from watching your film?

I like the viewer to wholeheartedly associate him/ herself with the moments and character’s experiences. I want the viewer to understand that a person’s decision can significantly impact the future and possible consequences, and any accident at any moment can fundamentally change a person’s life.

Can you expand on any future work we can look forward to from you?

These days, I am working on my next short film to shoot it in a month, and I am writing my feature film’s plot, which I have planned to make it in the next year in Iran again, which both projects’ stories have social themes.

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