Edinburgh International Film Festival: Iran-born director’s Afghan refugee comedy to close event

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Former Afghan TV presenter Anaita Wali Zada makes screen debut

An Iranian-born director is to close this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), with a comedy featuring the screen debut of a real-life Afghan refugee.

Babak Jalali’s new film Fremont involves former Afghan TV presenter Anaita Wali Zada playing a 20-something insomniac refugee who has fled Afghanistan after previously working as a translator for the American army.

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Her character Donya is said to be living in limbo between the desire to build a new life in California, where she works in a fortune cookie factory, and being haunted by her past and the guilt she carries within her.

Forced to change her routine when she is promoted to writing the message for the fortune cookies, Donya decides to send a more profound message out to the world.

Fremont, which was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival in the United States earlier this year, is billed as "an ode to the strange and shared experiences of so many immigrants trying to build a life in a new place".

Jalali, who was born in Gorgan in northern Iran, has lived in London since he was a child and also studied at London Film School. The film’s star won her part after arriving in America to start a new life in 2021.

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Fremont has been unveiled as the EIFF closing night film ahead of its full programme next week.

Programme director Kate Taylor: “Our programming team was totally captivated by Fremont’s mood, style and subtlety, and adored both the character of Donya and the tender care shown by director Babak Jalali towards his layered protagonist.

"It’s an honour to close this year’s festival with a film that considers the complex dynamics of diaspora experience in such a nuanced way, whilst frequently delighting with its wry wit and off-beat humour. We can’t wait for Edinburgh audiences to fall under its spell.”

Jalali said: “I'm so honoured that Fremont will have its UK premiere as the EIFF closing night film. Growing up in the UK, it was easy to understand the huge cultural impact EIFF has had not just on these shores, but also internationally.

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"And the importance of making sure it continues to be here and to thrive. I'm thrilled to be returning to Edinburgh once again to show a film to an audience that I've very fond memories of, and in such a prestigious slot.”

Anaita Wali Zada plays Donya in Fremont. Picture: Modern FilmsAnaita Wali Zada plays Donya in Fremont. Picture: Modern Films
Anaita Wali Zada plays Donya in Fremont. Picture: Modern Films

This year's EIFF is to be managed and promoted by organisers of the Edinburgh International Festival when it re-emerges in August for its 76th edition, but will be run on a significantly smaller scale to past years.

Six days of film screenings are promised under a one-off collaboration between the events for this year.

Screen Scotland has released a revamped package as part of seeking a new chair to lead the formation and operation of the EIFF from next year, with a goal of returning it to the status of a ‘must attend’ event.

The chair would oversee the creation of a new independent company to run the film festival from 2024 under the preferred option of the taskforce led by Screen Scotland.

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