Kaveh Taherian: Regular Dude, Extraordinary Stories

Meet Kaveh Taherian, Iranian-American filmmaker and the director behind 25 Prospect Street, “a documentary about empowering adults with disabilities through love of the cinematic experience”.  He has his very own page on IMDb and his resume includes some character design for The Simpsons and Producer of 20 Years of Madness – which just got announced as part of the 2015 lineup for the Slamdance Film Festival. But at the root of it, he’s just a regular dude who tells some extraordinary stories. 

Read the interview below, and donate to the 25 Prospect Street campaign here.
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Tell me a little about your background.

I’m full Iranian, my mom is from Tehran and Dad is from Gamsar. They came here in 1975, to Michigan. They came with the intention of returning, but then became these ‘reluctant Americans’, as I like to call it.

I was born in the Bay Area in Redwood City, then lived in Connecticut and France before coming back to the Bay Area.

I always drew, since I was a kid. I went to Laguna College of Art + Design, to study illustration, so my background is really rooted in illustration and art. I decided to come down to LA about six years ago and applied to grad school. I went to USC for a Master’s in film.

Why did you switch from illustration to film?

When I got out of college, I wanted to do character design, but it’s a very technical job. I chased it for a bit, and then realized I wanted to write the story behind the characters.

What have you been up to since film school?

Assistant Director (for films) work is my bread and butter. Having ADD and OCD is ideal for that position, you have to be gregarious when you’re making all the logistical decisions for a crew to follow.

I think the average life span for an AD is in their 50’s, because it’s so stressful.

I keep myself creatively occupied with a project that originally started as my Master’s thesis.

It’s the story of my uncle who was a pilot in the Navy of Iran, he joined during Shah’s time and stayed on after the Revolution. He gave less mind to the ideology because he believed ‘my job is to protect the people of Iran’. He stayed and fought in the Iran-Iraq war, but soon the ideology became too much for him and he decided to leave.

How he escaped: he and his co-pilot stole one of helicopters from the Iranian Navy, and eventually made their way to America.

What’s the story called?

I titled it ‘I’ll Fly Away’ after a Southern church song, because I thought it framed it perfectly. It’s rooted in Western themes, relatable to Americans, and it’s about redemption and escape. My uncle’s approach was always very sincere and matter of fact about his experience.

It doesn’t marginalize Middle Easterners, he’s just a regular dude put in these extraordinary circumstances.

Media should be about people. “I’ll Fly Away” is an American story, an immigrant story.

Where do you draw inspiration for your work?

Routine is extremely important to me, and if I don’t follow my routine I go crazy. I have a structured time that I just write, read random crap on the internet, and let my mind wander.

I think every story is rooted in something about yourself that you don’t understand, and you want to figure out further. I used to write essays for fun, and the one rule for myself was that it had to be horridly embarrassing for me to write about.

You’ve worked on documentaries, including the current one on 25 Prospect Street – why documentaries?

I never thought I’d be doing documentaries. I fell into it by accident, and then realized that I really loved it. It’s not necessarily a long term career goal. There’s something accessible and low maintenance about it.

It’s a lot more forgivable as a medium too, and its a lot more content than polish.

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For my Lavashak documentary: I had just gotten the camera so I decided to go film my grandmother as she made some Lavashak.

Tell me about 25 Prospect Street?

Ridgefield, Connecticut is a town I went to elementary school in. I heard from a friend’s dad about the Prospector Theatre. It’s a first-run theatre and also a nonprofit, that employs adults with disabilities – giving them different jobs and job coaches. And disabilities is a broad term, and that’s the rabbit hole that I’ve been going down… The revenue of the theatre funds their job coaches and all the operating costs, including staff.

What they’re learning to do is to become socialized. Somebody is in their 30’s and 40’s, and they’ve never had that opportunity to engage with people. Now they have a job and an opportunity.

The documentary part for me is not about the technical side, its more about how amazing it is to see people progress and see them get better at their jobs and personal life.

Rachel is a young woman in her mid 20’s on the spectrum and until recently she had been living at home without any real promise of being able to live independently. Since becoming a member of the Prospector team, she now lives completely on her own in a one-bedroom apartment. From what I understand, that was something her mother assumed was an impossibility, so it’s actually quite a big deal that she’s able to hold down a job and provide for herself on a very basic level.

It’s a story that people should see.

Why Ridgefield?

Valerie Jensen, (the founder of Prospector Theatre) lives in Ridgefield, and is a staunch advocate for disability rights. This is something she wanted to do and did it right in her own backyard.

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And it’s very startup-like. When we think about it, how many men run start ups? And to see a woman who is so smart and running this theatre… it’s something special.

What’s the status on 25 Prospect Street?

It opened unofficially back in August, since the theatre itself had to be built. Val decided to purchase the property and it’s been reappropriated, and made into something bigger and better than before.

It’s a huge experiment, we need to have a fair amount of time before we open the doors and let the masses in.

We started filming in June, then we made another trip in September, and another trip up until just a few days ago. We’ll be making another trip in January.

It’s a full on tracking documentary (one month, three month, six month, and one year after) to see if this idea is even sustainable.

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Why this story?

If I hadn’t lived in Ridgefield, I don’t think I would’ve had the propensity to it. I lived there, 1985-1995, and I didn’t necessarily have the best time there. I had this negative association, so I wondered how is this little town doing something progressive?

My original interest was being oh I’ve gotten the shit beaten out of me there for my name being weird, and then to come see this project that’s so progressive and the passion behind it – something surprising. Los Angeles is a lot of ego, and there’s not a lot of people who are doing stuff like this.

The reason I knew i could do this, is because people with disabilities are marginalized, just like Middle easterners.

You want to create a third archetype and show people there’s more to it than their stereotypes.

Three things you value most in life?

Punctuality, Sincerity, and I guess…creativity, let’s just be generic with this one.

Where was your first job?

Jamba Juice.

I love my Persian mom becauseoy. She is supportive to a fault.

How do you like your Fessenjoon?

It’s not my favorite one, my jam is Gheymeh. Over rice …standing over the sink.

I know I’ve made it ifI’ve paid off my master’s (seed) debt. I’m debt-free.

DONATE TO THE INDIEGOGO CAMPAIGN FOR 25 PROSPECT STREET HERE.

Ashley: I Thought My Middle Name Was “Joon”

Joonies,

We’re pretty picky here at S&F specifically with the men we date, the friends we keep, and the people we choose to feature on our blog.  But like many of the other amazingly talented Iranian Americans doing big things– Ashley Momtaheni is truly one of a kind.  There aren’t a lot of people out there who are wildly successful, but manage to stay incredibly sweet, easy to talk to, and truly courageous. 

I walked away from this interview feeling like I had actually learned something– just hearing about the lessons that Ashley’s learned through her experiences and her accomplishments is jaw dropping.  I literally hung up the phone with her and felt a sudden urge to go save the world (I obviously didn’t, but you get what I’m saying). The best part? Ashley got one step closer to her dream job after our interview with a new position at Warner Brothers and S&F couldn’t be happier for her.  We wish Ashley all the best and hope that you joonies walk away from this interview as awestruck as I was.

xo,

Farrah

ASHLEY MOMTAHENI: RISK TAKER. HALFIE. JOONMAGNET

To the right

- Tell me about yourself… 

I was born and raised in New York.  I grew up in a town called Scarsdale, which is 25 minutes outside of Manhattan.  I’m a halfie- my father is Persian and my mom is actually this 5 foot 10 blonde hair, blue eyed “glamazon” woman.  I have a brother who’s five years older.

The experience I had growing up partially in Manhattan opened my eyes and allowed me to learn about the Iranian culture in a different way.

I grew up very close with my father’s side of the family.  Most of our relatives- his siblings- have moved to the U.S. since the Revolution.  They’re scattered between Florida, DC, Virginia and New York.  I always had a strong connection with that side of my family and then this extended family that consisted of people my father knew when he was growing up in Iran.  They came here together to study and work– they’ve been like aunts, uncles, and cousins — I grew up with their kids.

I learned about my Iranian culture through this extended family, as well as my family on the East Coast. 

Although, I didn’t grow up in a fully Persian household — I was still immersed in the culture.  My mother can cook Persian food better than my dad can.  It was awesome to see my mother adapt to the culture.

I’ve never been to Iran but, it’s on my bucket list. [Read more…]

Arash Tebbi: I Want to be Great.

S&F initially became familiar with Arash Tebbi through his hilarious ‘Shahs of Sunset’ Parody: “Queens of Sunrise” (see below). We’ve watched every video since, and none have ever disappointed.

When I interviewed Arash, I realized it was one of those rare moments that I was going to walk away from the conversation with more than I expected. Great advice is hard to come by, especially because we usually tune out our parents’ lectures. And also because finding someone who is young, but wise beyond their years AND articulate enough to talk about their story is rare.  Oh, the fact that he was charming also helped- so Kudos to his momma who raised him right!

I know we’ll be seeing A LOT more of Arash and his company RUGGER PRODUCTIONS, because his ambition has no limit and his intentions are good. And I’m not sure if he’s a Nicki Minaj fan, but ‘Greatness is what we on the brink of’‘ was the lyric I couldn’t get out of my head while writing this.

Joonies, I hope you enjoy and take away as much as I did.
xx,
Saaghi

-  Tell me a bit about your background- have you ever lived in Iran?

I’ve lived in San Diego since I was 8 months old, and my parents are from Tehran and Rasht. I was raised in a household that was modern, yet traditional at the same time, so it kept me in the culture. I went back to Iran once in 2000, but I’ll never go back. I made a few videos for the the uprising in 2009, and I got a few death threats. They’re still up on youtube (Check his Channel Here).

-  The best or worst thing about being Persian?

The best thing is the consistency of hospitality.

Every Iranian home has a welcoming, “We’re gonna give you every type of food in our house, challenge you to eat everything” vibe.   [Read more…]

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