No Hard Feelings director Faraz Shariat: “Racism is a tool that structures our entire society”

How debut director Faraz Shariat turned his own experiences as an immigrant into a Teddy Award-winning study of sexuality and identity in modern Germany.

3 March 2020

By Lou Thomas

Faraz Shariat

In director Faraz Shariat’s No Hard Feelings, gay German-Irani teen Parvis (Benjamin Radjaipour) is charged with shoplifting. As punishment, he must complete community service as a translator at a refugee centre, where he meets brother and sister Amon (Eidin Jalali) and Banafshe (Banafshe Hourmazdi). The trio become fast friends as Shariat’s highly personal film opens out into a compelling exploration of love, sex and immigrant identity – an ideal debut feature for a slot in the Bodies strand of this year’s upcoming BFI Flare London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival.

Shariat, who told us he considers himself as much an activist as a filmmaker, produced and co-wrote the script with Paulina Lorenz, with whom they form Jünglinge film collective with casting director Raquel Molt. When we met Shariat ahead of the film’s world premiere at Berlin Film Festival, where it won the Teddy Award for best LGBT film, he discussed racism and immigration in Germany, sexuality and how the film is a family affair.

How much of the story is derived from personal experience?

It’s autobiographical. The premise of the film happened to me when I was 19 or 20. I had this security detacher imported from China and used it to take off the security tags from clothes in department stores. I got caught shoplifting and sentenced to community service. When I had to do it, I got asked if I could do it in a refugee shelter. This was in 2015 when loads of people were coming to Germany, and Europe in general.

I thought that what I was experiencing at the time, and what was facing a new generation the same age as myself, was super-interesting for a film. As migrants, my parents also experienced this 35 years ago, and their story is reflected in the film as they play the parents of the protagonist in the film.

We had this triangle between my experiences, my parents’ experiences and those of the actors, who were also second-generation Irani.

How big an issue is immigration in Germany?

It’s a huge topic, though it’s being replaced by climate at the moment. I think there’s a very interesting relationship between migration and climate and how these two discourses interact. It’s striking how migration and the rise of racism in Germany seem to be very strongly connected.

I felt that the way the news in 2015 – but also the years following – described the so-called refugee crisis had a very special interest in the history, the journeys, the trauma, the pain [of refugees]. I wanted to ask questions about the future. So it was more about where they want to go, what are your aspirations, your dreams, and not so much “where are you coming from?” It was very crucial for the film to navigate these themes without fetishising all the problems and conflicts revolving around them.

No Hard Feelings (2020)

What do you feel can be done about racism within the immigration discussion?

One very important aspect in tackling racism in our societies is to not be afraid of calling it out. Many people associate racism with Nazis or with far-right wing people, but that’s not the whole case. Racism is a tool that structures our entire society. It’s important to highlight those microaggressions or moments where people are described as “other” by white, hetero-sexist norms.

It’s also important to understand the political dimension of representation for culture in general, because if you grow up not having any role models that look like you, not having any proper reference system of possibilities or chances, then you are more likely to fulfil the stereotypes in the media.

You are allowed to have flaws. You are allowed to be ashamed. You are allowed to be angry or to not do the right thing, because that’s what happens quite often to migrant bodies in mainstream media. They are either the ones that are victims or the ones that are perpetrators. What we wanted to do with the film was to let these characters be humans in a way that they get space for more than just conflict, but also to have the space to say what they think and feel and to interact in a more casual and not so highly charged environment.

How open is Germany when it comes to sexuality and depictions of sexuality?

If I’m talking about myself and my environment, then I would say inclusive and open, but that’s just a very niche section of Germany. When it comes to showing gay sex, for example, Germany seems very hesitant to show it in an explicit way. I think it’s very important for us to demystify what it is and not leave it to people’s imagination, because what happens often is when you have heterosexual directors directing gay sex scenes, you feel like it’s an imagination of sex. It was very important for us to be super-precise and direct when it comes to showing that.

When it comes to brown or black characters, the subjects of migration and sexuality are always represented as conflicts. I felt that it was key to oppose that. [We should say] “It’s OK to be Irani, German and gay,” and it’s no problem for anyone because that’s the power of fiction.

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