Skip to main content
Film festivalInterview

Cinemarche: interview with director Mani Nickpour

By September 19th, 2023No Comments
Interview with director Mani Nickpour in the Japanese magazine Cinemarche about his film "Ahriman: Death Before Dying" and depicting a different image of Iran through the worldview of Zoroastrianism. 

Interview with director Mani Nickpour in the Japanese magazine Cinemarche about his film “Ahriman: Death Before Dying” and depicting a different image of Iran through the worldview of Zoroastrianism. 

Choice of Kanazawa

Featured in the “Choice of Kanazawa” section of the Kanazawa Film Festival 2023, which successfully concluded on September 10, 2023, was the film “Ahriman: Death Before Dying,” one of the films screened in the international film division of the festival.

This film, created by director Mani Nickpour, an Iranian native now based in the Netherlands, is a grand SF fantasy based on the worldview of Zoroastrianism.

We had the opportunity to hear valuable insights from him, including the reasons for wanting to portray the worldview of Zoroastrianism in this film, the design of the gods depicted in the film, and his thoughts on creating films set in Iran.

Interview with Mani Nickpour

Interview with director Mani Nickpour in the Japanese magazine Cinemarche about his film "Ahriman: Death Before Dying" and depicting a different image of Iran through the worldview of Zoroastrianism. 

What prompted you to become interested in the worldview of Zoroastrianism and to consider portraying it through film?

Director Mani Nickpour: In Zoroastrianism, there is a malevolent god named Ahriman, who opposes the benevolent god Spenta Mainyu. Ahriman is known for choosing to commit evil deeds, even though he is capable of doing good.

So, I wondered if there might be an element of “goodness” hidden within Ahriman, even though he is considered absolute evil. Exploring this question through the film was one of the motivations behind creating this work.

Additionally, in the film, I chose not to directly depict the supreme Zoroastrian god, Ahura Mazda and instead focused on Spenta Mainyu and Ahriman, the benevolent gods who accompany Ahura Mazda. This decision was influenced by the fact that Ahura Mazda already had a well-established image, often described as a “king with wings and a halo of light.”

By placing both Spenta Mainyu and Ahriman at the center of the story, characters without specific visual representations but with clear roles as “benevolent god” and “malevolent god,” I felt I could approach the storytelling with greater creative freedom.

How were the designs of the gods, including their masks that conceal their faces, conceptualized?

Nickpour: Spenta Mainyu’s mask is made entirely of mirrors, causing anyone who looks at it to see their own reflected face. This forces them to confront their dark aspects. As for Ahriman’s mask, it was designed to contrast with Spenta Mainyu, resembling “a shattered mirror.”

However, during filming, we had some challenges because the camera and crew often unintentionally appeared in the reflections on Spenta Mainyu’s mask, which gave us a hard time (laughs).

Furthermore, I made the costumes for the gods using a sewing machine. This decision was influenced not only by budget constraints but also by the belief that by creating them myself, I could infuse them with “love.” If I had commissioned someone else to make them, even if I paid them, there was a possibility that the quality would not be as good, despite a quicker turnaround. I chose what I felt was the best approach for this film.

Zoroastrianism is said to have originated in ancient Iran, which is also your place of birth.

Nickpour: Films set in Iran often focus on negative themes such as terrorism by Islamic extremists, prolonged societal instability, resulting poverty, and war. 

In “Ahriman,” I aimed to create an opportunity for people to discover a different image of Iran by portraying the religion and culture that developed in ancient Iran through Zoroastrianism, distinct from the modern Iran often portrayed in existing films.

In this film, in addition to Zoroastrianism, we’ve incorporated elements related to the exploration of thoughts about the world and self, such as alchemy and mysticism.

The philosophies of alchemy and mysticism often manifest themselves in everyday life when individuals face various difficulties, large and small. As a filmmaker who is also a human being, when depicting humans and the world, I believe that the thoughts of alchemy and mysticism are indispensable even in the realm of cinema.

What inspired you to pursue a career as a filmmaker?

Nickpour: When I was seven years old, I had the opportunity to appear in a film directed by my father, and the experience of being on set was truly enjoyable.

Being on set, the cast and crew treated me not as a “child” but as “one of the cast and one of the creators of the film.” That made me very happy, and it was from that time that I aspired to become a film director.

Furthermore, I began working as a school teacher, teaching “film production,” not just filmmaking but also because I enjoyed talking to people and liked helping others through the act of teaching.

In retrospect, what I’m currently teaching my students about film production and my efforts to convey something to people through films may be connected as two aspects of the same profession.

Finally, could you please share a message with those who have watched this film at the Kanazawa Film Festival 2023 and the people in Japan?

Nickpour: Ahriman: Death Before Dying was created as a gateway for people to touch upon Zoroastrianism as a religion and, by extension, culture. However, I felt that if we focused solely on Zoroastrianism, it would honestly become somewhat dull.

That’s why we incorporated elements of fantasy as entertainment, not only the philosophies of Zoroastrianism and the alchemy above and mysticism, in a way that both those with prior knowledge and those without could enjoy the film.

I hope everyone can watch the movie in their way and that those who watched the film without prior knowledge might look up Zoroastrianism after viewing it, thus enjoying the film twice.

Also, “Ahriman” is a two-part film consisting of “Part 1” and “Part 2.” “Part 2” which depicts the “resolution” of the various issues raised in “Part 1” is already about 90% complete and will be finalized by editing the scenes filmed in Tokyo during my visit to Japan this time.

Once “Part 2” is completed, I would like everyone who watched “Part 1” at the Kanazawa Film Festival 2023, as well as people in Japan, to watch it as well.

Interview by Nobu Kawai 

Mani Nickpour Director Profile

Born in Tehran, Iran, in 1983, he later moved to the Netherlands. He appeared in his father, film director Said Nickpour‘s feature films at a young age.

He teaches a wide range of knowledge in film production, including filmmaking, camera techniques, editing, and compositing, as a lecturer at a film school in Amsterdam. 

Source: Cinemarche

Press Inquiries

For all media inquiries, please contact us


Leave a Reply