One of Shirin Neshat's projects to which I am most attached is Land of Dreams, a project that I have already had the opportunity to tell and which consists of a double video installation in black and white and a photographic series that portrays Americans both made in New Mexico in 2019. The project was completed by a feature film presented in a world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on 2 September this year and starring Sheila Vand, Matt Dillon, William Moseley, Isabella Rossellini, Christopher McDonald, Anna Gunn, Robin Bartlett, Gaius Charles, Joaquim de Almeida, Nicole Ansari, Mohammad B. Ghaffari.
The film directed by Shirin Neshat & Shoja Azari was written by Jean-Claude Carrière & Shoja Azari and it is a powerful and engaging portrait of contemporary America. Ironic and deep, it manages to enter our innermost without forcing thanks to the story of Simin, an Iranian woman in the service of the Census Office who, through an introspective journey, discovers what it means to be a free American. By identifying ourselves with Simin, we too make our own that "questioning" that Bertrand Russel at times recalls and that especially in recent years we must consider a fundamental right to be defended as best we can.
About the whole project Shirin Neshat said:
From the start Land of Dreams developed as a project comprised of still photography, video installation and a feature film. In the past, I have intentionally kept these three mediums separate, but this time I felt it would be an interesting experiment to find a concept that may collapse into three separate art forms. The photographic series, created as a salon-like installation, includes 111 portraits of diverse faces of Americans all shot in New Mexico in 2019. In my point of view, this collection of photos represents a ‘portrait of America’, as we photographed people from diverse ethnic, economic backgrounds, including Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic immigrants and Anglos.
The video installation, also shot in New Mexico in 2019, is a black and white, double-channel composite video installation around 23 minutes in length, mainly designed for gallery and museum settings. The narrative is far more enigmatic and surrealistic than in the feature film with little use of language. However, similar to the movie, the story remains focused on a young Iranian woman who travels daily to a small American town, visiting different households to take their portraits and collect their dreams. The only difference with the film is that the protagonist (also performed by Sheila Vand), then returns with the portraits and the dreams to a dubious Iranian colony tucked away inside a mountain where many Iranian men and women are secretly receiving, selecting and interpreting American people’s dreams. Therefore, in the video, the female protagonist is not an agent for the Americans but for the Iranian government.
We asked the director Shirin Neshat and one of the most brilliant actors of the film, one of the protagonists of the future Hollywood scenario: William Moseley…
What does it mean to be a free American?
Shirin Neshat. Land of Dreams is one of my most personal works. As you know, the story revolves around the journey of an Iranian woman immigrant living in the United States with unresolved relationships with both her native and host country. In addition, Simin, like myself, is an artist, a photographer, a performer whose only channel to cope with reality is to lose herself in a fantasy world, to her creative imagination. Also, similar to Simin, although I have lived longer in the USA than in my own country, I have never fully integrated into the American culture, yet I have also always felt a great distance between me and Iran since I have been living in self-exile for so long. So, I identify with Simin’s emotional, psychological, moral and political dilemma as she finds herself conflicted between two very opposing cultures and always an outcast. Therefore, while Land of Dreams primarily appears as a social critique of American society, it is really an expression of my experience in America.
William Moseley. America, to me, is the land of dreams. I lived in California, mostly by the beach, for almost ten years and I loved it. I remember the first time I came into the US; I arrived in LA and I was 17. The cars were massive, the roads were fast and the weather was great. I loved the smell of the ocean and I instantly felt it was a place of dreams. Los Angeles particularly has beautiful light in the morning and evening. I surfed a lot when I lived there and I'd look at the coastline and think how lucky I was. During my time in the US, I did very well and filmed a TV show called The Royals, it brought me back to England and to my family and so now I live here in the UK. A friend of mine from Cuba told me his story about moving into the US. He said in Cuba it doesn't matter how hard you work; how much time you put in; you cannot move up. When he came to America he found that it was a free, open system and that he could literally achieve his dreams. He is now very successful. Nowhere is perfect and I stand by the fact that you have to do what is right for yourself but America has only been good to me and I am forever appreciative of the country and its people.
The story of Land of Dreams takes place in the near future in a small town in America. Simin (Sheila Vand) is an Iranian immigrant who works for United States Census Bureau which, in an effort to control its citizens, has begun a program to record citizens’ dreams. Unaware of the American government’s devious plot, Simin’s personal obsession is to try to capture her interviewees’ dreams by photographing and later secretly impersonating them in Farsi, then publishing them on social media where she finds a growing Iranian audience. Soon Simin meets Mark (William Moseley); a drifter, a free soul, and a poet who declares his love for her at first sight; and Alan (Matt Dillon), a cynical cowboy turned detective, full of machismo and the American spirit of adventure. As Simin enters the triad, she finds the two men's competition and conflicts amusing and silently enjoys the ride.
Land of Dreams is the movie we were looking for in this period that we are living in!