Growing up in the Middle East during the Iranian Revolution, Napa filmmaker Shahin Gholami lived in a world of turmoil.
“I was born in Tehran in late 1967,” he said. “When I grew up, I was watching the whole revolution happening.”
During Gholami’s formative years, Iran’s monarchy was replaced with an Islamic republic. The shift happened over about two years on the heels of strikes, demonstrations, and fighting in the streets.
A witness to the chaos, Gholami, now 42, turned to film as a way of processing what was happening in his country.
“For me, it was a very powerful medium to transform a human being. … My generation was the lost generation because of what was brought into my country,” he said.
Gholami, a Bay Area resident since 1992 who put down roots in Napa in 2004, said his relationship with film only grew stronger over time.
In 2009, Gholami produced his first feature film, “Fell,” with his partner, co-director Chris Rusin of Napa. Starring Cheryl Fidelman, the psychological thriller tells the story of a serial killer who was abused as a child. The filmmakers showcased the movie in 2010 in San Francisco at the Roxie Theater and the Viz Cinema in Japantown. Closer to home, the flick sent shivers down viewers’ spines at St. Helena’s Baker Art Studios last November.
The film had a total budget of about $7,000. Gholami said he’s considering launching a campaign to show it across the country.
Gholami and Rusin shot their first short film, “This Life,” in 2001. Never released to the public, the 15-minute-long work tells a story of a young man visiting San Francisco for a wild evening. Overwhelmed by the city and a party he attended there, the man “wakes up screaming” from the sojourn, which ended up being only in a dream, Gholami said.
Another of Gholami’s several short films is “Garlic Bread,” which was shot in 2004 at Uva Trattoria. Featuring a Midwestern couple whose evening dining out is going awry, it also includes snippets from the lives of other diners. Gholami said he showed “Garlic Bread” in 2005 at a handful of local venues, including Uva, the Bounty Hunter Wine Bar, and Belle Arti, a downtown Napa restaurant that has since closed.
Gholami, also a waiter at Bistro Don Giovanni and a photographer, is enthusiastic but tight-lipped about his current film project. He said pre-production work on the feature film is finished and he’s gearing up to start shooting it in Napa County. A scary flick “about good and evil,” the project is expected to wrap up as soon as this summer, Gholami said.
When it comes to choosing the actors for his films, Gholami said he often draws on the talents of everyday people who are passionate about film. Hailing from everywhere from Napa to Los Angeles, these folks showcase their talents at shoots in “places that you don’t see every day” in Napa, Yountville, San Francisco and Suisun City. Gholami said the Carneros area and the Napa River are among his favorite spots to shoot films.
A fan of renowned director-producer Martin Scorsese and Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi, Gholami said he’s aiming to create one or two movies each year from now on. His goals include showing his work internationally at film festivals and creating new films about the people and culture of Iran.
“I want to make movies that move people,” he said. “And my goal in life is to make movies that are interesting to watch now and interesting to watch 10 years from now.”