Fictionville Studio has released “Feathers of Fire–The Movie,” a cinema version of its live animation shadow play, “Feathers of Fire.” This ingenious production of theater-on-film, conceived and directed by Hamid Rahmanian, is available for streaming on Vimeo at the family-friendly price of $4.95.
“Feathers of Fire” is the most elaborate shadow theater experience ever created, and this recording, captured on an actual theater stage, transforms it into a video-on-demand production for all ages. Its story is adapted from Shahnameh (the Persian Book of Kings) and tells the action-packed tale of two star-crossed lovers of old Persia. Zaul, an outcast albino boy, is brought up by a bird-goddess and grows up into a wise ruler. He enters into a forbidden love with Rudabeh, a princess who is the granddaughter of the dreaded Serpent King. Their young, impetuous romance survives many precarious adventures before they finally receive blessings for their union. When they ultimately have a child, it is Rostam, “the Hercules of Iran.” Aspects of the story are reminiscent of “Romeo and Juliet,” “Rapunzel,” “The Firebird” and “Jungle Book.”
The piece is created and directed by Hamid Rahmanian, a 2014 Guggenheim fellowship-winning filmmaker/visual artist living in Brooklyn. It is endorsed by Francis Ford Coppola, who called the production “Fantastic! One of the greatest epics of all time and my favorite Shahnameh brought to life in a spectacular fashion by Hamid Rahmanian with shadow puppets design and cinematic wizardry.”
“Feathers of Fire” debuted theatrically at BAM in 2016 and was presented at the Metropolitan Museum of Art the same year. It has played at Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, Materia Prima Festival, The Wallis Annenberg, Shanghai Theater Academy, the Musée du quai Branly and Kaye Playhouse in New York, among others. It won the UNIMA USA award for excellence in live performance and design.
This cinematic version had been originally slated for release next fall but in response to the pandemic, a limited free release was offered from May 21 to 24 (weekend of Persian New Year) to lift the spirits of families in quarantine. Viewers complimented the piece with such effusive and touching comments that the production company, Fictionville Studio, is rushing the film into circulation now by offering it through Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/ondemand/feathersoffire).
It’s an intricate production in which eight performers, 160 hand made puppets and 137 animated backgrounds are synthesized into a live animation experience with 1,163 cues. The screen is 36′ x 16′ and set on a stage that is 30 feet deep. The experience is so much like watching a movie that audiences become unaware that they are watching a stage show. They are reminded of that reality when, at the end of the play, the stage is reversed to reveal the production’s technical construction. Director Hamid Rahmanian calls the audience’s experience “live cinema” as the performers’ shadows are cast against a giant screen. He writes, “Theatrical productions don’t easily translate to video but this show seamlessly moves across mediums without losing the dynamism of theater.”
Shanameh, composed by Ferdowsi in the late tenth century, is one of the longest epic poems by a single author in world literature. It tells the story of pre-Islamic Iran, beginning with the mythic time of creation and continuing to the Arab invasion in the seventh century. Its stories are deeply embedded in Persian literature, from the classic love poems of Rumi and Hafez to such contemporary works as “The Kite Runner.”
The aesthetic of Persian art is peaceful. An exciting story is told here, but with a feeling of serenity and calmness. Director Hamid Rahmanian characterizes it as “a healing escape from the world of reality into the world of shadows.”
Hamid Rahmanian (concept, design, direction) was born in Iran and earned a BFA in Fine Arts from Tehran University in 1987. He moved to the US in 1992, working as a graphic designer and earning an MFA in computer animation from Pratt Institute. In 1996, he became the youngest ever recipient of the National Interest Waiver from the U.S. for his outstanding work as an artist. Hired by Disney, he contributed to “Tarzan,” “The Emperor’s New Groove” and “Dinosaur.” He left Disney in 1998 and established his own production company, Fictionville Studio. By 2008, he had directed seven films and garnered four prestigious prizes. He was awarded a Guggenheim in 2014, the year he began experimenting with shadow theater techniques that led to the unique style seen in “Feathers of Fire.”
Since creating “Feathers of Fire,” he has designed animations for Yo Yo Ma’s Silkroad Ensemble production of “Heroes,” a multimedia performance piece also based on Shahnameh (“The Book of Kings”). His next project is “Song of the North,” a live animation shadow play that picks up the Shanameh story where “Feathers of Fire” leaves off.
Proceeds from this release of “Feathers of Fire–The Movie” will be dedicated by the nonprofit producing company, Two Chairs, to the realization of “Song of the North” and its accompanying popup book.
Conceived, designed and directed by Hamid Rahmanian
In collaboration with Larry Reed and ShadowLight Productions
Original Music by Loga Ramin Torkian and Azam Ali.
Performed by: Aureen Almario, Ya Wen Chien, Rose Nisker, John Riddleberger, Fred C. Riley III, Mohammad Talani, Lorna Velasco, and Dina Zarif.
Producers: Hamid Rahmanian, Melissa Hibbard and Nasim Yazdani.
Co-Producer: Ahmad Kiarostami.
A production of Fictionville Studio and Banu Productions