In Babak Jalali’s playfully eccentric FREMONT focuses on a beautiful and troubled 20-something Donya, an Afghan translator who used to work with the U.S. government and now has trouble sleeping. Each morning Donya (Anaita Wali Zada) leaves her tight-knit community of Afghan immigrants in Fremont, California. She crosses the Bay to work at a family-run fortune cookie factory in San Francisco. Donya drifts through her routine, struggling to connect with the culture and people of her new, unfamiliar surroundings while processing complicated feelings about her past as a translator for the U.S. government in Afghanistan. Unable to sleep, she finagles her way into a regular slot with a therapist (Gregg Turkington) who grasps for prospective role models. When an unexpected promotion at work thrusts Donya into the position to write her own story, she communicates her loneliness and longing through a concise medium: the fortunes inside each cookie. Donya’s koans travel, making a humble social impact and expanding her world far beyond Fremont and her turbulent past, including an encounter with a quiet auto mechanic (Jeremy Allen White) who could stand to see his own world expanded. Tenderly sculpted and lyrically shot in black-and-white, Jalali’s FREMONT is a wry, deadpan vision of the universal longing for home. Director and writer Babak Jalali joins us for a conversation on the (Radio Dreams) moment he knew that casting an unknown actor, Anaita Wali Zada as Donya could carry his film, his instinctual decision, in collaboration with cinematographer Laura Valladao, to go black and white, the calming effect of Gregg Turkington, and the joy of spending time in the vibrant Afghan community of Fremont, California.
About the filmmaker – Babak Jalali was born in 1978 in Gorgan in northern Iran, but has lived mainly in London since 1986. He has a master’s degree in politics from the University of London as well as a diploma from the London Film School. During his course there he made three short films: A Trip to the Coast (2002), Nadja (2003), and Boxes (2004). His graduation film, Heydar, an Afghan in Teheran, told the story of a young Afghan working for a rich Iranian, spending his free time learning English in order to work as a translator in Afghanistan. The film was short-listed in the Best Short Film category at BAFTA in 2006. That same year Babak Jalali had a residency at the Cannes Festival’s Cinéfondation where he was able to develop his first feature film, Frontier Blues.
“A drama with a spare, wry tone that belies its earnest and ample substance.” – Richard Brody, The New Yorker
“A cross-cultural comedy that explores the freedom of being lost and the exhilaration of finding oneself” – Mark Olsen, LA Times
“A coolly deadpan comedy. Fremont is reminiscent of Aki Kaurismaki and Jim Jarmusch.” – Amy Taubin, Artforum
“Fremont‘s variation is that its performances are low-key naturalistic rather than hollowed-out deadpan, and it gains a lot from the specificity of its characters and their unglamorous milieus.” Vadim Rizov, Filmmaker Magazine
“The story is suffused with an uncommon blend of radiance and resignation, nowhere more rapturously than in the final shot.” – Anthony Lake, New Yorker
“Honest and hopeful. An ode to the universal beauty and restless pull of human connection.” – Tomris Laffly, Harper’s Bazaar