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5/23/07

Nailing the Script: Hollywood Screenwriter Cyrus Nowrasteh's new challenges

By Darius KADIVAR

 

 

Political thrillers on film have always been subject to controversy and most directors, actors or screenwriters involved in the making would welcome such controversy and debate as a blessing. This film genre certainly reached its pinnacle in the mid 70’s with Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men and prior to that Sydney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor both of which announced the end of the Nixon era of political conspiracies and denounced the undemocratic behavior in some spheres of power in Washington. The genre was considerably imitated but rarely equaled after these two major film releases. Probably because it requires not only a good and convincing script but also a moral commitment from its director, screenwriter and major actors. The political consciousness in American and European societies of the 70’s certainly encouraged the intelligentsia to challenge the establishment and take sides with the citizen. Star’s like Robert Redford in the two films mentioned above, Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon in the China Syndrome, and Lemmon again in Costa Gavras’ Missing or Yves Montand in The Confession put their own careers at risk so as to deal with issues that concerned society and political challenges of the time such as US foreign and domestic policy, dangers of Nuclear technology ( that should echo with today’s nuclear proliferation debates) or political assassinations of dissidents. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War certainly ebbed this trend and political correctness clearly dominated Hollywood films of the 80’s and 90’s. The sad advent of this millennium’s tragedy that is Sept 11th and the clumsy US administration’s War on Terror quite rightly put politics back on screen with films like Three Kings , Syriana or Munich. George Clooney denouncing the Darfur tragedy last year and  Sean Penn covering the Iranian elections for the San Francisco Chronicle in 2005 have each in their own way been at the forefront of political activism in Hollywood. Interestingly Hollywood has targeted both American neo-con’s for clumsiness in the War on Terror as well as the former Clinton administration for a lack of foresight in predicting the attack on the World Trade Center. As such the work of American-Iranian Screenwriter Cyrus Nowrasteh is of interest. Known for his interest in political thrillers as well as action packed movies, Nowrasteh, highlighted some of the controversy surrounding the World Trade Center tragedy in his film The Path to 9/11  starring Harvey Keitel which raised eyebrows from former President Bill Clinton and Former CIA operatives of his administration. Refusing to be politically typecast, Nowrasteh has now teamed up on the upcoming Oliver Stone movie. Stone known for his liberal opinions with films like Wall Street and Bio epics like JFK or Nixon is now setting out to denounce the Bush administration’s War in Afghanistan and the reason’s why it has failed to track down Osama Bin Laden. Nowrasteh is also working on the screen adaptation of Iranian journalist Fereidoune Sahebjam’s The Stoning of Soraya M based on a true story that will certainly not leave the Iranian community indifferent.

 

 


Breaking political taboo:  George Clooney took position on the Darfur
genocide and Sean Penn greeted Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji in
Hollywood
after covering the Iranian elections for the San Francisco Chronicle.
©imdb.com & SF Chronicle

  


Cyrus Nowrasteh was born in Boulder, Colorado and grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. He attended New Mexico State University on a tennis scholarship, but later transferred to U.S.C. to study in their renowned School of Cinema. While teaching tennis in Los Angeles he wrote screenplays. His first break came in 1983 when he was hired by Universal Studios to do a rewrite on a project entitled 'Bikers'. Mr. Nowrasteh says this first job was a disaster because he tried "to please everybody." Two years later he wrote his first produced script for the CBS TV series 'The Equalizer' which led him to work predominantly in series television for the next five years. He also wrote scripts on assignment for various producers and studios, the best regarded being 'Black Jack' and 'Murder At Nha Trang' for Interscope Productions. His move into directing began on the independent front with 'Norma Jean, Jack, And Me', a zany comedy about a young drifter who washes up on an island and discovers that Marilyn Monroe and JFK are alive and well! It starred Sally Kirkland and Michael Murphy and became a festival favorite throughout the world.

 

 


Oliver Stone ( World Trade Center, Alexander ) & Cyrus Nowrasteh team up
to Add a new chapter to the Afghan Campaign War on Terror ©imdb.com

 

 

Nowrasteh wrote and directed the Paramount/Showtime production The Day Reagan Was Shot in 2001 (TV) which starred Richard Dreyfuss. Produced by Oliver Stone, The Day Reagan Was Shot received rave reviews and a number of awards including the Pen USA West Literary Award for Best Teleplay 2001-2002.


Some of his other writing credits include Showtime's 10,000 Black Men Named George (2002) (TV)(a dramatization of Black activist A. Philip Randolph's struggles in leading the Pullman Strike), the independent 1996 Sundance hit, 'The Interview', _"Nikita" (1997)_ , the pilot for the hit USA Network series, 'La Femme Nikita', and the adaptation of Alan Dershowitz's novel, The Advocate's Devil (1997) (TV) for ABC. Nowrasteh has also received numerous credits as a writer/producer on such television series as The Equalizer, and D.E.A. As a screenwriter, he is writing Juarez for Warner Brothers and Robert Lawrence Productions, Andrews' Raiders for Kennedy/Marshall and Universal, and Personal Injuries for Punch Productions and Dustin Hoffman.

 

 


Known for Political and action thrillers: Some screen Credits of
Cyrus Nowrasteh ©imdb.com

 


According to US magazine Variety and also confirmed by a recent interview given to Persian Heritage Magazine Oliver Stone and Paramount Pictures hired Nowrasteh in  developing Jawbreaker, which will focus on America's response to the terrorist attacks with the invasion of Afghanistan and hunt for 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden. The script is based in part on a memoir of the same name by Gary Bernsten, the CIA's pointman during the invasion, who coordinated the efforts of the CIA and Special Operations Forces to end Taliban rule.

Stone and Paramount bought the book months ago and kept it hush-hush so that World Trade Center could open unencumbered in the U.S. and overseas. A first draft was written by Ralph Pezzullo, who co-wrote Jawbreaker with Bernsten. World Trade Center  largely avoided political overtones by focusing on heroics of two cops -- played by Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena -- who became trapped in the rubble of the Twin Towers after hijackers crashed airliners into the buildings.

Stone called it "the least political film I've made." And he insisted his objective with "Jawbreaker" similarly would be to "create compelling drama, not a polemic."

It is not the first collaboration of Oliver Stone with an American of Iranian heritage. Azita Zendel a native of Iran was Stone’s assistent for years on such films as JFK, Heaven and Earth, Nixon and  Natural Born Killers. And Stone also produced Nowrasteh’s other political drama  The Day Reagan Was Shot Starring Richard Crenna and Richard Dreyfuss.

 


In development by Nowrasteh the screen adaptation of Fereidoune Sahebjam’s
The Stoning of Soraya M based on a true Story ©imdb.com & amazon.com
 

 

Cyrus Nowrasteh’s other challenging script also currently in development will be based on a book by Iranian Journalist Fereidoune Sahebjam : The Stoning of Soraya M, a True Story which was initially a bestseller in France before becoming an internationally acknowledged as a chilling testimony of an innocent woman stoned to death for adultery in Islamic Iran. Below is the summary :

Soraya M.'s husband, Ghorban-Ali, couldn't afford to marry another woman. Rather than returning Soraya's dowry, as custom required before taking a second wife, he plotted with four friends and a counterfeit mullah to dispose of her. Together, they accused Soraya of adultery. Her only crime was cooking for a friend's widowed husband. Exhausted by a lifetime of abuse and hardship, Soraya said nothing, and the makeshift tribunal took her silence as a confession of guilt. They sentenced her to death by stoning: a punishment prohibited by Islam but widely practiced. Day by day--sometimes minute by minute--Sahebjam deftly recounts these horrendous events, tracing Soraya's life with searing immediacy, from her arranged marriage and the births of her children to her husband's increasing cruelty and her horrifying execution, where, by tradition, her father, husband, and sons hurled the first stones.

According to Nowrasteh he hopes to achieve a film in the lines of Alan Parker’s Midnight Express. He hopes to finance this project independently with Iranian investors so as to remain true to the story beyond studio control.

 

If needed Cyrus Nowrasteh’s prolific work proves once again the rising interest of Hollywood in Iranian talents in the Diaspora.

 

 

Author's Notes:

 

Recommended Readings:

-          Persian Golden Boys In Hollywood by Darius KADIVAR

-          Prisoner of Conscience: Akbar Ganji and Costa Gavras' Confession By Darius KADIVAR

-          Syriana Breaks Iranian Stereotypes by Darius KADIVAR

  

 


About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant.

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