My family and I fled Iran for Aotearoa in the late 1980s due to war and an oppressive regime. As a six year old I was yelled at by teachers for not understanding English, so I set about reading and writing as much as I could to learn the language. This was aided by a family love of film. I feel like the two have become intertwined and I now have the privilege of working as a writer and filmmaker.
Being a creative means constant rejection – whether it’s work opportunities, funding or criticisms of your work. Early in my career, I wanted to become an actor so this sense of persisting despite the setbacks became ingrained in me. I also became disappointed with the lack of roles for women, particularly women of colour. So I started writing those very roles that I would have wanted myself and soon I began directing them too. At one point, I dropped out of a certain film school, bought a one way ticket to London and set about working as a runner – often for free – but loving the freedom and people I met along the way. I remember literally door-knocking around all of Soho until someone finally let me in for an interview. What I wasn’t prepared for was the bullshit sexism, racism, classism and self-indulgent nonsense that the industry was awash in. It is changing, slowly, but it’s changing.
When I returned to Aotearoa, I decided to go through the University route by completing a BA in Film, TV and Media Studies at the University of Auckland then a Masters in Documentary under Annie Goldson. It was here I serendipitously met a Fulbright advisor and randomly decided to apply for the University of Southern California. The year in Los Angeles was fundamental to me learning how to write for film as we were writing constantly. It was also an introduction to the US system which is its own beast. USC was not just a film school (what we learn here is just as good) but their resources and connections make it more like a country club for Hollywood wannabes. However, I got to work in the documentary department at the Sundance Institute – a relationship I am keen to continue fostering as I thoroughly support their mantra on supporting independent filmmaking.
For me, much of my work came through the connections I made through University, including the formidable producer and writer Shuchi Kothari, plus constantly applying for funding, workshops and programs that our hard working guilds here run such as the Women’s Incubator and filmmaker workshops through DEGANZ. These events are great to meet people. It was at an early Story Camp run by Script to Screen where over a sneaky wine, I met the incredible Ainsley Gardiner, who is now producing my first solo feature with Georgina Conder and Miss Conception Films. The best way to network is to be yourself.
I am currently directing on Shortland Street. Learning to work within a multi-camera, fast turnaround format is an invaluable experience and the perfect place to hone your directing skills as you get to direct regularly. I’m also really proud of what Oliver Driver and the team at Shorty are doing with actively supporting and encouraging more representation behind and, in front of the camera.
One of my favourite speeches comes from actor and musician Riz Ahmed. Regarding representation he notes that being represented means being a part of the story. If we are absent from that story, then we feel that we do not matter. It is not enough to just put different faces on screen (as great as that is) but it is also vital to have the right people tell those stories and make the decisions behind the screen too. In my career I’ve been lucky to have had other POC women leaders as mentors who have not only helped me with work but also helped me see myself in that leadership role one day.
About Ghazaleh Golbakhsh
Ghazaleh is an Iranian-New Zealand award-winning writer and director. She has directed award-winning short films including This is Us, Iran in Transit and The Waiting Room. Ghazaleh was also one of the writer/directors on feature anthology film Kāinga, which premiered at NZIFF and the Melbourne International Film Festival this year. She is currently working on her debut feature as well as directing on Shortland Street.
How I Got Started in the Industry is a guest blog series from the Directors and Editors Guild of Aotearoa New Zealand (DEGANZ). Our members reflect on how they made their way into assistant editing, editing, and directing—with no two stories the same. They offer advice for those starting out. Get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re a member and would like to share your story.