Many cultures have viewed the lunar eclipse as a powerful reminder of the Day of Judgment. People chant prayers, sing songs and recite poetry, all in an effort to communicate with nature and the cosmic forces in the sky. They ask for forgiveness or understanding, as they yearn for what they fear is lost.
“Deyzangeroo” is one such ritual, performed in the Iranian port city of Bushehr, on the shores of the Persian Gulf. The distinctive percussive music, rhythmic chants and tribal dances—an echo of the city’s colonial rule by the British and Portuguese, and the African slaves that followed—are performed with reverence, fear and magic.
The ritual is believed to ward off evil spirits and take back the moon. And it works every time…
The animated short Deyzangeroo is the embodiment of this ritual. Directed by Iranian-Canadian filmmaker Ehsan Gharib and produced by the National Film Board of Canada’s Maral Mohammadian, the four-minute film employs hand-painted animation, time-lapse photography and trick photography using mirrors. Deyzangeroo was inspired by and features the haunting music of composer and virtuoso percussionist Habib Meftah Bushehri.
“Deyzangeroo” is a ritual performed in the Iranian port city of Bushehr. Influenced by the city’s colonial rule by the British and Portuguese, and the African slaves that followed, it is imbued with the terror and magic of the lunar eclipse. The ritual is believed to ward off evil spirits and take back the moon. It works every time. Directed by Iranian-Canadian filmmaker Ehsan Gharib and produced by the National Film Board of Canada’s Maral Mohammadian, this animated short was made with the haunting music of composer and virtuoso percussionist Habib Meftah Bushehri. It features hand-painted animation, time-lapse photography and trick photography using mirrors.
What fascinates you about the ritual known as “Deyzangeroo,” and why did you decide to make a film about it?
I first got the idea for this film 10 years ago, when I heard “Deyzangeroo,” a piece of music by composer and virtuoso percussionist Habib Meftah Bousherhri. I was living in my hometown of Arak, Iran. Habib was born and raised in Bushehr, a southwestern port city in Iran known for its unique rhythms, songs and dances. I was fascinated by the story behind the ritual surrounding the lunar eclipse, and I wanted to create something about it. Percussion music really affects me, especially the sounds from the south of Iran. There was something in Habib’s music and conceptually, the idea that people would fight against an eclipse—something so natural and so big—was something I wanted to explore and discover. My ideas kept building up until I finally had the chance to propose my project to the National Film Board.
When there’s music, harmony and dance, people become more than just one plus one plus one; they become a new entity, a new being. Not just with this ritual, but with the work chants that we hear in the beginning of the film; that has always fascinated me, because people are facing something much bigger than themselves, and they need to do something about it. They create this new entity through unity and harmony. They’re scared of the eclipse, which is interesting to me. I really tried to put myself in their place and be in that world. We all thought we lived on a flat earth before we learned it’s not flat. To them, the moon was important and was then taken away during an eclipse. So I didn’t look at it like it was magic or superstition; I looked at it as their reality. There are still forces out there that frighten us, that we can’t quite understand with our intellect, but the fear is real.
Tell us about your background, and your experience working with the National Film Board.
I moved to Canada in 2010, when I was 27, because of my wife. We met 14 years ago in Tehran. She and her family moved here, and then we decided to marry. Before getting serious with her, the only thing I knew about Canada was the NFB. From the time I was a teenager, it was a temple for the kind of animation that I loved. I really was captivated by the ideas and visuals in NFB films.
I owe a lot of this film to executive producer Michael Fukushima and producer Maral Mohammadian, and the chance they provided me. All throughout production, as I was still figuring out how I would tell this story, Maral was so courageous, open and helpful. I think if I were producing instead of Maral, I would’ve stopped me! I was free to fly high and explore. I had complete trust in her and her eye.
This is your first professional film; what were some of your challenges and triumphs?
At first, it was difficult to find a context for this story, because when the idea was accepted, I stripped the ritual from everything and the only thing that was left was a clash between black and white, good and evil. There was conflict, but I had no story or character for it. I tried different scenarios but they didn’t work. Then I went through all my drawings and came up with a fisherman alone at sea at night; this was the right character for the story. I wanted to create an abstract, surreal world, but I also wanted to finish the film in the real world. I kept changing things as I went along. The film really happened a little at a time. At some point, I really saw my studio as a black hole that was sucking out all the light! But then the visuals really came together.
Can you describe the animation styles you used in the film?
The first image that I created for the film was the time-lapse photography of the moon. My wife and I shot a lunar eclipse at Parc Lafontaine in Montreal in 2015. I shot time-lapse for nearly nine hours during the eclipse. I was lucky that the clouds showed up only at the end of the eclipse; the sky was so clear. This image became a building block, and then I did the rest of the film in accordance to that.
I tried many different things that didn’t work, but there were two qualities that were very important to me: First, the animation had to be hand-painted. I’d tried digital animation before and didn’t find any energy in that. Hand-painting was an act of embodiment: I’m pushing my hand and fingers, and feeling something as I’m doing it. I have to give up a certain amount of control. The other aspect was photography. Directly painting under the camera really helped me connect my film to the photos I took of the moon.
I also wanted to use mirrors, which are a very important symbol in Iranian poetry and philosophy. Mirrors make you face yourself. That’s what I chose for the fisherman, because the scariest thing for him was seeing himself. He’s not afraid of the eclipse; he’s afraid of himself. I wanted the sea to rise and wash over him and then shatter. While facing himself in the mirror is scary, when the mirror breaks, the shattered pieces are actually a step forward. This is a nod to the ritual that’s performed by so many people and pieces coming together to form one new thing. That’s how I ended the film: many shapes, and mirrors come together for one message and one goal: to bring back the moon.
You convinced Habib to work with you on the film. His music and voiceover are very compelling; tell us about working with him on this aspect of the project.
I met Habib five years ago at Tirgan, an Iranian festival in Toronto, and we kept in contact by e-mail and on Facebook. Three years ago, he was living in Paris and I visited him there; since then, we’ve become good friends.
We re-recorded his song “Deyzangeroo” for the film, at the very start of production. Some parts are the same as the original recording, but in other parts, especially at the end of the film, Habib performed them not as lyrics but more as someone mumbling to himself. He did a lot of improvisation during that recording, which inspired the images I made afterwards.
In many villages, tribal people perform rituals as part of daily life; music is in everything they do. Annual religious ceremonies were performed in the streets, and you could hear their instruments everywhere in the city. There’s a big drum called a damom that hangs from the neck, and it’s hit on both sides. There are 20 of them playing at the same time.
Growing up, I was always attracted to it. To me, this film was born from the music.
A ritual performed in the fishing town of Bushehr to ward off evil spirits and take back the moon. It works every time.
A Film By
Music and voice
Habib Meftah Boushehri
Thomas Garant (Assistant)
Technical Animation Coordination
Rosalina Di Sario