Iranian filmmaker Amir Naderi came to las Vegas as a double outsider; he’s lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years, but still retains his foreign perspective, and his time in America has mostly been spent as a New Yorker. A professional photographer, Naderi became fascinated with Vegas while in town on assignment, and eventually spent five months living in a Motel 6 on Tropicana near the Strip, and then eight months living with his cast and crew in a mobile home in Pahrump that served as the primary location for his CineVegas film Vegas: Based on a True Story, about a family torn apart searching for money allegedly buried on their property. Naderi spoke from the set of his next project in Vancouver about his unique Vegas experience.
How did you come across the true story that the movie is based on, and how closely does it follow real events?
I’m sure you know better than me, in Vegas nobody talks about themselves. Everybody in Vegas always talks about other people. They gossip about other people, and gossip about other stories. Sometimes it’s an exaggeration, sometimes not. One of the stories I found was this story. Somebody told me this story had happened around Vegas, close to Pahrump, actually. At first, I said, “I think this is some bullshit story.” And then I started to search, I go to another bar or another small casino, I find that, no, some people know about it. This has happened. And then I get interested just because of one reason: Because I find that this time, it’s about the family in Vegas, not about the man or a gambler or this or that. It’s about the family, and obsession. And that this family, they destroy their whole life. And they have a kid, and nobody talks about the kids, or growing up, in Vegas in films, as far as I know. And I find that, okay, this is a great story for me.
Is the story then almost more like an urban legend or myth?
Yes. But I think that since this story happened so many times, probably nobody paid attention to it. For me, in cinema it’s important to see Vegas, to show Vegas, to make a film about Vegas, but you never see Vegas. More close to, what is this thing to a human being. For example, what is the difference if one person grew up in Minnesota, for example, I don’t know, in a small town, or in Vegas. Vegas people are different. Vegas people, they don’t know anything about life except, “How can I get the easy money?” Nobody exactly has work. Eighty-five percent of their mind is going to, “How can I get the money?” That’s the whole point.
Did you set out to reflect the current down economy with this film, or is it just a coincidence?
Actually, it was two years’ time making this film, for me. I lived in Vegas A to Z two years. I come to Vegas with some money for preproduction, and I lose my money in gambling. And I get all frustrated with it, and angry with it. I should find the money in Vegas, and make a film about Vegas. It takes so much time to find the money, doing gambling with some people for fun or this or that. I never sat down and said, “I want to make a film about the recession.” No. This happened. Truth will always come out. No matter if you count on it or not, truth will always show himself. Probably I feel it, or probably something called me, “Amir, come over, make me.”