David Reviews

 "You're not an artist, Peggy. You solve problems." Don Draper.

FRESHTEH'S JOURNEY
11 April 2023

When the idea of interviewing Freshteh was first mooted, DAVID learned she was in Bali, and it was suggested that maybe the conversation should be poolside. It was an appealing idea. In the event though, that ambition of was only half-fulfilled... Freshteh was poolside in Bali, and DAVID was sat in the dreich of a Scottish winter. Oh well.

Freshteh had been hyped by Park Village as a charismatic and fascinating director, and she easily met the expectations framed by that description... and then some. Our rambling conversation covered all sorts of ground, much of it not relevant to the task at hand, and although DAVID knew he'd regret this indiscipline when it came to transcribing the conversation, it was unquestionably worth it, as she is truly a one-off.


After a fun twenty minutes discussing the psychopathy of various public figures, DAVID asked Freshteh about her origin story. Even over Zoom, you can tell when someone is about to unleash some impactful anecdotes, and Freshteh's face as she leaned forward with an air of 'well, let me tell you' suggested she had quite the tale to tell... and her confidence was not misplaced.

Born in Iran in 1981, she revealed that among her earliest memories are those from her time at primary school when she and her classmates "had to stand in straight lines, raise our left arms and yell 'death to USA, death to Israel'."


I applied and they said, just send us your uni degrees. I'm like, I'm supposed to have studied for four years? I was like, 'can I come talk to you about that?'

 ”

Fortunately, her mother was unpersuaded by the revolution's militancy, and would subtly persuade Freshteh to think for herself. It's dangerous to suggest to a child they question what they're being told in the classroom in a totalitarian state, and it wasn't long before her mother decided it was time to cut their losses and get out.

After a reasonably straightforward exodus involving a brief stay in Turkey, the family eventually arrived in Sweden. It was the middle of summer and Freshteh remembers one of her thoughts from her first night in the Nordic country: "The west is crazy. It never gets dark!"

Living in a refugee camp, Freshteh was able to discard other aspects of the propaganda she'd been subjected to. The diverse collection of those facing a similar plight meant she'd find herself in the playground with Iraqis and Israelis, and she discovered that, far from being the sworn enemies she'd been led to believe, they were just like her.


She became acutely aware that everything she'd been told about the West had been twisted to fit the revolutionary ideology, and, ultimately, this informed her decision about the role she wanted to play in her adopted homeland:

"The first thing I wanted to be was a nun, because I was in love with Jesus. But then I decided I wanna change the world, and I was like, okay, be a politician! And then I realised I don't listen to politicians. So, who do I listen to? Michael Jackson and Britney Spears!"

On the back of this realisation, she decided that she wanted to make a contribution to popular culture, and, having come to the conclusion that its apotheosis is to be found in TV advertising, she decided that that's what she wanted to make:

"You know, the ultimate end goal is to sell something for profit. And I decide I'd love to be a part of that, and do it without hiding what we are doing."

This advertising vérité isn't limited to an honesty about the objectives of TV spots, it also generated a determination to make the films themselves more representative... of the LGBQT+ community to which she belongs, but also by using a more frank lingua franca.

When casting a woman from the Middle East, she remember making it clear that she wants someone who is voluptuous: "but then, I'm like, I'm gonna write the word 'fat'. I want a fat girl. And they go, 'What? You can't say "fat"!'

"I'm like, yeah I can, I'm with people from agencies and talking about fat people and they're like, oh, are we supposed to say 'fat'? I'm like, yeah, I asked... I asked the girl I was casting, and she said, fat is fine."

She credits this defiance to the formative experience of growing up in a tightly-controlled environment where she was being told what to think and say.


Some of Freshteh's impetus was provided by the Swedish postal service. They run an extraordinary enterprise designed to connect the country's population with their future selves and like many of her compatriots, Freshteh participated.

A letter she wrote when she was 9 years old was delivered, as promised, to her exactly twenty years later, once the postal service had tracked her down.

"I was such a little bitch," she laughs. The tasks she assigned for her future self were an escalating series of ambitious targets starting with the completion of her first writing project at the age of 14. Her letter spelled out to her that if she hadn't managed any of the achievements she'd set out for herself that she should consider herself "a failure" and that she "should get her shit together... and I was like, even if you feel you've done other things, seriously, get honest with yourself. Don't fool that little girl who's inside you."


She met the ambitions of her 9 year old self by studying film in Sweden before blagging her way onto a Master's in Sydney, Australia: "I applied and they said, just send us your uni degrees. I'm like, I'm supposed to have studied for four years? I was like, 'can I come talk to you about that?'

"So I went to the faculty, I had a meeting and I was like, 'guys, tell me why I shouldn't be in this class? Because all these people who've been here for four years, they haven't done this, that, and that I've had actual experience in the business. I should be here.'

"And they asked me a bunch of questions, and said, 'you're in.'"

While she was in Australia, she became unwell. She knew she was ill but misjudged its gravity: "I tried to just work through it. I'd lost eight to ten kilos, but I kept going until one day, my legs didn't work."

It was cancer, and, once she got home to Sweden, she had eight months of chemotherapy. The failure to investigate the cause of her weight loss almost proved fatal... the medics worried that the tumours were too large to respond quickly enough to the treatment.

Thankfully, their concerns proved unfounded and it's now twelve years since she received the all-clear.


Even if you feel you've done other things, seriously, get honest with yourself. Don't fool that little girl who's inside you.

 ”

Asked if this setback made her more determined to hit all the targets she'd set herself, she gives a surprising answer: "Quite the opposite actually. I realised that, you know, on your deathbed it's the connections you make and it's the memories you have with human beings that matter."

She began to consciously steer away from the stereotype of the tormented artist in favour of a more relaxed work/life balance: "When we're on set and the producer's stressed out, I always tell them, 'Fuck it! We're making commercials. It's fine. It is fine.'"

For more on Freshteh, contact Tom Webb at Park Village on 020 7387 8077 or via email using tom@parkvillage.co.uk.

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