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Watch our interview with Director Anson Hartford and co-producer Ladan Anoushfar here.
Maya is a four-year-old Bengal tiger living in Iran’s Mashad Zoo, a major tourist attraction. Mohsen is keeper, trainer, and adoptive parent to both her and her sister, Raya. As the measured narration puts it: ‘When they opened their eyes for the first time, instead of seeing their mother, they saw him.’ Maya is a star and Mohsen is her enthusiastic co-star: not only does he enter her cage to play, he takes in visitors. Then he takes her on location, to shoot a feature film on the edge of the Caspian Sea, where tigers were wild only 60 years ago. It is her first time outside of captivity, and a learning experience for Maya (who discovers she can hunt), Mohsen, the film-makers, and us.
Mohsen is a caring, thoughtful man. When a circus lion seized its trainer in its jaws and killed him, he was the only person to take the lion’s side. He is also a taxidermist by trade, for whom animals are both a passion and a marketable commodity. In time, the zoo falls foul of Iran’s punctilious animal welfare authorities: someone has been killing tigers, or letting them die, for profit. But this is not an ‘issues’ film. Technically impeccable, with gorgeous cinematography and unobtrusive direction, it is both beautiful and profound. Maya’s movements, sounds and – especially – eyes are wonderfully expressive. But, as Wittgenstein said, ‘If a lion could talk, we would not be able to understand it.’ We think we know Maya, and yet we don’t: she is a wild animal.