How did a niche documentary by a first-time director, about two unknown Iranian DJs, become one of Germany’s cinematic events of the year? Over 60,000 people in Germany have now seen Raving Iran, the debut feature by Susanne Regina Meures, and a year after its release the film continues to draw interest. On the occasion of the film's online launch in our MOVING DOCS Home Cinema, Kirstin Innes talked to Weronika Adamowska of Raving Iran’s distributors and Moving Docs partners, Rise and Shine Cinema, about how they did it.
Weronika Adamowska at the Moving Docs Outreach Workshop in Athens
Weronika, congratulations on a great year for your film. Were you surprised by Raving Iran’s success?
Well, of course, you always hope that your films will be successful, but we were hoping for final audience numbers of around 10,000 – 20,000. That’s the benchmark for documentaries in Germany that don’t have that much of a marketing edge – they aren’t about a celebrity; they aren’t made by Wim Wenders. Those films are destined to be successful and make it over the 50,000-viewer benchmark, but this was a debut film by an unknown director about two unknown DJs from Iran. We weren’t sure what sort of impact it would have; none of us expected to reach audience numbers of over 60,000.
So, where did these audiences come from?
The interest in the film came from different angles. The clubbing scene got interested in Blade & Beard (the DJs who star in the film) as a sort of unusual phenomena – DJs from Iran are not that common in Europe. There is also a very big Iranian ex-pat community in Germany, and it was very interesting to see how many Iranian-Germans related to the story. We started off with a very, very long period of preview screenings in the summer of 2016, mostly in big cities with large international demographics, like Leipzig and Berlin; our Berlin preview screenings kept selling out, so we put on more. The first preview screening was at Fusion Festival, which is an alternative, very exclusive music festival – there’s such demand for tickets they are sold in a lottery, so not everyone can get in. After screenings there and at a music industry event in Cologne, club promoters began to approach us at the start of September – before the film had even come out. And around 5000 people had seen the film by the time we came to the premiere. So we had had two and a half months of great word-of-mouth publicity in the clubbing and ex-pat communities before the film was even released.
How did you identify the audience in the first place? Was there anyone on the team who was plugged into club culture?
Ha! Definitely not, but in Germany it’s very easy to find the clubbers – in Berlin everything in the street is shouting with club culture, with posters – so promoting the film outdoors [with posters and on-street chalk stencils] like the night clubs do seemed to us to be the best way to do it. We had luck, too – they found out about the film themselves, word spread and we didn’t even have to get in touch with people directly, which had been the plan. We did advertise in [specialist clubbing magazine website] Resident Advisor, a single banner in one of their weekly email-outs, three weeks before the release date, and we reached tens of thousands of German clubbers with that one email. That was really all the traditional advertising we did, as it was very expensive.
Raving Iran’s premiere – a screening and party in Berlin’s Volksbühne venue, with Blade & Beard doing a DJ set after the film – really set the tone for the rest of the cinematic run.
Yes. Volksbühne is not a traditional cinema venue: it’s always been the centre of alternative thinking and experiment but they have a number of film screenings taking place there. Our premiere was there on the 26th of September, and we worked on it with a number of partners. That was [Blade & Beard’s] first gig with the film, and their first gig in Germany, and following on from all the great word of mouth we already had for the film, it became the fastest sold-out screening they’ve ever had at Volksbühne. We’ve now done over 80 club screenings.
What is the format for a club screening?
The film is screened and there’s a party afterwards, with a [Blade & Beard] DJ set or maybe some other DJs playing too. It’s all come about through mutual cooperation [with Blade & Beard]. We were very lucky with the timing: they had been seeking asylum for a year in Switzerland, and their work permits – and their freedom to move around Europe – came through just before the film’s release. So they were getting interest from clubs partly because the film was beginning to be known in those circles and they had their own booker in Europe who was scheduling their gigs, and some of the clubs would request the film too; sometimes the clubs would come straight to us to arrange the screening and party.
The film has had an extraordinary lifespan for a documentary.
Even though I’ve always believed in this film, and my team worked very hard for its success, I didn’t ever think it would have over a year of screenings! This summer  we managed to get it into the Freiluftkino chain of big open air cinemas. They have a very particular choice of films, aimed at mass audiences, and after a year their attention was drawn to Raving Iran – after a year! I was concerned because I thought surely there has to be a certain moment when the interest has peaked in any particular city, but over 1000 people came to the the first screening they organised, so it was another successful summer. I think in big multicultural cities in Germany, like Berlin and Leipzig, it just became hip in those circles to see this film.