‘Fremont’ Star Anaita Wali Zada Wants to Be a Voice For Afghan Women: ‘We All Know What’s Going On There’

Sundance 2023: Director Babak Jalali, actress Anaita Wali Zada and actor Gregg Turkington spoke to TheWrap about their timely comedy’s universal themes

What sets “Fremont” apart from what otherwise might have played like a stereotypical Sundance entry is the specifics of its environment and protagonist. Helmed by Babak Jalali, the picture offers a small-scale yarn about a young former Afghani translator who ends up living in California and working in a run-down fortune cookie factory.

Jalali, alongside cast members Anaita Wali Zada and Gregg Turkington, stopped by TheWrap’s Portrait and Video Studio at The Music Lodge to discuss the film with TheWrap’s Steve Pond.

Jalali first explained that Fremont, a city he had never heard about until shooting an unrelated short in 2014, holds the biggest Afghan community in the United States. “I found a big community of (former Afghani translators) who had started a new life under a special immigration visa scheme,” he said.

He further explained that he chose a female protagonist to counter a lack of positive representations of Afghani women in the media.

As for the fortune cookie factory setting, “I really liked the aesthetics of the interior of these old fortune cookie factories. The aim of fortune cookies was to talk about possibilities and hope.” He further elaborated that “A lot of times what’s written inside [fortune cookies] is completely nonsense. Sometimes, it is quite interesting what you read and what you take from reading them.”

“I was a journalist in Afghanistan,” noted Zada, explaining why she — like the film’s protagonist — had to flee Afghanistan. “I worked for national television for three years.” She came to the United States in August of 2021 and began learning English. She confirmed she had never acted before, certainly not in English. She affirmed that she felt a kinship to the character who – like herself – doesn’t talk all that much. “I just tried to be myself,” she said.

Jalali, an Iranian who was raised in London, noted that he shared at least some experiences with his on-screen protagonist. “[Her] experience is a different one due to my gender, the time I moved and still these themes have always been interesting. I think Donya being an Afghani almost becomes a secondary thing. It’s about a human being who wants to be the same as anyone else,” he said.

Zada stated it was a joy to act in the film and expressed a desire to continue to act and be a filmmaker whose films spoke for Afghani women who might not be able to speak for themselves.

“I want to continue on be a voice of woman of Afghanistan, because all of us know what’s going on there. Woman are (denied) school, education, employment, even the right to choose what to wear or have a small business. I want to be a voice (of Afghan women), and work for them. I’m going to continue that.”

For the full conversation about “Fremont,” click on the video above.

TheWrap’s Portrait and Video Studio at The Music Lodge during the 2023 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by NFP along with support from Sylvania and HigherDOSE