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Nicholas Mihm: Using My Voice To Spread Awareness

Nicholas Mihm: Using My Voice To Spread Awareness

The root of the word  impatient stems from the Latin “impatientem,” which means “that cannot bear.” Being impatient indicates that we are focused on an end goal, trying to bypass the process of reaching a specific destination. And that’s OK, as impatience also means that our end goal is important to us. In turn, patience often can lead us to procrastination. Being impatient or patient are both beneficial as it indicates where we are within the creation process and brings us back to focus on moving in the direction we want to experience. When we are aware of it, we can do something about it.

The golden nugget lies within the balance, which brings harmony to the unfolding, therefore milking the juices of the process towards where we want to be. There are infinite gift boxes along the way for us to discover. What can be more satisfying than to consciously have our hands on the clay and enjoy the unveiling of our own creation moment by moment?

Every destination is a transition point to something new. Therefore, there is no end but a process of moving from one “goal” to another. In the analogy of an artist painting on a blank canvas, being fully present speeds up the vibrational frequencies that allow us to receive the inspired action of each form, texture, and color. That state of awareness during the process is when we fully experience the blended-ness of being the creator, creating our own creation.

Artist Nicholas Mihm, an Emmy-nominated director, editor, and producer, inspired by his activist spirit and a series of interviews led by Executive Producer Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York, created a short film, Bubjan, which premiered at DC/DOX and was an official selection at DOC NYC Festival last year. Bubjan (grandfather in Persian) reveals the perspective of Parwiz Zafari’s life experience. He was a former member of the Iranian parliament and was exiled from his native country in 1979 due to the rise of the Islamic Republic.

Bubjan, Official Poster | Courtesy // Bubjan Production

When Nicholas was asked to describe himself, he said, “The first word that came to mind was impatient. When I look back at my personal body of work and the things I like to watch, there’s a lot of activism involved. That stems from my impatience with systemic issues needing to be resolved faster. Then, there is impatience with people not taking action. It’s ironic because I decided to become a filmmaker, which is an artform that is extremely time consuming. When I film something, I want it to be done. But nine months of editing allows one to stand back and look at things objectively and approach them more methodically instead of trying to solve or fix something. This process makes me slow down. I’ve always had an issue with authority. I don’t like when people abuse authority and take advantage of others. And that’s reflected in many of the projects I get drawn to, bringing awareness to issues important to me.”

We often compare ourselves through the talents we have. We perceive that what makes us most special is being a master of something. And it does! But behind every masterful expression of every human being is our inner light, wanting to express itself. When we shine our light, the energies that create worlds burst in avalanches, igniting in others to spark their own divine light, therefore enhancing every talent we have. It is a magical dance that summons everyone as cooperative components into creation, where no separation exists but only love and passion directed into the process of creating.

Everyone creates their own unique perception of reality, but nobody can create anything without others. 

“I am good at many things regarding filmmaking, but ‘I am Jack of All Trades, Master of None.’ I can edit, produce, and direct, but none of these aspects has been the central thing. For people to see me, I needed to be flexible and have touchpoints in every part of the craft. I appreciate the path I’ve taken because it has allowed me to experience all these different aspects of the filmmaking process. I’ve worked under directors and producers and directed, produced, and ran crews. It all has been a valuable experience for me. And now, whenever someone asks for help, I can do it all. It made me an asset to the teams I joined, which I appreciate. And in terms of the process of directing, what I love the most is the collaboration part of it. When making Bubjan, I brought on different individuals with whom I had already become good friends while making my first movie, In the Dark of the Valley. Being in a studio, playing the film, and working on the music with my composer, Katy Jarzebowski, was magical. I love her, and I love bouncing ideas off each other. I would watch Katy stand on her tippy toes as she conducted the musicians with such enthusiasm. Technically, it’s my project that I’m directing, but she’s got as much passion and energy put into it as I do. The same goes for our editor and animation team, which Elyse Kelly runs from Washington, DC. All these artists are spread across the world and are so good at what they do. And all I have to do is communicate my vision. I am honored to be able to watch all these amazing artists whose energy and passion create such magic. On the other hand, I also have worked with less collaborative people. Whose attitude screams, ‘I’m the director; you must listen to me.’ That’s bullshit. Every project is a massive team effort. And seeing all these creators come together is such a beautiful thing,” Nicholas pauses and then continues, “For me, it’s impossible to make a movie alone. I’ve been fortunate to bring together a great group of people who have, for whatever reason, followed me on this journey and have made me look,” passionately shares Nicholas.

Every new generation is born “upgraded” based on the previous generations’ shifts. When we learn about our ancestors and honor their journey, we can understand more about where we come from. And most importantly, we can appreciate the shifts our ancestors made for us to experience a fuller life. The paradox is that for us to learn from the past to create a better future, we have to release all the blame and embrace the love we are. Fight brings more fight. Love brings more love. Holding on to the past often gets a veil on the solutions we want to foresee for our future.

Isn’t it holding on to ‘old’ ideas of the past that in the present keeps the ‘new’ future to be alive?

Nicholas says About his experience collaborating with the Zafari family, “I worked closely with Parwiz’s family, specifically his grandson Rostam Zafari. He is the founder of Nimruz, the foundation that supported the film. As a collective, we discussed what we should call it. Bubjan means Grandfather in Persian, which is not mentioned once in the movie. But we decided to call it that way in the hopes that people, especially in the Iranian diaspora, will see it and can reflect on their own roots. That’s how I thought of it: the film is made from Rostam’s perspective, who is not even in the movie. The perspective of a grandchild. From Parwiz’ son, Maziar. From a younger generation, learning lessons from the older generation. And that’s true for Bubjan, Parwiz Zafari himself. The principles he’s learned throughout his life come from the history of Iran and its mythology told from The Shahnameh (The Persian Book of Kings). So, Parwiz is also learning from previous generations and history. Having called the film, Bubjacan inspire others to look back and use that past to progress in the future.”

Nicholas candidly continues, “I am so lucky to have been invited into that family. I initially had reservations because I’m not Persian. My mom’s from Indonesia, and my dad was born and raised in the United States. It was an honor to have the trust of Parwiz, Rostam, and the rest of the Zafari family to share their story with me. The same would go for Brandon Stanton, from Humans of New York, who was invited into the family to tell that story, too. I have never met a man like Parwiz, who is unapologetically dedicated to his principles. He lost his country, his nationality, and his identity. And for whatever reason, whether because of the lessons he’s learned from the Shahnameh or his wife, Mitra, who was always his advisor, confidant, and best friend—he has stayed true to his principles. He refuses to turn his back on Iran and to give up on it. Even when the cameras were turned off, he was reading the Shahnameh. Parwiz is trying to do something to make the world a better place. I’ve never met someone that dedicated and stubborn. We discussed impatience earlier, and he probably feels the same as I do. After making Bubjan, I realized I’ve never really sat down with my family and asked them about their upbringing. So, I recently decided to ask my grandmother here in America about her life story. Then I spoke to my mother, who just spent a month in  Indonesia. I asked her to interview her siblings and her aunt while she was there and have them tell her stories about her own mother’s life. Asking questions to previous generations and genuinely wanting to know about their lives will open your eyes to becoming more empathetic and receptive. I’m learning about its importance.”

Parwiz Zafari (Bubjan) reading the Shahnameh (The Persian Book of Kings) | Courtesy // Bubjan Production 

Anger, frustration, and disappointment are so beneficial to know more of who we are and more of what we want. Speaking about it, sharing our truth about how we feel and the change we want are the first steps towards bringing awareness. Then, to move in the direction of our preference, we must shift and start becoming that preference. If we want more well-being, we must advocate from the well-being perspective. If we want more love, we must advocate from the perspective of love. If we want more freedom, we must advocate from the perspective of freedom.

How does change really happen? Doesn’t change start with us shifting to the new version of ourselves we want to experience? Can we generate the state of being we initially lack regardless of the external circumstances? 

“Making films like Bubjan or In the Dark of the Valley questions and holds authority to account, which elevates voices. And that’s something that I gravitate to. In the Dark of the Valley, a group of moms in Southern California stands up to power as their kids get sick from environmental pollution. Through the film, they’re using their voices to stand up to major powers, whether government or private industry, taking the streets and protesting, which is allowed in this country. Then, in the Bubjaexample, there is the tragic death of Jina ‘Mahsa’ Amini in September 2022. She gets murdered because she was wearing her hijab improperly. It sparked this movement amongst young people worldwide and in Iran, taking to the streets with their Iranian flags and chanting for the right to freedom and women’s rights. But in Tehran, Iran, they are being shot and arrested. For me, freedom means being able to use your voice,” says Nicholas.

Even when we don’t have the choice to speak our truth publicly, we still have the freedom to become an example of what we want to experience. Some people live in what is considered a free country and still don’t feel free. Some people live in an oppressed country and feel free. What truly inspires others are those who lead by example. By being the change we aim to experience, we invite others to see the possibility of becoming that change. The ripple effect expands from one to millions and then more.

Since all external change starts within, what would happen if, instead of pushing against anything, we first aligned ourselves with our preference and then acted from that state? One person who is steadily aligned with being in love is more powerful than millions who are not. 

Nicholas says about the power of change with one person: “I’ve mentioned my director of animation, Elyse Kelly. We connected after I saw an amazing film she co-directed called Fired Up. I’ve taken the message of that film with me for the course of our relationship with each other, which is that one voice can make a difference. If one voice can change a room, then it can change a city. And if it can change a city, then it can change a country. And if you can change the country, you can change the world. That idea sticks with me every day. That is the motivation behind my films. Bubjan is telling this huge-scale story of the Islamic Revolution and its generational impact on Iran’s citizens through one person’s perspective. And In the Dark of the Valley is the story of environmental pollution seen all across the country that is giving kids rare cancer, but it’s told through the lens of one mother’s journey and her daughter who is suffering from leukemia.”

In essence, anyone holding on to power to manipulate or try to control others is in fear. Nobody in love would or could from that state do anything to anyone opposite to the love they embody. Understanding and being compassionate to the aggressor can release the state of lack from the victim and become empowered. And perhaps, the aggressors are the ones who are lacking and need love.

What can we offer to anyone who we see as a victim? What can we offer to anyone when we see them in their power?

The limitation we are experiencing is our mind questioning everything to ensure we are safe and sound. But since we are not our mind, but our mind is ours, we deep inside know and can recognize the moments we relax into being in our true presence, and then everything seems to be possible. And it is! By recognizing that we are already doing what we desire, we amplify it and get more of it.

“My biggest desire now is the freedom and the ability to tell whatever stories are interesting, nothing holding me back. In a professional sense, there are always budgets and schedules, and having to abide by them. By letting those limitations go, I want to make something completely raw and artistically free without second-guessing myself. I love that I am an optimist. Whatever situation comes to me, whether it’s with my wife and my marriage, whether it’s with work or family, or whatever it is, I trust we can always figure it out. I let things slide off my shoulders quite a bit, and I try not to let things bother me. Like The Beatles’ Let It Be, or Modest Mouse’s Float On. And I love to see others when they are in their moment and fully present.”

Like Nicholas, are you fully living your passion? 

Cover Photography // Courtesy Bubjan Production

Connect with Nicholas on Social Media

Bubjan Wesbite | Nimruz website   

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