Production Notes

Production began in May 2018 at a conference held at Stanford University in tribute to Mirzakhani's work. Twelve lectures were taped and some of Maryam's key mathematical collaborators were interviewed, including Alex Wright, Anton Zorich, David Dumas, and Amie Wilkinson. Her only grad students, Jenya Sapir and Benjamin Dozier, were also interviewed at Stanford, as was her husband Jan Vondrak.

Additional interviews for the film were conducted in Toronto, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and at MSRI in Berkeley.

In March 2019, Csicsery filmed in Iran. With Rainy Pictures, an Iranian production company, coordinating production and providing personnel and equipment, Csicsery was able to interview dozens of people in Tehran and Isfahan. The crew worked at Sharif University for three days, at two girls' high schools in Tehran, and at the Isfahan Mathematics House in Isfahan. Interviewees included Mirzakhani's former classmates, her high school and university teachers, IMO teammates, and younger students who are inspired by her example.

A 7-minute piece, Maryam Mirzakhani: Source of Inspiration, was prepared for screening at MSRI for a meeting in May 2019 on International Women in Math Day. See the link:

Maryam Mirzakhani: Source of Inspiration: - Password: msri

Additional interviews were taped between May and July of 2019 with former IMU president Ingrid Daubechies, more former classmates of Mirzakhani's, and with her most important collaborator, Alex Eskin, who on November 4, 2019, was awarded the Breakthrough Prize for his work with Mirzakhani. Footage from the Breakthrough Prize awards ceremony on November 4, 2019, was the last piece pulled into the film. Scenes with Mirzakhani's husband Jan and daughter Anahita were taped in September 2019.

Animation sequences created by Andrea Hale illustrate central ideas in Mirzakhani's work. Mathematician Jayadev Athreya and mathematician/narrator Erica Klarreich scripted the animation, with help from David Eisenbud.

About 38 minutes of music was commissioned from three composers working independently: Nisha Anand, Alex Lu, and Alireza Barzegar.


Animation artist Andrea Hale at the Washington Experimental Mathematics Lab in Seattle during an interview with Jayadev Athreya.

Mathematician Jayadev Athreya explains moduli space to animation artist Andrea Hale.

Cinematographer Skip Sweeney and audio recordist Mark Wotton set up the camera along the Charles River in Cambridge.

Production manager Ali Derakshandeh and audio recordist Amir Hossein Rasouli pause for a selfie during a night shoot in Isfahan, Iran.

Director George Csicsery confers with assistant director/interpreter Fariba Djamour while the camera crew sets up an interview with two of Maryam Mirzakhani's high school classmates in Tehran.

George Csicsery prepares for an interview at Sharif University while cinematographer Mohammed Reza Jahanpanah sets up the shot with an assistant.

Editor Tal Skloot discusses a sequence with producer/director George Csicsery at the Zala Films editing room in Oakland, California.

Six of the eight Iranian film crew members stand in front of the Piroozy Hotel where the crew stayed while shooting in Isfahan.

Tina Torkaman and George Csicsery wait for the next shot to be set up along the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Cinematographer Skip Sweeney at work.

Cinematographer Mohammed Reza Jahanpanah shooting at Sharif University in Tehran.

Cinematographer Skip Sweeney at work.

Images from animation tests created by Andrea Hale and Jadayev Athreya

Simple closed curves are ones that do not cross themselves, and are very rare amongst the set of all closed curves.

– Jayadev Athreya

While a piece of paper is flat, a cricket ball, or its mathematical approximation, a sphere, is positively curved, meaning that it bulges outward at all points. There is a corresponding notion of negative curvature, where surfaces bulge inward. In a precise mathematical sense, most compact surfaces are negatively curved.

--Jayadev Athreya

Mirzakhani's most recent work focused on mathematics that grows out of a simple model problem in Newtonian mechanics. Let P be a Euclidean polygon and consider the billiard dynamical system on P—the motion of a point mass on P with no friction, and elastic collisions with walls (that is, the angle of incidence Æ angle of reflection).

-- Jayadev Athreya

Key Personnel

GEORGE PAUL CSICSERY (producer), a writer and independent filmmaker, has produced 35 documentaries on historical, ethnographic, cultural and mathematical subjects, including Where the Heart Roams (1987),Hungry for Monsters (2003), Troop 214 (2008), The Thursday Club (2005), and Songs Along A Stony Road (2011).

His films on mathematical subjects include N is a Number: A Portrait of Paul Erdős (1993), which received extensive television distribution in the U. S. and abroad, including on the Sundance Channel, and public television syndication via APT. Taking the Long View: The Life of Shiing-shen Chern (2011), a portrait of mathematician S. S. Chern produced for his centenary celebrations with MSRI, is currently being broadcast on public television stations via NETA. Hard Problems: The Road to the World’s Toughest Math Contest (2008) tells the story of the 2006 U.S. team at the International Mathematical Olympiad. It was produced by the Mathematical Association of America and broadcast through APT in 2009. Julia Robinson and Hilbert’s Tenth Problem (2008), a biographical doc about a pioneer woman in American mathematics, was narrated by Danica McKellar, and broadcast via APT. Counting from Infinity: Yitang Zhang and the Twin Primes Conjecture premiered at the Joint Mathematics Meeting (JMM) in January 2015 and began airing on public stations via APT in April 2017. Navajo Math Circles premiered in 2016 and has been airing on PBS since September 2016.

Between 2010 and 2013, he produced 30 long-form biographical interviews for the Simons Foundation Science Lives series.

In 2009, George Csicsery was awarded the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics (JPBM) Communications Award for bringing mathematics to nonmathematical audiences.

Csicsery is the author and co-author of several screenplays: “Ida” (1989); “Meeting With Darkness” (1992); “East of Evil” (1995); and “Alderman’s Story,” set in King Philip's War in New England in 1675, which was awarded first prize at the Rhode Island International Film Festival Screenplay Competition in 2005. Csicsery's articles, reviews and interviews have appeared in, Amerasia Journal, Asia Times, Heterodoxy, Film Quarterly, California Magazine, Savvy , San Jose Mercury-News, San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Express, Oakland Tribune, The Japan Times, The Forward, Lufthansa Bordbuch, Release Print, and many other publications. His articles and interviews have been reprinted in several anthologies, including Conversations with Ishmael Reed, University of Mississippi Press (1995); Without Force or Lies, edited by William Brinton, Mercury House (1990); and Burden of Dreams, by Les Blank & James Bogan, North Atlantic Books (1984).

Csicsery has a BA in Comparative Religions from UC Berkeley (1969) and an MFA in Film Production from San Francisco State University (1972). He has taught film editing at Film Arts Foundation in San Francisco (1982-1997) and general cinema courses to undergraduates at San Francisco State University (1996) and at UC Davis (1998).


SKIP SWEENEY is the founder of Video Free America. Besides its award-winning television and corporate communications programs, the studio leads with such diverse projects as Skip Sweeney’s interactive video/performance production co-developed with actor and clown Bill Irwin for Seattle Repertory and performed on Broadway — or new media like Psychic Detective, an interactive movie developed with director John Sanborn.

Video Free America personnel have produced, shot and edited hundreds of documentaries, travelogues, children’s features, dance and art performances, creating programs for PBS and international broadcast. Commercial productions include TV spots, music video promotions, public service announcements, digital entertainment and dynamic new media for companies such as Kaiser Permanente, Columbia University, and Electronic Arts.

Sweeney’s autobiographical documentaries,My Father Sold Studebakers and My Mother Married Wilbur Stump, were aired on PBS stations across the nation. Stump was included in the 1987 Whitney Biennial and was awarded first prize in the Global Village Documentary Festival. Studebakers is in the Museum of Modern Art’s media collection. Both received various awards and were seen at San Francisco’s International Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, and The American Center in Paris, among others. Sweeney’s media art has been featured at the Whitney, the Museum of Modern Art (NY), the Sao Paulo Biennale, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Getty Center, the Pacific Film Archive and more.

M. REZA JAHANPANAH was born in Tehran. He received his bachelor degree in Photography from Azad University of Tehran in 1999 and his Advanced Diploma in cinematography from Central Institute for Technology, Western Australia in 2005. Jahanpanah has filmed Closed Curtain, directed by renowned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi (winner of the Silver Bear at Berlinale 2013). He was cinematographer on various Iranian and international feature drama and documentary films, such as Taboor, directed by Vahid Vakilifar, which was awarded First Special Mention in the 53rd Thessaloniki International Film Festival 2012, and was winner of the Critics’ Prize at the 15th Deauville Asian Film Festival, France 2013. He filmed Iranians, directed by Mehran Tamadon, (winner of the Grand Prize at the 36th Cinema Du Reel, 2014 and Jury Special Award at Documenta Madrid Film Festival. He filmed Sepideh-Reaching for Stars, an 88-minute documentary film directed by Berit Madsen from Denmark, (Official Selection at IDFA 2013, Sundance Film Festival 2014 and nominated for Golden Frog at Camerimage 2014). He has also directed documentary films like, Lighting the Shadows, (nominated for Best Directing at the 16th Celebration of Documentary Films, Tehran 2014) and Scenes from a Divorce (nominated for best directing and the best film at the 18th Celebration of Documentary Films, Tehran, 2016).

Supervising editor

TAL SKLOOT’S feature length documentaries, 4-Wheel Bob and Freeway Philharmonic, have been broadcast nationally on PBS and toured the globe as part of the U.S. State Department/IDA sponsored American Documentary Showcase, showing worldwide in film festivals in Ecuador, Czech Republic, Poland, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Belarus, Turkey, Indonesia, Jordan, Israel, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Skloot produced a web series on SF Bay Area artists funded by The National Endowment for the Arts.

Skloot is also a skilled producer, cameraman and editor with a credit list of thirty feature length documentaries and narrative films that have won multiple Emmy awards, been shown in movie theaters, broadcast nationally on PBS, NBC, ABC, CBS, and appeared in numerous national and international film festivals.

He is a graduate of the American Film Institute (AFI), and teaches at Sonoma State University and Diablo Valley College. When he's not filming, Skloot enjoys hiking, biking, playing soccer, and sampling new restaurants after all that exercise.

MSRI Participation

Maryam Mirzakhani was deeply involved with mathematics and mathematicians at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI). From 2012–2016, she was a key member of the MSRI Scientific Advisory Committee, which is charged with choosing both the research programs and the visiting scientists who spend time at the institute. For part of that time, she was very ill with what turned out to be terminal cancer, but she never missed a meeting—even when she couldn't travel from Stanford to Berkeley, she attended by video—and she faithfully did the (substantial) committee work.

Mirzakhani was also directly active in many mathematical roles at MSRI: she was one of the main organizers of the semester-long program on Teichmüller Theory and Kleinian Groups in 2007, and a research professor in the spring 2015 session, when she represented the program in a talk to the MSRI trustees. She was even a member of the complementary program when her husband, Jan Vondrak, came to MSRI for a computational program in spring 2005.

Finally, in the spring before her death in 2017, Maryam had agreed to be nominated as a trustee of MSRI—although she warned MSRI Director David Eisenbud that she might well not live to take office.

Mirzakhani's engagement with MSRI came from a close alignment of priorities. First, for mathematics of the highest quality, done in a playful collaborative style. Second, for the cultivation of talent in young women, and the support of women with children (Maryam's own situation, and one upon which MSRI invests resources). And, finally, the welcoming of mathematicians from abroad, understanding that they enormously enrich the U.S. mathematical scene.

Because of this deep involvement and alignment of priorities, MSRI has been very pleased to not only shepherd the production of this film, but also to continue Maryam’s legacy through an endowed professorship in her honor for visiting researchers of the institute. To learn more, visit