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About the Film

Filmed in Canada, Iran, and the United States, Secrets of the Surface: The Mathematical Vision of Maryam Mirzakhani examines the life and mathematical work of Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian immigrant to the United States who became a superstar in her field. In 2014, she was both the first woman and the first Iranian to be honored by mathematics’ highest prize, the Fields Medal.

Mirzakhani’s contributions are explained in the film by leading mathematicians and illustrated by animated sequences. Her mathematical colleagues from around the world, as well as former teachers, classmates, and students in Iran today, convey the deep impact of her achievements. The path of her education, success on Iran’s Math Olympiad team, and her brilliant work, make Mirzakhani an ideal role model for girls looking toward careers in science and mathematics.

To arrange screenings at your institution please contact geocsi@zalafilms.com.

News & Screenings

November 2020 - Students at Sharif University of Technology in Iran who attended a screening of Secrets of the Surface used the film’s image surrounded by their faces to create this beautiful poster.

August 24, 2023 - Secrets of the Surface: The Mathematical Vision of Maryam Mirzakhani has been listed as one of the "15 Offbeat Documentaries You Need to See to Believe" in Wealth of Geeks, a website about investing, weird side hustles and pop culture. In her description of the film, freelance writer Donna Freedman writes, "the documentary explains [Mirzakhani's] contributions to the field [of mathematics] in ways ordinary (non-genius) people can understand."

May 12, 2023 - As part of the May 12 celebration of women in mathematics, Greek Women in Mathematics is screening Secrets of the Surface: The Mathematical Vision of Maryam Mirzakhani on Friday, May 12, at 7 p.m., in person on the first floor of the Faculty of Sciences of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. A discussion will follow the film. (You will need to register to attend the event virtually.) In addition, a special exhibition of Women of Mathematics Throughout Europe — A Gallery of Portraits will be shown from May 2-12, with a public lecture by Professor Sofia Lambropoulou (NTUA) at 11 a.m. on May 12.

May 8, 2023 - Writing in San Francisco State's Golden Gate Express magazine, staff reporter Ishaan Pratap reviews the May 4 screening of Secrets of the Surface: The Mathematical Vision of Maryam Mirzakhani. The event and panel discussion was hosted by the departments of Mathematics, Persian Studies and Modern Languages, in collaboration with the School of Cinema.

May 4, 2023 - Secrets of the Surface: The Mathematical Vision of Maryam Mirzakhani will be screened at San Francisco State University on Thursday, May 4, 2023, at 3:30 p.m. The documentary by Zala Films, made in partnership with the Simons Laufer Mathematical Sciences Institute in Berkeley, looks at the life and contributions to contemporary mathematics of the brilliant Iranian mathematician and Fields medalist. A Q&A discussion will follow the film, featuring Mitra Ara, Persian Studies; Emily Clader, Mathematics; Steve Kovacs, Cinema and George Csicsery, director of the film and SF State Cinema Studies alumnus. The screening and discussion will be held in the Coppola Theater of the university’s Fine Arts Building, Room 101. Sponsors include the School of Cinema, the Department of Mathematics and the Department of Modern Languages & Literature. See: https://lca.sfsu.edu/event/secrets-surface

February 21, 2023 - In her review in The Stanford Daily, following a screening of Secrets of the Surface: The Mathematical Vision of Maryam Mirzakhani, reporter Mirelys Mendez-Pons '25 noted that the Iranian mathematician portrayed in the documentary "broke down barriers and challenged stereotypes by excelling in a field that has historically been dominated by men. Her success has shown young women that they can pursue their passions and excel in any field, regardless of their gender." A panel discussion followed the screening at Stanford University, which was part of the Stanford Arts Camera as Witness Program's REFLECTIONS series, which celebrated the United Nations' International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

February 13, 2023 - Camera as Witness Stanford Arts presents the Reflections series, celebrating the UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science, co-presented with the Bechtel International Center, The Hamid and Christina Moghadam Program in Iranian Studies and Stanford Film Society. A screening of Secrets of the Surface: The Mathematical Vision of Maryam Mirzakhani on Thursday, February 16, 6:30 p.m., will be followed by a conversation with filmmaker George Csicsery, moderated by Jasmina Bojic, Stanford Arts Camera as Witness program director, at the Bechtel International Center, Assembly Room, 584 Capistrano Way, Stanford, CA.

September 9, 2022 - Asked to recommend a movie from the perspective of her own area of specialization, Professor Yukari Ito of the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe, University of Tokyo, chose Secrets of the Surface: The Mathematical Vision of Maryam Mirzakhani. "While there are other movies about real-life mathematicians such as Nash, Ramanujan and Turing, the specialties of these individuals are often depicted as making them eccentric in their private lives. In contrast, Mirzakhani lived a 'normal' life, was married with a child and simply loved math. I want people to know that mathematicians like her also exist."

Professor Ito adds that there are initiatives in Asia and Oceania to launch organizations like those in the US and Europe for female mathematicians. A seminar is planned for the coming academic year in Japan for women studying and researching math. Read the entire review here.

May 23, 2022 - Zala Films producer/director George Csicsery joins mathematician Steven Strogatz on Monday, May 23, at 7 p.m. EDT at Starring Math, an online discussion of films that profile legendary mathematicians, presented by MoMath: the National Museum of Mathematics. Joining in the discussion of Secrets of the Surface: The Mathematical Vision of Maryam Mirzakhani, will be math and science writer Erica Klarreich, and math professor Amie Wilkinson, who both appear in the film. Learn more and register here.

April 21, 2022 - Zala Films is pleased to announce the Second Edition of DVD and Bluray discs of Secrets of the Surface. The new discs feature the same film and extra features as the first edition, but with improvements in the Farsi subtitles, and new subtitles available in eight languages. Subtitles are available in French, Italian, Japanese, Farsi, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish, in addition to the English open-captioned option. See the order form here.

March 18, 2022 - An interview with filmmaker George Csicsery about his work on Secrets of the Surface was published in Kayhan Life, an English-language digital magazine dedicated to the global Iranian community. Read the article here.

February 15, 2022 - Zala Films is pleased to announce that Secrets of the Surface: The Mathematical Vision of Maryam Mirzakhani airs on U.S. public television stations starting in March 2022 in celebration of Women's History Month. The film appears on public television stations via American Public Television (APT) beginning March 2, 2022. It will air on more than 120 stations via the PBS World Channel starting March 7. Check local listings and the Secrets of the Surface Airdates page.

November 18, 2021 - Watch the broadcast of the excellent Q&A discussion about Secrets of the Surface and the legacy of Maryam Mirzakhani, which followed the Indiana University Cinema screening of the film on November 18.

November 18, 2021 - Indiana University is hosting a virtual screening, followed by an interactive Q&A, of Secrets of the Surface on November 18, 2021, at 7 p.m. EST. Panelists include Drs. Hussein Banai of MIT; Laura DeMarco of Harvard University; and Shahyar Daneshgar, Shabnam Kavousian and Julia Plavnik, all of Indiana University. A limited number of complimentary passes will be available to watch the film on a first-come-first-served basis. The screening is sponsored by the Department of Mathematics, IU Center of Excellence for Women & Technology and the Department of Central Eurasian Studies.

November 12, 2021 - Secrets of the Surface screens as part of the InScience Festival in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, which runs November 10-22. InScience and NEMO Kennislink have launched the online Science Film Club, which will host a discussion of the film and the theme of scientific breakthroughs on Friday, November 12, at 19:30.

September 29, 2021 - Congratulations to high school student Milena Harned of Cambridge, Massachusetts, who has published her first theorem in an article in a peer-reviewed journal, the International Journal of Geometry. Milena was encouraged to pursue a career in mathematics after she watched Secrets of the Surface and participated as a panelist at a recent online film screening through the Girls’ Angle Math Club in Cambridge. An article in American Mathematical Society News by Scott Hershberger, titled "One teen’s journey from local math club to professional publication", quotes Milena: “...Learning to convey my thoughts really helped me get a more well-rounded understanding of math.” In the span of two and a half years, Milena has authored or co-authored 10 articles in the Girls' Angle Bulletin.

May 12, 2021 - The Celebration of Women in Mathematics on May 12, 2021, is part of an international initiative to inspire women everywhere to celebrate their achievements in mathematics, and to encourage an open, welcoming and inclusive work environment for everybody. May 12 was chosen for this annual event, as it is the birthdate of Fields medalist Maryam Mirzakhani.

Hear from panelists and watch a short film plus clips from Secrets of the Surface at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute's May 12 virtual event (from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Pacific Time) as part of the international initiative. Free and open to the public. Register at tinyurl.com/may12msri.

April 25, 2021 - The Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, New York, will offer a free screening of Secrets of the Surface followed by a virtual panel on April 25. The film will be available to stream at 7 p.m. and will be followed by a discussion at 8:10 p.m. on the JBFC YouTube channel. Panelists include Amie Wilkinson, Hélène Barcelo, Cumrun Vafa, George Csicsery (director) and David Eisenbud (moderator).

April 25, 2021 - The Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe and the University of Tokyo will present an online screening of Secrets of the Surface, featuring Japanese subtitles, on Sunday, April 25, from 2 to 4 p.m. local time. The event will be introduced by Professor Yukari Ito of the institute with commentary by Professor Hideki Miyachi of the School of Mathematics and Physics, Kanazawa University. Admission is free.

April 16-17, 2021 - The National Math Festival (April 16-18, 2021), a live online festival organized by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, California, will feature a screening and discussion of Secrets of the Surface on Friday, April 16, from 2-3:30 p.m. ET. Panelists include Dr. Hélène Barcelo, Dr. Roya Beheshti Zavareh, Dr. Marissa Kawehi Loving and Dr. Marie-Francoise Roy.

On Saturday, April 17, 3-4:30 p.m. ET, a Math Movie Sampler at the festival will feature clips from NOVA, NSF "We are Mathematics" contest winners, and Zala Films math film trailers. This segment will be moderated by David Eisenbud of MSRI and Ralph Bouquet of NOVA Education.

March 29, 2021 - Secrets of the Surface screens March 29 at 8 p.m. GMT+2 at the 8th Film Festival Mathematics - Computer Science (March 14, 15, 22, 29), hosted by the Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation in cooperation with the Karlstorkino in Heidelberg. Four films spotlighting the life and work of outstanding scientists are featured in the festival. Participation is free of charge and discussions are in English. Producer/director George Csicsery will be available for questions following the screening on March 29. March 19, 2021 - A segment on Maryam Mirzakhani featuring clips from Secrets of the Surface and an interview with mathematician Roya Beheshti, Maryam's longtime friend, aired on Amanpour & Co. on CNNi and across the US on PBS stations. Watch it here. March 2, 2021 - Shaping the Curve, Maryam Mirzakhani's Influence on the Field of Mathematics, a screening and panel discussion of Secrets of the Surface, garnered a large audience at the Hopkins at Home presentation with the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth on March 2. The panel discussion now available here included Dr. Emily Riehl of the Department of Mathematics, Anjula Batra of the Center for Talented Youth (moderator) and film director George Csicsery.

November 2020 - Students at Sharif University of Technology in Iran who attended a screening of Secrets of the Surface used the film’s image surrounded by their faces to create this beautiful poster.

November 8, 2020 - Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe will screen Secrets of the Surface on November 8 as part of an online conference, The World of Mathematical Physics, organized for Japanese undergraduate students or higher in mathematics and physics. Following the screening, producer/director George Csicsery will join a panel discussion with mathematicians Jayadev Athreya, University of Washington; Motohico Mulase, UC Davis; and Masahito Yamazaki, Kavli Institute; and Sachiko Nakajima, steAM, Inc. CEO.

November 7, 2020 - (The Filmfestival Mathematik has been canceled due to covid safety concerns and will be re-scheduled.)
The Heidelberg Laureate Forum will present Secrets of the Surface as the closing night film of the Filmfestival Mathematik Informatik on November 7 at 7:30 p.m. CET. A panel discussion including director/producer George Csicsery will follow the screening.

October 23-28, 2020 - Secrets of the Surface will be screened October 23-28 at Pariscience 2020, an international scientific film festival presenting a free selection of the best of recent French and international scientific documentary productions. Screenings will only be available in France. Read about the film here.

October 18, 2020 - UNAFF2020, the 23rd United Nations Association International Documentary Film Festival, screens Secrets of the Surface beginning at 7 p.m. on Sunday, October 18 as part of the annual festival (October 15-25) featuring some 60 films. The Northern California festival this year will celebrate the power of empathy through films that highlight human rights issues, including environmentalism, racism, health, women's issues, universal education, war and peace. George Csicsery of Zala Films and other filmmakers will participate in a 6 p.m. livestreamed discussion on October 18 of several films screened that day.

October 1, 2020 - A Tarde, a daily newspaper published in Bahia, Brazil, published an article, titled Segredos Femininos da Superfície, about Secrets of the Surface, written by Marcio Luis Ferreira Nascimento, Professor at the Polytechnic School, Department of Chemical Engineering and the Institute of Humanities, Arts and Sciences, Universidade Federal da Bahia.

September 21 - 25, 2020 - Secrets of the Surface was featured at the Heidelberg Laureate Forum, a week-long networking conference in late September of some 200 young researchers in mathematics and computer science who have the opportunity to interact with and hear lectures from laureates in their specialized fields. A special program on Maryam Mirzakhani featured a virtual exhibition of panels portraying the mathematician’s life and mathematical work, four screenings of the film and a livestreamed panel discussion, “Theorems and initiatives inspired by Maryam Mirzakhani.” September 5 - 19, 2020 - Secrets of the Surface is an official selection of the Australian Muslim Film Festival, Perth, Australia, and is one of 52 films streaming worldwide September 5-19. See the festival website for more information.

September 1, 2020 - A review in the Association for Women in Mathematics September-October newsletter (page 14) by Ramin Takloo-Bighash “very highly recommend[s] this movie to anyone who has an interest, even tangential, in mathematics and science.” Adds the reviewer: “I think this movie should be shown to high school and college students everywhere … ” (Read the article at the link or download a PDF.) August 14, 2020 - Secrets of the Surface is featured as part of an article in India’s English-language paper, The Hindu. (Read the article at the link or download a PDF) June 8, 2020 - A Nature Magazine review of Secrets of the Surface by Davide Castelvecchi is titled "Stirring biopic of the first woman to win top maths prize: Maryam Mirzakhani, Fields medalist and Iranian national hero, is celebrated in an elegant documentary." The reviewer says the film "strikes a satisfying balance between [Mirzakhani's] magnificent mathematics and her human story, including her untimely death from cancer in 2017, at the age of 40." The British weekly scientific journal notes that Producer/Director George Csicsery "has carved a niche as a maker of compelling films about mathematicians, starting with the brilliant 1993 N is a Number on Paul Erdős, the most productive mathematician of the modern era and a perennial couchsurfer. Csicsery's latest work celebrates the importance of female role models by showing the impact of Mirzakhani's short but extraordinary life ..."

May 30, 2020 - Secrets of the Surface will screen at the Iranian Film Festival of Zurich (link to IFFZ Facebook page) on Saturday, May 30, from 5 to 6 p.m. Based in Zurich, Switzerland, this year's online festival (May 28 - June 3) is organized as a platform for presenting Iranian culture and tradition and for building a bridge between different cultures through the universal language of art. (Access is from inside Switzerland at https://www.iranianfilmfestival.ch)

May 12, 2020 - A special screening of Secrets of the Surface: The Mathematical Vision of Maryam Mirzakhani will be hosted by The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences on Tuesday, May 12, at 7 p.m. EST (11 p.m. GMT). The screening will include a "watch party" on Twitter and an online panel discussion and audience Q&A. Moderator of the panel is Kumar Murty, Director of The Fields Institute. Panelists are George Csicsery, Producer/Director, Zala Films; Diana Davis, Visiting Assistant Professor, Swarthmore College; Ingrid Daubechies, Professor, Duke University; and Kasra Rafi, Professor, University of Toronto. Register for the online event here. You can follow the event on Twitter with #FilmswithFields.

May 12, 2020 - Zala Films is supporting the May 12th initiative of the International Mathematical Union’s Committee for Women in Mathematics, which each year brings together virtual or local events celebrating women in mathematics. Due to COVID-19 (and by special agreement with Zala Films), individuals and organizations between April 1 and May 19, 2020, may access our film about the life and work of the Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, Secrets of the Surface: The Mathematical Vision of Maryam Mirzakhani. (You can make a request for screening authorization here.)

The goal of the May 12 initiative is to inspire women everywhere to celebrate their achievements in mathematics, and to encourage an open, welcoming and inclusive work environment for everyone. Read more about the events here.

March 15, 2020 - Secrets of the Surface screens at Concordia University's J.A. de Sève Cinema, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., Montreal, on Sunday, March 15, at 5 p.m. Screening sponsors are Concordia University, ISM, Centre de Recherches Mathematiques, MSRI and Zala Films.

March 7, 2020 - Secrets of the Surface will screen at the 13th Symposium for Women in Mathematics in Southern California, being held March 7 and 8 at UC Irvine. The film will screen at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 7, at the UCI -- McDonnell Douglas Auditorium, 314 Los Trancos Dr, Irvine, CA 92617. Producer/director George Csicsery will be present. Read more about the symposium here.

March 6, 2020 - Chapman University in Orange, California, screens Secrets of the Surface on March 6 at 2:30 p.m. at Argyros Forum 207. Filmmaker George Csicsery will attend.

January 17, 2020 - The world premiere screening of Secrets of the Surface: The Mathematical Vision of Maryam Mirzakhani will take place on Friday, January 17, 2020, at 5:15 – 6:45 pm, at the Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM) in Denver, Colorado.

The screening will be held in Room 207 at the Colorado Convention Center, 700-14th Street, Denver, CO 80202. Room 207 is located on the street level/meeting room level of the facility. Admission to the screening is free. (Unregistered guests may not participate in other JMM events.)

The screening is an AMS Special Presentation at the 2020 Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM), organized by David Eisenbud of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) and will be followed by a panel discussion featuring producer/director George Csicsery; Hélène Barcelo, MSRI; Jayadev Athreya, University of Washington; Erica Klarreich, mathematician, journalist and narrator in the film; Tatiana Toro, University of Washington; Amie Wilkinson, University of Chicago; and Ingrid Daubechies, Duke University.

For more information, visit www.slmath.org/general_events/24654.


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A Brief Biography

(excerpted in part from Wikipedia)

Maryam Mirzakhani مریم میرزاخانی‎‎, (1977 – 2017) grew up in Tehran, Iran. She attended Tehran Farzanegan School, part of the National Organization for Development of Exceptional Talents (NODET). In 1994, Mirzakhani earned a gold medal at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), the first female Iranian student to do so. In the 1995 IMO, she became the first Iranian student to achieve a perfect score and to win two gold medals. She obtained her BSc in mathematics in 1999 from the Sharif University of Technology. She then went to the United States for graduate work, earning her PhD in 2004 from Harvard University, where she worked under the supervision of Fields medalist Curtis T. McMullen. At Harvard she is said to have been "distinguished by ... determination and relentless questioning," despite not being a native English speaker, and took her class notes in Persian.

Mirzakhani was a 2004 research fellow of the Clay Mathematics Institute and a professor at Princeton University. In 2008 she became a professor at Stanford University.

Her research topics included Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic geometry, ergodic theory, and symplectic geometry. Mirzakhani made several contributions to the theory of moduli spaces of Riemann surfaces. In her early work, she discovered a formula expressing the volume of the moduli space of surfaces of type (g,n) with given boundary lengths as a polynomial in those lengths. This led her to obtain a new proof for the formula discovered by Edward Witten and Maxim Kontsevich on the intersection numbers of tautological classes on moduli space, as well as an asymptotic formula for the growth of the number of simple closed geodesics on a compact hyperbolic surface, generalizing the theorem of the three geodesics for spherical surfaces. Her subsequent work focused on Teichmüller dynamics of moduli space. In particular, she was able to prove the long-standing conjecture that William Thurston's earthquake flow on Teichmüller space is ergodic.

In 2014, with Alex Eskin and with input from Amir Mohammadi, Mirzakhani proved that complex geodesics and their closures in moduli space are surprisingly regular, rather than irregular or fractal. The International Mathematical Union said in its press release that "it is astounding to find that the rigidity in homogeneous spaces has an echo in the inhomogeneous world of moduli space.”

In 2014, she became both the first woman and the first Iranian to be honored with the Fields Medal. The award committee cited her work in "the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces."

Maryam Mirzakhani was married to Jan Vondrák, a Czech mathematician and eventual colleague. They had one child. Mirzakhani died of breast cancer in 2017 at the age of 40.

Despite her every effort to avoid public attention, Mirzakhani’s achievements brought her accolades and publicity. She was widely revered in Iran. After her death, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said "unprecedented brilliance of this creative scientist and modest human being, who made Iran's name resonate in the world's scientific forums, was a turning point in showing the great will of Iranian women and young people on the path towards reaching the peaks of glory and in various international arenas." And Sharif University of Technology announced that its faculty of mathematics will be renamed "Mirzakhani."

Mirzakhani’s discoveries in the areas of counting simple closed curves on hyperbolic surfaces, spaces of surfaces, and the trajectories of billiard balls have provided insights in mathematical physics, and opened the door for expansion in a number of areas. Her depth of insight in mathematics was matched by her depth as a caring and generous human being who exhibited humility even as she achieved the highest honors. Our film reflects this unique combination of qualities.