" From Vieena International film festival's Director Verena Teissi's interview with
Molsem Mansouri published in German book "Poets, chroniclers, rebels; International Documentary makers Profile" in 2006 .
1) Questions about early biography and the approach towards cinema before you went into exile in 1999.
Mr. Mansouri, first of all, I want to invite you to tell me about your first experiences with the movies. What were your first perceptions of cinema and/or TV and what were your early influences?
The very first time I watched a motion picture was in 1974 when I was about 12 years old. I had not watched TV before because neither we nor any of our neighbors had a TV set. In the city of Sangsar (Headstone) where I grew up as a child, a man who was rich and famous built a theater. Since Sangsar was a religious city, going to the cinema was considered an immoral act. People considered cinemas sinful. They avoided walking on the sidewalk connected to the theater. They used to go up and down that street using the opposite sidewalk. Of course as a consequence, the shops and businesses adjacent to the theater suffered due to the lack of traffic.
Most of the people who went to the cinema were either louts, or young men who had no jobs or nothing else to do but hang out around the neighborhood. Every time I passed by the theater, the huge posters mesmerized me. I would stare at those larger than life posters, but had no idea what was going on inside. I had formed an ambiguous picture filled with imaginary concepts about the cinema in my mind. One afternoon, I decided to step inside the theater. With a phony excuse, I left my house and bought a ticket and entered the cinema. The movie had already started. As I opened the door to the theater, for the first time I saw a motion picture on the giant screen. I stood still in the middle of the doorway. The outside light was shining inside the dark room and the audience started to shout at me to close the door, but in that state I could not hear them. I was captivated by the scenes changing on the screen, until the usher shoved me inside angrily. It just so happened that while I was buying the ticket, one of our neighbors had seen me and reported to my mother that I was in the theater. My mother went to a neighborhood thug who was always ready to start a fight with or without any excuse and told him where I was. They both came to the place. My mother stood in front of the theater, and the hooligan came inside. He opened the door and shouted, "Moslem, where are you? Shame on you! Come outside, your mother is waiting for you". The audience again started to object to the light that was coming in. The hooligan shouted back and told everybody to shut up. People got quiet. I had hidden under the seats and did not want to go out, until the usher came and found me and forced me out. The hooligan dragged me to the other side of the street and put my hand into my mother's. A few days later, I went to the movie theater and then the same thing happened again. This took place again and again. I would go to the cinema and the hooligan would come to take me out. It reached a point that whenever the thug entered the theater, the audience would shout, "Shame on you, Moslem, go outside, your mother is waiting for you". Towards the end, they refused to sell tickets to me. They told me that if they sold me a ticket, my mother would bring the hooligan and he would start a commotion causing their customers to become dissatisfied with their operation.
By this time, all of our neighbors knew I was going to the cinema and that had saddened my mother. In spite of that, I was seeing movies every chance I could get. This episode of my life lasted for about a year and a half, until gradually the peoples' protests that led to the 1979 revolution started.
With the start of the revolution, I became attracted to demonstrations and protests and completely forgot about cinema. After the revolution's victory, I did not go to the movies for seven years, and saw very little TV. Cinema was not my concern any more and had no place in my life. After many years, the first movie that got my attention was "The Runner" by Amir Naderi. Sometime later, I saw another film "The Sacrifice" by Andre Tarkovsky. Even now after so many years, the picture of the tree with no leaves by the seaside and the statement that "if a faithful person would water this tree three times a day, the tree would blossom", does not escape my memory. After seeing that movie, I again didn't go to the movies for a long time. One night I saw "The Road" by Federico Fellini in my sister's house. This was the third movie that I had been so captivated by. While watching the movie, tears were flowing from my eyes because I had a day job as a welder and my eyes had become irritated by the welding. As a result, I saw the entire movie between the flow of my tears and the moments of clear focus when my eyes would be dry. After this experience, for the first time I wrote an article about cinema and this movie in particular.
In 1991, after serving in the army, I was looking for a job. I found work in a cinema publication. I worked as a film writer in the movie publication industry and also published a book called "Cinema & Literature". During this time, for approximately one year, I went to the School for Cinema & Theater, but did not learn anything at that college. I had a feeling that I was wasting my time, so I left school.
I was not interested in Iranian Cinema like other filmmakers were and could not work under the framework of existing censorship. I felt that under the government's censorship, I could not have gone any further than others. On the one hand, I was witnessing the poverty and daily oppression of the people by the Islamic Republic, and on the other hand I wanted to use my camera to protest the situation. I wanted to use my camera to shout out. I had read a small book about Latin America's Political Cinema and about how some filmmakers were making underground movies. I wanted the underground cinema in Iran to take root. That is why I began to make clandestine documentaries. I had no ability to produce underground films with scenarios and narratives. But, documentary filmmaking gave me this opportunity to use the underground films to portray the people's protest without the influence of any middleman or censorship.
You were imprisoned in 1981 for two years because of your "political views" about the Iranian government. This experience must have determined any further decisions about your life and profession, especially because you were only 17 years old. Would you please explain the reasons behind your arrest, your conflicts and its impact on you?
A friend of mine had opened a small bookstore in Sangsar, which I used to manage in the evenings. We were selling books published by different groups who opposed the Islamic Republic. This bookstore became a place of gathering for intellectuals. In 1981, the government arrested me with charges of selling the opposition's books. In prison, I learned about "Life," something that I think I could not have learned from any book. In jail, there were different Marxist groups and religious radicals, but one thought was common amongst all of them, and that was the issue of poverty and enormous class differences. What built resistance and helped us not to breakdown and surrender to the enemy was not the ideological debate, but the real conflict, which was hunger and injustices ruling over people. The conflict lay in a situation where one person has to search in trash cans to find edible food discarded by others to feed his/her children, while another person celebrates his/her child's birthday in the best hotels in Europe and invites and pays for his friends' expenses in order to participate in a birthday party; where one person sells her body to pay for her child's education or to provide food for her younger siblings, and the other's capital grows by millions of dollars every day.
I am not a Marxist, nor a religious person. But, I have a lot of respect for Marx and I think his critique of capitalism is the strongest analysis so far in history. I have no relationship with Marxists, yet I hate the capitalistic infrastructure with all the cells in my body. I don't know if God exists or not, and think it would be better that God did not exist. But, the order and principles that rule over this earth motivate me not to fall into daily contempt and to find my true human identity. Anyway, in jail I learned about two completely opposing entities. On the one hand, I saw how a human could be so cruel and voracious in torturing another human being. On the other hand, I witnessed when human idealism is on the line, how one can have a beautiful, resisting, and honorable spirit. In prison, I loved and hated human beings at the same time.
In 1991, seven years after your release, you started to write for Iranian cinema magazines and to study film at the Azad University. How would you describe your evolution towards becoming a filmmaker? What intentions and hopes led you there?
The wage laborers and hungry people who surrounded me shaped my path in cinema. That is why I was looking for a way to start building the underground cinema in Iran. For me, art is a tool, like so many other things. If it is used to return the lost reverence back to life, if it influences existence, then it talks in all human languages. Otherwise, it is a tool in the hands of powerful people to transform and full people. It is a tool in the hands of individuals who have no substance, who call themselves "artists," to boast in front of unprivileged and poor people, while counting the awards they have received from the government... In that case, art is no longer a common language for human kind, rather like wealth, it is a measure of superiority of one human being over another
2) The meaning of cinema: "Close-up, Long shot" (1996) and "Ahmad Shamlou: Master Poet of Liberty" (1998)
You directed your film debut "Close-up, long shot" together with Mahmoud Shokrollahi - and the film is credited as a French production. How did it happen that it became a French production?
Mahmoud Shokrollahi resides in France. When I decided to make "Close-up, long shot", he had traveled to Iran. He accepted to finance the production of the film. During the making of the film, he mentioned that if I put his name as the second director, it would make it more convenient for him to distribute the film. I accepted his offer, because the making of the movie was important to me.
Since Mahmoud Shokrollahi owned a film distribution company in France, when he added the subtitles to the movie, he introduced the movie as a product of France.
"Close-up, long shot" covers the questions of obsession, swindle and daydreaming - all involved with cinema. Do you think cinema could be a dream misleading to "larger than life" desires? How do you connect the personality and the philosophical thoughts of Mr. Sabzian with your own points of view of cinema?
I agree with what you said. I just want to add that Sabzian is a symbol of wasted talent. Cinema has given Sabzian a life, and at the same time has ruined his life. Love and hate for cinema co-exist in Sabzian. He sees cinema as a means toward expressing his needs and dreams. He wants to use cinema as a tool to protest against all injustices, but in reality he finds out that cinema not only does not grant him that opportunity, but it has also fallen into the slavery of commercialism and marketing, and has become a tool in the hands of ruling powers. And Sabzian is wading in this conflict. He has no choice but to give up. As he said, "In this society, people like Sabzian melt like snow. They have no way to make their presence
Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Abbas Kiarostami are the leading representatives of Iranian art-house cinema (in the European and North American perception). Mr. Sabzian crosses both their ways. Is there a kind of allegory in this connection that refers to Iranian film production or to the division between Art-house cinema and popular cinema in- and outside of Iran?
Sabzian has not done what Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Abbas Kiarostami have done. They have put human loving masks on their faces, and at the same time they eat from the table of the criminal government. The problem with Sabzian is that he is like himself, true to his values. That is why he is alone and isolated. Sabzian is not a businessman like Makhmalbaf and Kiarostami. In the existing art market, he is not marketable.
With your second film about the Iranian poet Ahmad Shamlou, you stick to the idea of portraying personalities. But this time, you present the most famous contemporary Iranian poet and therefore somebody who is at the opposite end of the spectrum of Mr. Sabzain in terms of social and political influence. What is it that fascinates you about making cinematography portraits?
If Sabzian is a symbol of a man who is a protester and a lover that has not been given an opportunity to present himself, who has been crushed in between the gear box of the anti-human relationship machine of society, the Shamlou was successful in fulfilling some of his objectives, hopes, and beliefs and become a personality for others to look up to. Shamlou was a freedom loving and a protester poet. He said, "I lived worse than wind / on a land that no plant would grow." I am not fond of official or formal poems. I would not read them. If it is printed in government newspapers or read over their loudspeakers, for me it is not a poem. The art that has the ability of portraying a useful thing more beautifully, and can enhance its penetrating strength, must be shameful of remaining neutral. In this sick world, the virtue of an artist is to find a cure, not to alleviate, to search for understanding, not to decorate, be a sympathizing doctor, not a shameless clown.
Could you describe the circumstances of producing "Ahmad Shamlou" and of gathering material for the films "Trial", "Epitaph" and "Utopia"?
My main problem in making films in Iran was two-fold. One was from the security point of view, since I was making them underground and could not take the camera into the open, to alleys and on the streets. Even when I was interviewing prostitutes in their house, I was fearful of neighbors noticing. I asked them not to talk in a loud voice. I could not use light as much as I had in mind. There was always the possibility of getting arrested by government forces while we were filming. There was never a good time to run the camera. The other issue was the financial problem, since there was no one to accept the cost of the movies, we had to borrow from friends. Sometimes we could not continue filming until we made some more money. My friend Leila Ghobadi would negotiate for weeks to borrow some money in order to continue the filming.
It took six Fridays, meaning six days total to make the movie "Trial". That was because Matini and his group were working on the weekdays and were off only on Fridays, so I could only shoot on Fridays. For filming "Epitaph", I was researching for more than a year and talking to a lot of prostitutes, but most of them were afraid to appear in front of the camera. Finally, two of those women agreed and they persuaded others to talk in front of the camera and stayed cooperative and enthusiastic until the end. I made "Utopia" in three days. I knew those people from before. Some of them were working as casting crews in the movie industry. They were very interested in their objections and demands being recorded. That is why during filming they were very cooperative with me.
During the making of the movie "Ahmad Shamlou", he was sick and filming took too long, about two years. Either Shamlou was sick and was not ready, or I did not have money to rent the camera or pay for the scene expenses. At the end of filming, Bahman Maghsoodlou who lived in New York accepted to pay the expenditure and became the producer of the film, and I gave him the distribution rights.
Why did you accept exile?
In Iran, it was not possible to distribute the movies I had made. It was also not possible to edit "Trial", "Utopia" and "Epitaph". I wanted to edit and distribute the films abroad. I wanted to introduce the underground cinema of Iran, to show that there is an alternative cinema to the official government cinema. Also by living abroad, I could help my friends who are working inside Iran to continue their work on underground cinema. My friends in Iran are now working on movies with issues such as self immolation and teenage suicide which have unbelievably high statistics in Iran today. They are also working on the topic of the role of government gangs who have started sex trades which export prostitutes to the international market. In addition, they are working secretly on movies about labor protests and people's demonstrations in Iran. The underground cinema portrays the down-to-earth, unvarnished life of people in Iran. The underground cinema's role is not just to point out the existence of poverty and injustice in Iran but rather to target the roots and causes of poverty and injustice. It reveals the connection between the lives of street children to the bank accounts of government officials. It is the voice of the oppressed people and re-tells their stories. The Islamic Republic of Iran by crushing censorship and creating phony turmoil and deviated paths in the art arena as well as other social scenes tries to push the confrontational energies of the society to go to waste and prevents them from organizing. For this, it creates phony social movements on different grounds. When it cannot hide public poverty, prostitution, child trade and the overall devastation that has overtaken the society, then it appears as a critic and objects to its own doings. With this tactic, it controls any social protest and suggests transformation and change of the landscape from within the government. It engages in thievery, and plays the role of the anti-thief. It is the executioner that at the same time plays the role of the defendant attorney. It plunders public wealth and then creates charity boxes for the poor. The underground cinema exposes these tactics, especially in the art and cultural arena.
Why did you choose the US?
It was not by choice, They were showing "Ahmad Shamlou: Master Poet of Liberty" at a university in New York and invited me to go there.
This was a good opportunity for me to leave Iran. If this had happened in another country, I would have gone there as well.
Where do you situate yourself within the Iranian film production and leading filmmakers like Kamran Schirdel, Amir Naderi, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, or Abbas Kiarostami?
Not only do I have nothing in common with Makhmalbaf and Kiarostami, I am extremely far away from them. I see myself somewhat close to the pre-revolutionary documentary works of Kamran Schirdel.
Where do you situate yourself within the Iranian filmmakers who live in exile? Is there a kind of worldwide connection between Iranian filmmakers in exile? What does Iranian Diaspora mean to you?
During these past years, most of the exiled filmmakers have stood by the people's struggle against criminal acts of this government, and have exposed the government cultural and propaganda machine.
4) General questions referring to documentary films and its aesthetics.
Up to now, you have finished three films since you went into exile: "Trial", "Epitaph" and "Utopia". All of them tell about situations of repression in Iranian everyday life. "Trial" rediscovers the topic of "Close-up, long shot", even Mr. Sabzian reappears. This time, the idea of making cinema out of obsession or passion does not have any self-destructive impact; still it leads to an aggressive national circumstance. Please, tell us about how the proceedings provoke you as a filmmaker.
By execution of those who want freedom, by censorship and by oppression, the Islamic Republic has sustained its rule during these past 26 years in Iran. The suicide, self-burning, prostitution, and hunger statistics are rising every day. For 26 years, the people have been struggling against this government. My films portray a very small part of that situation.
Up to now, "Trial" is your most successful film. What do that and the film mean to you? Can you describe how you worked out the aesthetic and narrative concept of the film and please tell us about your intentions?
I met Ali Matini's filmmaking group when I was making "Close-up, long shot". Without any intellectual and artistic claim, under the harshest circumstances, they showed their creativity in so many different ways. They did not submit to government censorship, and as a result the government punished them. After all, the government did not punish them just for their books and movie making. They were punished because they had written books and had made movies without knowledge and permission of the government. The Iranian government is afraid of any movement that is not under its control. The movement gets crushed so others cannot follow or use it as a model. It creates an intimidating atmosphere, so people in other places would not dare to start doing the same thing. Yet, we see the same government sends the movies of a filmmaker who works within the censorship framework to different festivals outside of Iran and spends a lot of money to advertise them.
Anyway, I am happy that the movie "Trial" has found its own audience.
"Epitaph", which deals with illegal female prostitution, is tougher and less playful then your other films (- so is "Utopia", dealing with Iraqi war immigrants to Tehran, starving to death). How did life in exile influence your cinematography language, your personal and professional needs to express yourself about Iranian society and politics?
I made these films in Iran with minimum resources and the worst political situation. But cinema by itself is not my primary objective. I look at it as a tool in support of the struggle of the people. Exile has given me the opportunity to reflect the voices of my people in a wider dimension.
"Epitaph" was the first of a number of documentary films that deal with social repression concentrated on women's lives: "Zananeh" by Mahnaz Afzali, "The other side of the Burka" by Mehdrad Oshouei and "Prostitution behind the veil" by Nahid Persson. "Zananeh" and "The other side of Burka" are Iranian productions - still, Mohsen Makhmalbaf's latest project did not pass the censorship. How do you judge the actual situation of Iranian film production and distribution, censorship and self-censorship?
The Iranian cinema cannot be evaluated apart from the cultural institution and propaganda machine of the Islamic Republic. The Islamic Republic from its inception launched an aggressive suppression of any dissent against its ideological and religious doctrine. Censorship not only determines the mindset and the creation of artistic creativity, it also interferes with the most personal and basic aspects of one's affairs such as dress code, wedding celebrations or any joyous occasion. Filmmaking during the past twenty-six years of the Islamic Republic control can be divided into three periods.
During the first period, the majority of the films served as direct propaganda for the government. The Islamic Republic portrays opposition as evil and its supporters as the "good guys" and the society as a whole is pictured the way the government has intended.
The next period is the post-Iran-Iraq war. During this era, people were crushed under the cruelty and prowling of the government and expressed their hatred openly. But cinema was talking about kindness and reconciliation. In these films, everybody from the doctor to the police chief was very kind and tried to help others in times of hardship. In order to play with the feelings of the audience, the majority of these films used child actors. The police and revolutionary guards in these films do not resemble those people whom everybody interacted with during their routine lives. In these films it is the people who have minor problems and the society is very stable and the governmental institutions are established and function well. At the most, peoples' problems are resolved in an aura of kindness and reconciliation and people are very much satisfied with the existing situation and continue their lives with contentment. The films give the most unrealistic picture of the Iranian society and do not reflect the reality at all. Yet in film festivals, they are viewed as humanitarian films that value life. The filmmaker receives awards both from the film festivals as well as the mullahs.
During the third period, President Khatami's first term, the cinema gradually distanced itself from emotional issues and children; it turned to social criticism. This happened when the poverty and social contradictions had reached a level where the government was no longer able to hide it and was even being reflected in the media. Under such circumstances, cinema could no longer present a child who is struggling in the shadow of humanitarian reconciliation.
Cinema, because of its visual effect and its influence on the audience is not allowed to get as close to social issues as the government-financed newspapers do. Therefore they do not let a controlled cinema without a degree of social critique. The films that appear critical to the government are mostly produced by foundations such as Islamic advertising organizations, and the Television and Farabi organizations that are under the supervision of Khamenei's office. About the function of these "critical" films I can give you a couple of examples.
In the film "The Day I became A Woman", by Marzieh Meshkini, wife of Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a girl reaches the age of nine and, according to Islamic teachings since she has reached the age of puberty her family do not allow her to play outdoors. As usual, this film was considered abroad as humanitarian and pro-children's rights, and critical of the reactionary traditions. The reality is that in today's Iran even in the most remote villages of the country, this is not an issue and families do not keep nine-year-old girls from playing outside. Maybe forty or fifty years ago this was an issue in some parts of Iran, but today young girls are whipped by the government for wearing makeup or for disrespecting the government's dress code. Thousands of young girls are bought and sold or wander on the streets. In order to cover up the real issues of the society, these films try to divert the audience's attention to unsubstantiated subjects.
The movie "Two Women", which made all the feminist women abroad cry, shows the misery of one woman whose abusive husband and father do not allow her to read books or get educated, while the other woman is very happy and content because she is married to a decent man.
Today in Iran, there are very few families whose fathers or husbands are against the education or studying of girls or women. But thousands of girls are prevented from studying because they are unable to pay for the school expenses. Many of the girls and women sell their bodies to take care of the expenses of a brother, sister or their own children.
The films with supposedly social and critical substance have two things in common. One is that they divert the audience's attention by substantiating social issues that are no longer valid and the other is that they take the blame off the murderous government and put it on people. The sin of existing cruelty and prevailing women-bashing is lifted from the government and blamed on the husband, father or the neighbor. And ultimately the society itself is recognized as the main cause of the existing situation. This is the betrayal that the Islamic Republic's cinema has committed against the Iranian people.
But in Iran, there are many filmmakers who have not submitted to the government's framework of censorship and have not contributed to the government's goals. They live in a very difficult situation, and many cannot even afford paying their rent. The best filmmakers such as Bahram Beizaei, Nasser Taghvaei, Parviz Kimiyavi, Mohammad Reza Asslani and Kamran Schirdel cannot make any films. Nasser Taghvaei and Beizaei make films once every 10-15 years. And if they do so, they are not satisfied with the outcome of their work because of the censorship that dominates the Iranian cinema.
But in the shadow of a few governmental filmmakers and the awards that they receive in festivals, the dominant censorship over the Iranian cinema goes unnoticed and the artists and their wasted talents are not recognized.
Could you give a general description of your concept of documentary films? Please refer to your different experiences concerning production and distribution in Iran and abroad.
Documentary films have the ability to picture the current issues related to people's lives, and make it the topic of discussion in the society, without following the technical details, a mediator or direct interference of the filmmaker. A documentary film is not a mere reflection of the filmmaker and the storywriter's views. In a documentary, there is not a lot of room for fictional work and fabrication; therefore it is sterner and more effective. Documentary films are not corrupted or commercialized as much as regular films and have not been converted to a mere entertainment product. In societies like Iran, documentary films have the opportunity to take the camera close to the people's needs and problems.
Tell us the differences between production and distribution in Iran and abroad.
In Iran, filmmakers who produce within the framework of existing rules and regulations, have the opportunity to take advantage of the financial support and publicity of the government. In exile, this prospect does not exist. In Iran, the filmmaker has the opportunity to have his/her movie presented at the movie theatres or televisions throughout the country. In exile, this prospect does not exist. In Iran, the works of a filmmaker are advertised on radio, in newspapers and magazines. In exile, this prospect does not exist. In Iran, the work of a filmmaker is supported by the government for presentation in film festivals. In exile, this prospect does not exist.
In Iran, a filmmaker who makes a film following the government regulations can comfortably provide her/his life expenses. In exile, this prospect does not exist.
In exile, sometimes one has to do odd jobs such as mopping the floors in McDonald's or fixing the floors of a church and many other unpleasant jobs, only to earn a little money to make a film. If one is particularly critical of the existing situation and does not follow the commercial artistic course, she/he will be left behind with no support and no one will invest in her/his films. But being in exile has one big advantage that the filmmakers who work with the Islamic Republic do not have.
As I mentioned, Sabzian would never find the opportunity and the possibility of examining his ability in the filmmaking arena. But the important issue is Sabzian's objective direction towards the existing situation and his view of the notion of art. Since he is unable to make any noticeable and fruitful film in this path, he gets more aggravated and he eventually refrains from. In the meanwhile Mohsen Makhmalbaf himself is one of the founders of the state sponsored cinemas. His first films, "Tobehe Nosouh - Admonitory Repentance", "Estefadeh - Profit", "Do Cheshme Bisou - Two Weak Eyes" and "Boycott", are produced when the government of Iran has mobilized all its recourses for the killings of the freedom loving forces and for the suppression of freedom. Hundreds are being executed daily. In order to justify the suppression of the opposition, Makhmalbaf produces these films in complete compliance and conformity with the actions of the government.
Second series of his production takes place during the period that the regime has been successful in its dominance on society and now is so occupied with the plundering of the country. This is done so openly and so fast that in a short time, the social gap demonstrates itself in horrific forms. Even Khomeini the leader of the government, starts to complain and invites his officials to take their time and not to loot the country in such an obvious manner. Under these circumstances, Makhmalbaf produces films such as "Dastfroush - The Peddler", "Bicycle Run - The Bicyclist", and "Aroussi Khouban - The Wedding of the Goods". He reflects Khomeini's mild framework of criticism in these films and blames few merchants from bazaar and not the system and economic relations that the government has imposed on the society.
Makhmalbaf, in his third period of filmmaking, talks about kindness and reconciliation. During this period, the government in its maintenance of suppression and looting of people, presents itself blossoming and with a big and full belly. After the killings and lootings, now they have time to talk about art and culture! Rafsanjani, then current president, during his Friday prayers, suggests the temporary Islamic marriage "Sigheh - A Contracted & Temporary Marriage" to young men. In accordance to such teachings, Makhmalbaf produces the films "Nobate Asheghi - Passion's Turn", "Shabhaye Zayandehrood - The Nights of River of Zayendehrood", "Nasseredin Shah Actor Cinema", and "Honarpisheh - Actor/Actress".
Later, Makhmalbaf realizes that the foreign film festivals, assess Kiarostami's films as appreciative of life, and therefore he quickly discovers that he should respect life, too. The films "Noon va Goldoon - Bread and Vase", "Salam Cinema - Hello Cinema", "Gabeh - Rug", "Sokoot - Silent", and others are produced towards the path of Cannes Festival. Makhmalbaf, during these years, talks about reconciliation and forgiveness in every opportunity he finds. When the issue of massacre of freedom loving forces concerns, he talks about the revolutionary conditions and justifies such killings and puts the blame on the opposition who have forced the government to crush them. But when the subject of people's struggle against the government arises, he brings up the issue of anti cruelty, reconciliation and forgiveness. One might think that based on such arguments, people should arrange their relationships with the government based on forgiveness. He codes from Nelson Mandela when he became president, "I can not forget but I can forgive." Makhmalbaf forgets to mention that Mandela brings up such discussions when his society has abandoned apartheid and to reach such goal, they had to seek armed struggle.
Makhmalbaf endlessly brags about his few years of imprisonment under Shah, and has presented himself as a revolutionary, while he belonged to a primitive religious sect whose difficulty with Shah was over women not wearing Islamic cover and the operation of liquor stores. He fallaciously applies such reactionary views to the heroic uprising of the people and does not admit that his way of thinking belonged to the most backward sect of society. This is the sect that he is still making his movies for.
Today, many of government's political prisoners write about Makhmalbaf's role as an interrogator during 1360-1365. In the book "Daftarhaye Zendan - The Prison Notes", one of the female prisoners' talks about his role during this period, "…Makhmalbaf had organized story writing classes for Tavaab (the remorseful prisoners broken under torture) in band four, section three of "Ghezel Hessar" prison. He would take the story-writing prisoners to the homes of Islamic Guards who were killed in war, so they would have subjects to write about. In prison he would publish "Payame Tavaab - Message from Repentants", which was solely against the prisoners that continued their resistance. During 1360-1363, nothing more than Makhmalbaf's films did not create a mental torture for the women prisoners, which was solely used as a brainwashing tool for Islamic ideology. Perhaps because of its audio-vision effect of Makhmalbaf's films, still many of ex- prisoners recollect the content and the title of his films.
Another political prisoner from "Adel Abad" prison in city of Shiraz remembers the making of "Boycott", when Makhmalbaf with the assistance of some "Tavaabs - Repentants" tried to break the spirit of other prisoners by forcing them to play the role of absconder. After playing in this film against their wills, two of the prisoners were executed later on, anyway.
In the film "Ghahremanan dar Zangir - Hero in Chain", one of the prisoners who served 19 years of imprisonment, 4 years under Shah and 15 years under Khomeini, describes that "…Mohsen Makhmalbaf along with Ezzat Shahi, Reza Razavi, Mohammad Shahrestanaki and the guards of the Central Committee, located in the Baharestan Square, had organized their own version of government. Independent from other governmental establishments, they would go ahead and arrest the sympathizers of the opposition groups and would immediately start to torture in order to extract information from them and then would hand them over to authorities at the infamous Evin prison. They would consequently return to "Evin" and "Ghezel Hessar" prisons to visit their detainees and give information about them..." He goes on to say, "…I myself was identified by Makhmalbaf. When I was arrested, the history of my imprisonment under Shah and my support of my organization had not been revealed. He identified me and gave this information to my interrogators. Later, I met Akbar, a student who was my cellmate and had returned from abroad after the revolution. He had been tortured so severely that his infection had become sepsis. Akbar told me that he was busy shopping in Imam Hussein Square, when Makhmalbaf who knew him before, arrested him on the spot using his handgun and turned him in to the Central Committee…"
One can find many such incidents in the memoir of the political prisoners. Nonetheless, Makhmalbaf has tried to cover-up his thoughts and actions by talking about peace making, reconciliation and kindness. But, by production of "Safare Ghandehar - Trip to Ghandehar", and by giving a major role to one of Islamic Republic's assassins and by defending this individual and Rafsanjani's "Kargozaran - The Agents" Party, Makhmalbaf, once again demonstrated where he was standing and how he is in agreement with major policies of the government. To divert attention from atrocities dominating in Iran, he hypocritically complains about the cruelty of Taliban to Afghani people in international media. After the ousting of Taliban by the United States, Makhmalbaf makes an anti Taliban film and visits with Hamid Karzai. By using the resources of the Islamic Republic, he then sets up a school for cinema so that the government of Afghanistan could also enjoy the same efficacy of cinema, as did the Islamic Republic in Iran.
What you said about the suspension of his films in Iran, more served as propaganda for Makhmalbaf himself. In the midst of internal contradictions among different fractions of government, sometimes pro-government filmmakers also face difficulties. But this should never be interpreted as if they really face problems for film production by the government. If for example, one fraction has problem with some of Makhmalbaf's films, another government fraction facilitates every necessary means of funding. Makhmalbaf and his family have the highest financial means and technical support as well as the most advertisement of their films. Filmmakers such as Makhmalbaf are considered as the government owned critics. Makhmalbaf has not only ever had a problem with the entirety of the system of suppression and the looting committed by this government, he has also moved in the framework of its interests.
And about Abbas Kiarostami- Kiarostami's films, in some ways they have similarities with Sohrab Shahid Saalese's productions and are influenced by them, but with one major difference. Shahid Saales has a compassionate image for ordinary and deprived individuals and his empathy and concern for the people is felt throughout all his films.
But, Kiarostami on the other hand looks at these people from the viewpoint of a businessman and he never gets close to the realization of their state of affairs. Even though he presents a very progressive form, but in essence he selects subjects that are extremely calculated and conservative. By looking at the structure of Kiarostami's films, one can analyze this matter more clearly. Essentially, Kiarostami's cinema from the viewpoint of structure and form is anti cinema. In another word, Kiarostami's cinema is backward and stands against the creative and modern western cinema.
Kiarostami not only makes a mockery of story telling in cinema, he also ridicules the common artistic forms of visual abilities and artistic appreciation and any substantial quality that the creative and artistic western cinema possess.
In Kiarostami's films nothing is certain, drama whether tragic or romantic is not presented seriously. Life and the relationships such as love, suffering and loneliness of people are turned into empty awkward comedies. In Kiarostami's cinema, he tries to keep the viewers to follow a story line in such a way that he/she becomes part of the acting and consequently he makes mockery of both the viewer and cinema all together.
In the film "Zire Derakhtane Zaiton - Under the Olive Trees", which is a film production inside another film, he ridicules the film "Zendegi Edameh Darad - Life Goes on", so he can eventually mock the cinema. There has been some footage added to the ending of "Tam-e Gilas - The Taste of Cherri", where we see a confused Kiarostami standing next to the filming crew. It is like in the cycle of cinema, the filmmaker and the audiences are being ridiculed. Perhaps, the only benefit for this silly situation for the filmmaker is his tomfoolery with the audience, which at the end with the film internal humor forms a delightful view from whatever it is. It is not without a reason in Kiarostami's films that humans have no special and distinguished characters. They are simple and ordinary. This futile view is closer to absurd situation in Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" than to vain matter from Albert Camus nihilism, which is closer to tragedy. Kiarostami with involving nature in his films and mixing diminished delight with a hollow humor pokes fun of even futile hollowness. At the end of his movies, he tries to leave a sense of delight with the viewer, because apparently he is not trying to prove any point. He tries hard to make his pointless proposition more tolerable.
Although this point of view deceivingly seems to be fashionable, it nullifies one's stand and objection to crimes all around him or her. Today, this line of subjects is in alignment with the line of thinking that has taken over the world. With the transformation of the world as the common market for capital and the all around dominance of neo-liberalism, the overruling view on art and thinking is not trying to analyze to understand a matter. It prefers not to see the current situation and its misery; instead it prefers to be busy with discovering abstract and subjective matters. While the life realities stay even more tragic than any other time. Apparently, every body has agreed not to mention the destruction of humanity.
I can understand why the western critics welcome films like Kiarostami's movies which are post constructionist; mocking cinema's formulas and modern art; in absence of decisiveness not believe in boundary for anything, being absurd and matching the current trend to make things empty of ideology. Kiarostami's films in this period, is in line with post modern art - neutral and without any aim. A way of thinking that deals with subjects in isolation. Poverty is declared a single subject without any talk of its root cause. Not only he does not mention the current situation and destructive relationship ruling over mankind, he tries to make it even more acceptable and desirable. That is why the cinema organizations of Islamic Republic of Iran are propagandists of his films in festivals and international assemblies. Why, because his films have the role of paving the way for the Islamic Republic cultural products out side of Iran. It is not without a reason that Akbar Velayati - then minister of Foreign Affaires directly gets involved to send "Taste of Cherrie" movie to Cannes Festival. "Taste of Cherrie" won the Golden Palm award in Cannes festival shortly after the Iranian leaders were found guilty in absentia for killing their opposition in Mykonos Restaurant in Berlin, Germany in 1992.
At that time, Kiarostami in an interview said, there was a negative atmosphere about Iran. This film produced a positive picture about Iran. The Iranian ambassador in France in a note that was published in "The World of Speech" magazine praises Kiarostami and writes "Mr. Abbas Kiarostami, with salutation. Various congratulations we have received from our countrymen and others, are evidences of positive relevance of Islamic Republic of Iran in such a wide spread area…"
In the movie "Ten", except in one scene when a woman who sells her body gets into a car, other scenes reduces the feminism issues to family - quarrel between a man and a woman. The positive point of that scene about the prostitute is that it questions sex ownership, but Kiarostami follows two point of views, which at this time are in line with the current government wishes; the actress who plays the prostitute role, is completely content with her profession and has no problem with prostitution. In fact the Iranian government does not have a problem with prostitution. It wants to make prostitution an acceptable profession like any other profession in the society. In today's Iran, there are a lot of women who by selling their bodies make a living or provide for their children, younger sister or brother's education. Therefore, the government tries to set it as a normal and satisfactory profession in the society. Today, the government gangs are dealing in sex commerce and export young Iranians teenagers to the sex markets to Arab countries. There is a lot of profit in sex trade, while it does not require any capital. The profit comes from plundering the young girls bodies.
If in Iran's society veil is compulsory and the government interferes with the way women dress up, it is more for intimidating and scaring people. It is used as a tool of suppression to control the society. Otherwise, the same government that imposes veil on women, according to Mohsen Rezaie who is one of the Islamic Republic top leaders, the only Internet sites that the government allows every body to use, and it does not filter are sex sites.
The other issue that easily is not pointed out in this film is the enormous misery and destruction that Iranian women who sell their bodies are involved in. In Iran, the young girls who enter the sex market can not be used more than 5 or 6 years. Their lives are usually destroyed very fast.
According to statistics from the government newspapers, every year hundreds of young girls die in the sex market. Most women who sell their bodies have tragic destiny. At the cost of 80% of people being hungry, the Islamic Republic officials are among top richest people in the world. They have plundered the national treasury and oppressed people for so many years. Meanwhile, those movie makers who for their own benefits are supporting the official direction in all aspect of society and art, show the life situation of people as family situation, or a problem between a man and a woman.
Such is Massoud Dehnamaki who is one of the leaders of "Hezbollah" or "Party of God", which are known for being the "Gang of Club Wielders", who are hated by people. He made the movie "Faghr va Fahsha - Poverty and Prostitution". Poverty and Prostitution in his film are as a result of negligence of a handful of lower level officials and the carelessness of society, so the whole plundering government would not be questioned. In this movie, the indigents and destitute are weak and abject who need others sympathy and compassion. There is no mention of people's protest against the government, or their demands, nor the origin and source of poverty and hunger is pointed out.
Every time Kiarostami has been asked about censorship, he has simply justified censor and expurgation in cinema. Samira Makhmalbaf declares censorship as a positive thing. A few months ago, Majid Majidi had criticized the government why it can not prevent those who do not dress "modestly". He calls "indecency" in dressing as inauspicious and bad omen. He does not consider all that oppression on women as sufficient enough.
Bahman Ghobadi who never misses the opportunity to praise the government whenever he is interviewed by Iranian newspapers, with the help of state officials and security forces stationed in state of Iran's Kordestan, meaning with the help of forces who oppress Iranian Kords, makes the movie "Gomshodeh dar Iraq - Lost in Iraq" about oppression of Iraqi Kords by Saddam Hossein. This happened just after fall of Saddam by United States. At the end of the film, he thanks the oppressors of Iranian Kords in helping him to make the movie. With this much ease and with a lot of happiness, brokerage replaces art.
Please tell us about your future plans.
Recently, I made a short six minutes movie on a song called "Siahpushha - Enshrouded in Black". Currently, I am making a movie about the Iranian artists in exile. Also, I am working on movie based on the life of an Iranian female fighter and freedom loving poet "Tahere Gharatolaein". About 150 years ago, "Gharatolaein" was captured in an armed struggle against then current government and executed afterward. She believed in equality of man and woman, sharing wealth, abolishing private property, and a lot of very progressive thoughts. Her life can be a role model in today's Iranian society, especially in women's struggle. It can be influential and significant consideration in a just struggle.
Recently, I published a book called "Durane Separi Nashodeh - The Has Not Passed Period" which is about the life of Ahamd Mahmood - the contemporary Iranian writer. Also, I am following the affairs of the Iranian underground cinema. The film makers and young people, who have turned to clandestine movie making, need a lot of support especially financial help. As much as we can gather money for them from abroad, that much faster the underground movies can be made. I am hoping that support and energy of a segment of Iranians living abroad and other people from other nations to get behind underground cinema in Iran. That is why I organize a lot of meetings in support of Iranian underground cinema in various cities in US and Canada.