Q&A with Bahman Ghobadi for Passion for Cinema

KurdishCinema.com - November 26, 2007

by, Kavita Kasturi *

PFC: How different are your films from the rest of the
Iranian Films? In their making and their content? For
a lay person, especially a non-Iranian, a Persian, a
Kurd, an Iraqi all are quite the same, how do you
ensure that it does not happen and that the Kurdish
identity remains intact?

Ghobadi: This difference should be explained by
the film critics, but generally speaking I prefer to
base my work on stories which we are not
introduced to and that are not known to people yet.
My work is mainly based on my life experiences and the world that I live in, that is
Kurdistan. Therefore my work is quite different than most of the other movies which are
mainly based on the stories from around the cities of Iran. The point that I became a
producer and the stories that I had are from Kurdistan, which I wanted to transfer them into
the screen language, are not different from each other. So I started working in film and the
stories that I use for this purpose are from Kurdistan.

PFC: Is that why you became a film maker? To tell your stories, of Kurds to the world? How
were you initiated into films? When did you start watching them? Was it easy to join film
school?

    Ghobadi: I was watching movies for fun from the time I was very
    young but I started watching them seriously when I started working
    in this field.

    PFC: You have worked as an actor with Mohsen Makhmalbaf
    (Blackboard), you were the teacher in that film. You also assisted
    Kiarostami (The Wind Will Carry Us) when he was shooting in
    Kurdistan, how much did you take away from those experiences and
    what do you think of their style of film making?

Ghobadi: Of course getting admission to the academy was not easy but with some
experience that I had with making some small movies became useful and made me able
to pass the entry exam for the film academy. I was working for them for the purpose of
helping them but my objectives were to encourage them to make movies in my motherland
- Iranian Kurdistan. This region is very little known to the outside world, I wanted to make
movies in the region so I can attract the attention of other movie makers and help exposing
the real value of this land. I did not turn my face from any kind of challenge in this regard,
with the proposal of movie makers I even acted in some of their movies. About their
movies I do not have any particular opinion but every actor takes his initiative from some
kind of practical life experience. This is up to the people who are watching movies to tell
with their likes and dislikes which movie they like and which they don't.

PFC: Though Iran and technology may seem incongruous, from your well put together
website (www.mijfilm.com) and from your films we see that Iranians are very much in the
forefront of technology, in its usage especially. Can you throw some light on this little
known fact? (It was delightful to see musicians in
Half Moon using a laptop for the
planning of their journey!)

    Ghobadi: But are we living in the stone age? Maybe
    only the people who live in forest or remote areas do
    not have access to technology. Iran is also not an
    exception in this case. If you come to Iran right now
    you will see that we have the best mountains and
    beautiful places, the only issue is that we are not
    equal to others using the technology. I mean we do
    not use it at the right time and the right place. The
    laptop issue is also not very big, since Kurdistan is
    sharing a border with Iran, like any other item they are
also being smuggled into Kurdistan. But like you pointed out, I just wanted to pass a
message through this means that we are not behind from others and the picture that
people have in their minds about Iran and Kurdistan needs to be changed.

PFC: Another surprising fact one notices in Half Moon is the ease with which these
mountain musicians are discussing philosophers such as Kierkegaard, is that a common
place occurrence?

Ghobadi: The people who have a laptop can also participate in a philosophical
discussion. Leaving the joke aside, your question by itself is very philosophical; you want
to know a lot through a small point which is not possible in reality. Let us not forget that
judging movies is not easy, they are not made on stories of your next door neighbour that
you can say they are right or wrong.

PFC: Poetry and Iran have a long tradition, we have heard of
Rumi and the Mevlanas. What about Kurdish poetry, does it
have a similar history or is it more recent, is it written in
Kurdish or a mix or Farsi and other dialects? (author's note:
Lost in translation? Did not get an answer to this one... will
have to ask again.)

PFC: I wanted to ask you something about Hossein Alizadeh, the composer whose
disciple sang for
Half Moon, please tell us a little more about him. Also a bit about Kurdish
musical heritage.

Ghobadi: Hossein Alizadeh is a well known music teacher who brought a lot of new
changes into Iranian music. He also prepared a movie on his struggle in which he shows
how hard he is working to bring changes into the music. His feelings towards dramatic
music, possibilities in Iranian music paved way for me to work with him in the movie
"Zaman-E-Brayee Mastee Aspha," I also continued working with him for two other movies
"Lak-E-Pushtha" and "Newa-E-Mang."

PFC: How popular is Indian Cinema? Do you have access to it? Especially in Kurdish
areas? Do you get to watch movies from other Indian languages apart from Hindi?

Ghobadi: Indian films has a long history in our country and the reason for this is our long
friendship in this field. The recent Iranian movies are being produced in Bombay studios.
The Indian movies became less popular after the Islamic Revolution because of their
dances and music, still Indian movies are being watched on videos and TV.

PFC: Half Moon talks of women's rights, to sing, to
perform in public, to participate in the artistic
development of a land. Hesho herself is a very
strong character. We see Iranian women as being
very bold and resilient, women like Shireen Ebadi
or Azar Nafisi for example. Is this a recent
phenomenon due to the political situation or is that
a national trait! It is definitely contrary to what
people expect when they think of chador clad
women.

Ghobadi: Anyway when people get over pressurized they show reaction. As far as Iranian
women are concerned they have been suppressed and pressurized through so many
ways and it is natural that they show reaction but this is also correct that Iranian women
are naturally stronger.

PFC: How do you concentrate on your work and manage filming in such hostile
conditions? Especially at such a fast pace! You made
Half Moon in what, four months?
From pre to post??

Ghobadi: I pointed this out a few times too that the convenience is not a question for me. If
I want to make an easy and convenient movie I will feel very uncomfortable. Working in
hard condition gives me more confidence of being able to overcome any problem in my
life. But the film
Newa-E-Mang which was completed in four months was a special case. It
was not prepared and shot in short time for convenience but because of its unique case.
This was a specially commissioned movie and had to finish quick.

PFC: A little about your crew. How many of you made it to the mountains? Also a bit about
the kind of cameras you like to use? Your lighting choices? Where do you work for your
post production etc.

Ghobadi: The crew of thirty participants in the movie were residing near the shooting place.
We arranged this special accommodation so we can have access to them any time they
are needed. In my opinion the Mark Arriflexs are among the best for shooting movies.
With regard to light during shooting I don't have a special choice, it depends on the
circumstances that how much light is needed for that particular shooting but generally I
prefer foggy, cloudy and darker environment for shooting.

PFC: In your opinion where is the next wave of films coming from, which country looks
promising? Anything you watched recently that you liked and would like to share with us?

    Ghobadi: Indeed it is hard to predict where the next wave will be and
    which country it will be in, depends on circumstances and availability
    of political, social and cultural environment to work in.

    PFC: A bit about your actors. How do you direct them, especially
    child artistes? Is it a genetic skill available only in Iran? Almost
    everybody in Turtles Can Fly is a child! I believe 'Satellite' is assisting
    you? Or making his own film?

    Ghobadi: It is different to direct each person, it depends on their
    personalities but I also used a standard prepared guidance to
communicate with them during shooting. Suran is a talented person, he is not assisting
me presently but I am trying to help him with his goal.

PFC: A Thousand Sighs, a Thousand Revolts by Christiane Bird. This book on Kurds
might help readers understand more about what you are trying to say through your films.
Any other work you might suggest that would help the cause?

Ghobadi: I don't remember a particular book but a while ago Devrim Kilic in "Ozgur Politika"
did a thorough study of my movie
Turtles Can Fly. He looked at the common points of my
movies and explained them.

Thank you very much Mr. Ghobadi.


* Kavita Kasturi: www.passionforcinema.com - Passion For Cinema - 20 April 2007