Friday 2 March 2018

Interview with Kamran Shirdel

Kamran Shirdel (right) on the set of The Night It Rained

Kamran Shirdel (born 1939)

One of the giants of Iranian modern cinema, Shirdel is mostly remembered for his clandestine documentaries about poverty and injustice as well as his Rashomonesque The Night It Rained (1967) which became an instrumental film in the birth of New Wave. It’s been hardly noted that he was also responsible for remaking À bout de souffle under the title The Morning of the Fourth Day (1972).

Shirdel today

  • How conscious were you about the New Wave while making your “new” film?

In 1965, after finishing my film school in Rome (Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia), I returned back home mostly for a family visit when I encountered the unbelievable and ridiculous socio-economico-political situation in Iran. No Iranian school of filmmaking existed and there were very few [educated] film directors – mostly graduated from foreign film schools trying to do their best at the only place existing for documentary filmmaking in Iran which was The Ministry of Culture and Art. And the filmmakers’ job was to satisfy The Ministry with their commissioned orders. Under these circumstances I had the rare chance to be called – quite accidentally - to make a series of so called propaganda films for the Iranian Women Organization (headed by Ashraf, the twin sister of the Shah!) The subject of the films opened the tightly closed doors of hidden worlds of, respectively, Women’s Prison and Tehran’s red light district (in Farsi, Shahre No) which I showed in Women's Quarter, as well as other poor slums of southern Tehran. I got hold of this rare chance and benefitted from this unexpected situation by relying on my zero experience in the field of documentary filmmaking which was balanced by my love to approach the socio-political problems. I directed them one after another and in a very short time.

I was not considering my act as heroic and was never aware that changing the aims of the films from being commissioned to UNCOMMISSIONED and my personal approach would be partly the pillar of a newly born Iranian Nouvelle Vague. What I tried to achieve was to be more close and possibly more honest and direct toward presenting the Truth behind the propagandistic slogans of the Regime. That is the main reason why all my first films were brutally banned, confiscated and harshly censored – one after another- on their first day of screening at the Ministry where they were sent to for distribution permission!

  • What did you achieve in your film which wasn’t already tried in Iranian cinema of that time?

Frankness, truthfulness, love and respect for recording and presenting the reality despite all barriers and prohibitions. Putting your camera and your cinema at the service of the simple and ever-cheated people in the streets.

  • After four or five decades how the film stands in your career, and in a larger context, in the history of Iranian cinema?

Well it is not my role, my aim and my target to define the place for my films in my professional, artistic curriculum! Time passed by and the history of our last 50 years showed and proved whether I was right or wrong!

  • Which were your cinematic influences?

The film directors I am very humbly devoted to are Rossellini, De Sica, Pasolini, Pontecorvo and Neorealism in general. Also Godard, Resnais, Marker and Ivens. And last but not the least the Great Luis Buñuel to whom I owe a great deal!

But do not forget that our list of preferred artists and those who practically influence us can be also filled with the holy names of writers, poets, painters, sculptors, architects, philosophers, etc. I have been a keen and devoted student of all this incredible wealth, all my life and devoured them as best as I could.

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