Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Filmfarsi is My One-Dollar Movie [An Unpublished Interview]

Marjan (left) and Nasser Malek Motie

Upon Filmfarsi's world premiere in Bristol, July 2019, an online journal interviewed me about my film. They never ran it so I decided it to publish it here. — EK

How does it feel to be having your World Premiere at Watershed?

I like that place and the people who run it. Been there almost every year for the past 3 years especially when they started Cinema Rediscovered (which is inspired after Il Cinema Ritrovato) so it's kind of an ideal place to open the film in the UK. Many Ritrovato comrades will be there which makes me feel pretty much at home again.

This has been a four-year journey for you, what does it mean for you to be sharing this film, and your journey, with a festival audience?

Great relief! I was getting to the point to completely lose my touch with the film, not knowing what to with it anymore. So, in a sense, I've been freed from the chains of filmfarsi by showing my own Filmfarsi.

What has the experience been for you making Filmfarsi?

I learned a lot about my own past. It was a journey of self-discovery. It's not too flattering to look at some trash and see yourself in it, but that's what happened. And then I had two wonderful editors who have a great share in making this film: Niyaz Saghari and Abolfazl Talooni. We had many fun days putting together the footage from filmfarsi and discussing them. Sometimes even being influenced by it — especially after long hours of work — our way of speech would become something like the tough guys in filmfarsi. It seriously got into our systems for a while.

How different was your approach to this film than with your previous films?

My previous work is almost exclusively for television which is an entirely different format. Here I toss a new idea every 5 minutes. In TV, you play with a half-baked idea for half an hour and then the producer still thinks it's too much for the audience. Plus, no talking heads here even if I had shot some good ones which I decided not to use.

What is it about Iranian films that make them so unique and special?

You mean the pre-revolutionary films? Because it was part of a vibrant film industry. Millions of tickets were sold. There was state money for radical arthouse films and there was private money for a musical or a gangster film. Iranians revealed a lot about themselves in those films. They experimented with different conventional and non-conventional types of cinema and various modes of storytelling. In retrospect, the result, even when poor, is always interesting. It is annoying that some people are too lazy to find something new in Iranian films and the best they could do is to come up with that "cinema of poetry" nonsense. So here is a new proposal: a cinema of kitsch, remakes, song and dance, sex and rock 'n' roll.

For those yet to be exposed to Iranian films could you recommend some films to start with?

If I focus on pre-revolutionary genre films only, then I should name The Foreign Bride (Nosratollah Vahdat, 1964), The Deer (Masoud Kimiai, 1974), Beehive (Fereydoun Goleh, 1975), A Party in Hell (Samuel Khachikian & Mushegh Sarvari, 1956), The Red-Haired (Abdollah Ghaibi, 1974) and The Storm in Our City (Samuel Khachikian, 1958). Unfortunately, most of these films are impossible to see these days.

Can you tell me a little bit about Filmfarsi, how did this project come about?

I wanted to do a film on the use of modern architecture in Iranian pre-revolutionary films — I'm an architect by training — but then I realised people don't know much about the pre-revolutionary genre films. They know a couple of arthouse names and that's it. So I thought maybe I should start with a more general film about the filmfarsi phenomenon before narrowing it down to something specific. In the process, I got so involved that I thought architecture can wait; for now, let's look at these amazing figures in motion as they kiss, kill, make love, run and dance. This was also my way of paying tribute to an Iran that I know well: hybrid, unpredictable, excitable, always up for a good time!

What was the inspiration behind this film?

An impulse which I don't regret. One afternoon I jumped behind the desk and started writing it. I wanted to document something — a historical process, but also an aesthetic one. Fascinated by Iranian popular culture, I thought there were many stories to be told. I picked one or two and Filmfarsi was born.

In the four years that you have been working on Filmfarsi what have there been any some surprising discovers

Yes, almost constant discoveries in the process of watching films, finding invisible threads which are now part of Filmfarsi. The biggest surprise, however, was learning that even the Iranian audience didn't know much about these films.

What was the most challenging part of bringing this film to life?

To give the audience the information and historical background they need to know in order to understand the concept of filmfarsi within 90 minutes without getting preachy, boring or TVish.

Has filmmaking always been a passion of yours?

No. I rather show other people's films. And that's what I do as a curator. And if I can write something, I rather write it than to film it. Films are too much of a hassle.

Do you have any advice for any emerging filmmaker?

I'm sort of emerging myself, though I don't know exactly from what. So how about quoting Jean-Luc Godard: "When you have one dollar, make your one-dollar movie." This liberated me from those time-wasting insults to intelligence known as funding applications. Filmfarsi is my one-dollar movie.

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?

That people would go tell those who haven't seen Filmfarsi: "You know nothing about Iran. The country is much crazier than we thought."

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