Iranian filmmaker of Kurdish ethnicity Bahman Ghobadi gave a press conference today, Sunday, November 4, 2012, in the context of the 53rd Thessaloniki International Film Festival. Festival director Dimitri Eipides attended. This year’s edition of the festival is hosting a tribute to the work of the director, who is one of the most important representatives of Iranian cinema‘s new wave.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Eipides said he was happy Mr. Ghobadi is attending the Festival and expressed his admiration for the latter’s work. “For me, every new film he makes is a notable event. I am truly stunned by the depth of his knowledge, his aesthetic, his kindness, and his artistic style”, said Mr. Eipides. He added that he thought Mr. Ghobadi is a genuine artist and wished all the best to the filmmaker and his latest film Rhino Season - which he said was a “major masterpiece”. Rhino Season screens in the Festival’s programme.
”It gives me great pleasure to be here for the second time after twelve years”, said Bahman Ghobadi, adding that nothing has remained the same since his last visit. He also said that his current participation in the Festival is important for the additional reason that the Festival is hosting a tribute to the films of Theo Angelopoulos, a director for whom he has great admiration. He recalled a meeting he had with the late Greek filmmaker just three weeks before he passed away. “It is hard for me to express my feelings“, he said, adding that his death was a stern occasion for both himself and the Iranian Kurds in general.
Commenting on his feelings in relation to his decision to make his films abroad , he said: “It was difficult. It was not my wish to lave Iran. The Iranian government forced me to.” He went on to add that he does not feel himself when working abroad, and that he tries to deal with this situation by keeping himself busy. His latest film, Rhino Season, is inspired by the true story of a Kurdish man who was put in prison for 27 years by the Iranian regime. He said this is in large part a personal movie, which deals with life in exile. Mr. Ghobadi has been living in self-exile since 2009, moving first to Iraq and then to Turkey.
Asked about his future plans, he said he had several projects in progress: An animation film, the production of other movies and the foundation of a new festival in about two years from now. He then commented on a statement he had made in the past, about not enjoying the cinema when he was a child and going to the movies with his uncle just for the sandwiches he bought him. “It is true, this was for me a moment of total freedom; I was enjoying the sandwich and my freedom inside the movie theatre, away from everybody. I may not remember a single shot from the films I watched back then, but I can still remember the taste and smell of the bread. To be honest, I still do not enjoy cinema“, he said, explaining that he is never satisfied with the films he makes, always doubtful of his work.
Mr. Ghobadi stressed that the main reason he is making movies is because he wants to do something for the people, to create something for them. After expressing his regret that his compatriots are not allowed to watch his films, he was asked if the situation in his home country could change. “Yes, I am 100% sure it can. I believe this will happen within the next couple of years. Young people account for 70% of Iran’s population and they are waiting to find some space, a little time, to awaken, to do something. This government cannot remain in power. They are not Iranians. If they were, why would a filmmaker like me, or other artists, be forced to leave the country? Surely not because we are happy with the status quo. These are people who attacked, who invaded my country”, he said, adding that he felt as if someone had gagged him.
The protagonist in his latest film is Behrouz Vossoughi, who was also forced to leave Iran because of the regime’s censorship, despite being one of the most popular Iranian actors. Vossoughi had not appeared in a movie for 30 years. Asked how he felt when he met another person sharing his predicament , Mr. Ghobadi recalled: “I met him six years ago in Los Angeles and presented him with a film idea he liked. I went to Iran and tried to talk to the president, but he told me there was nothing he could do. I subsequently told Behrouz that we should find the right moment to make a movie together. He was my hero. When I see him now, I have the same emotions I felt when I lived in my little town and watched one of the movies he starred in. He is an amazing person, who was unable to find work in the US for 35 years. When he was sad, I was also sad, and so was my camera, and of course my entire movie“.
Asked about if he can help his country by making films abroad, he said: “Certainly I can. I can now make a lot of beautiful things. I am free, I can go everywhere and touch all issues. I remember when I was at the set filming an important movie, the Ministry of Culture had contacted me saying: ’we were informed you are making a film in the Kurdish language. You can use the Kurdish language only in 20% of the movie‘. I have no such fears now. The old Bahman is dead. I am now a four-year old. New ideas, new feelings, new cinema. I can make really good movies“. He went on to add that “for example, with regard to the festival I mentioned before, I would like to establish a digital workshop for directors, sound specialists etc. I can now make this happen ten times easier, especially for the young Kurdish filmmakers“.
The Festival’s tributes to the work of filmmakers are part of the “Open Horizons” section, which is among the Festival’s actions financed by the European Union’s Regional Development Fund for Central Macedonia, 2007-2013.