Leading Iranian director returns to the festival that discovered him

Before conquering Europe and becoming globally recognized as the most prominent ambassador of Iranian cinema, director Abbas Kiarostami had been «discovered» at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, in the New Horizons series and by the series’ director, Dimitris Eipidis. That was in 1992 and since then, Kiarostami has attended the festival several times. This year, the event’s 45th, the festival includes a tribute to his work, including a retrospective, a monograph and a master class. Kiarostami’s route has been an unorthodox one, filled with altered landscapes, truth marked on the characters’ faces and an occult-like relationship with reality. Few would have thought that the serious-looking man monitoring traffic in Tehran would turn into a defining director of the last decade. In «Five,» his most recent film, Kiarostami places a camera on the beach: he records a piece of wood playing against the waves; people walking by; two dogs; a group of ducks and the moon accompanied by the sounds of the night. For the audience, this is an hour-long experience of totally bare images, leading to a serene contemplation of life. Following are excerpts from an interview the director gave to Kathimerini, translated from the Greek text. It seems that in «Five,» you were looking to challenge the boundaries of directing. What did you find out when you reached that point? My desire and efforts to explore the concept of the «visible,» without any means, led to a dead end. Nevertheless, I’m still experimenting with glances, the art of observation, an approach through the use of the «ready-made.» It’s a painful process and very few people understand the difficulties involved. I’m only doing this for my own satisfaction. Is it safe to say that the film is closer to video art than to cinema? Could it be that in general, the boundaries between the two disciplines are becoming increasingly blurred? I don’t have any clear definitions of the two media in order to categorize «Five.» Besides, I don’t feel that it’s up to me to distinguish between the two. Perhaps the two fall into place naturally, as if thrown into the right drawer by an automatic mechanism. Do you believe that digital cameras have altered the relationship between audiences and cinema, besides that of directors with their art? Clearly digital cameras are very important tools, which, in the next few years, will redefine the relationship between the creators and the public. For you, is cinema an escape from reality or does it create an even greater bond with it? Cinema represents me and reality itself! There are many realities of course. There’s a different reality for a European, for an Iranian, and another one for an African citizen. Three years ago you shot a documentary in Africa. You captured a continent discovering joy, despite pain, misery and death by AIDS. The reality of life for a European is also the way he lives, likewise for an American. The same goes for an Iranian or an Afghani, who surely differ from one another. From then on, I believe that each filmmaker acts according to his living reality, one based on his memories and his intellect. And that’s just natural. «ABC Africa» recorded the suffering of a nation from the point of view of an Iranian director. This is precisely where issues of geography, nationality and language arise. The contrasts are overcome through the director’s efforts to take a deeper look at a society or a society’s drama. Another of your films, «Ten,» was about living in Iran today from a woman’s point of view. Author/activist Fariba Hachtroudi has said that while you are a very good director, your films act as a great facade for the regime. Do you believe that your films could become facades for such a hard-core regime? «Ten» was not solely about women in Iran, but about women in general. As for the author’s view, I don’t believe that other people’s acceptance or rejection of me is my responsibility. My films are not the best form of advertising for the regime… Nor do I shoot films on the subject of the regime. My films are about today’s people, who are victims of the global structure of power.