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Films can go beyond being just art, and change society, believes Iranian filmmaker Ali Ebrahimi, writes BHUMIKA K

IMPACTFUL Iranian  director Ali Ebrahimi

A young director from Iran, Ali Ebrahimi, brought his first feature film Hot Scent (Atr-e-Dagh in Persian) to the recently-held 11th Bengaluru International Film Festival (Biffes 2019). A dramatic story that unfolds after a young woman stays out late one night with her boyfriend, the film, like many others from Iran, keeps a sharp focus on the lives of women and takes a critical look at their society. In an interview with Sunday Herald, (through interpreter Ava Pourghannaed) Ebrahimi talks of his cinematic influences, why he thinks Iran’s films work the world over, and how his fellow countrymen will appreciate cinema that might bring about change.

How did you get into filmmaking?

Since I was 16, I have been actively involved in theatre; soon after that I made my first short film. I studied cinema at a college of art and culture in Tehran, and started off with art direction.

Who are your role models in the world of cinema?

I never really had a role model as it is difficult and dangerous to choose anyone; if you have to choose one, it has to be someone really big. But two filmmakers whose work I do like include South Korean director Bong Joon-ho and Christopher Nolan. After some years, I hope I will be a role model for youngsters!

ENGULFING Hot Scent (Atr-e-Dagh in Persian)
ENGULFING Hot Scent (Atr-e-Dagh in Persian).

 

Why are Iranian films so hugely popular and successful the world over?

I believe there are two reasons — Iranian filmmakers are intelligent. And secondly, we have our old culture in our blood. We concentrate on our social life and our problems and make films on them, which are unique.

Most of the films coming out of Iran are about women’s issues, but almost all are from the perspective of male filmmakers…

It doesn’t really matter whether it’s a man or a woman making a film — it’s finally stories about what is happening to women. Personally I have the utmost respect for women; I love my mother and sister very much and believe that women are angels on this earth. Yes, for my film I did about three years of research and also relied on my childhood memories.

Have Iranian filmmakers like Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi opened up new avenues for younger filmmakers in Iran?

Most definitely yes, but you must understand that Kiarostami has had more influence on Iran’s film industry than Panahi. Filmmakers like me see the poetry in Kiarostami’s films which were on humanity; we learn and get inspired from it. Panahi got famous because he made films with a political vision. You must never forget the difference between the two.

Is your first feature film ‘Hot Scent’ based on a true life story?

When men obsess about their daughters and daughters-in-law or about their children in general, it creates problems due to a lack of understanding. This is a problem not just in Iran — as I have read in the news — but all over the world, and specially so in our neighbouring countries. Hot Scent is not based on a real story. But we are professionals, so we make even an unreal story seem real.

Has your film been released in Iran? How was it financed?

My film will be released in Iran in another three months. Then it will go to Europe and the USA. Finding producers for films in Iran is always difficult, like in the rest of the world; it’s a universal problem. While cinema is an art, at the end of the day, it is also an industry. Hot Scent was financed by a private company; my investor read the screenplay and called me at 4 am one day and said he will fund it. He had seen the short films I had made earlier.

Do your countrymen appreciate your own cinema?

It’s very different in Iran. When a film is appreciated, it is usually for its political idea and vision, something that will make a difference. Cinema is seen as more than just art. However, at the film festivals in Iran, yes, our cinema is appreciated as cinema. But all over the world, films, apart from being art, can bring about change. Even a painting can influence and change a person’s perspective. When art can change something, it’s a miracle.

Is Indian cinema popular in Iran? Do you watch any Indian films?

So many Iranians are in love with Indian films. My most fond memories are of watching Sholay as a child — all my relatives had gathered and we watched the film, eating snacks together. The last Indian film I saw was Shah Rukh Khan’s Zero. I don’t get the time to watch many films.

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