International Short Film Festival 2007, Independent Films on Iran

Panorama - House of Makhmalbaf

In early 1996, Samira Makhmalbaf left regular school to study cinema. Learning cinema at the universities was not the way to go. Iranian universities have rarely been successful in teaching cinema, and none of the famous and important filmmakers ever graduated from such schools. Forough Farrokhzad, the female poet who passed away at the age of 30, director of Home Is Black (Khaneh Siah Ast) and other films that, in my opinion, have had the greatest effect on contemporary Iranian cinema, never went to a college to study cinema. Amir Naderi, who made the important films The Runner and Water, Wind, Dust, never went to college. He started in photography and the only college he attended was “the school of hard knocks.” Kiarostami studied Graphic Arts. Mehrjui studied philosophy. And Beyza’i never went to any college at all. The days others spend in college, I spent in jail as a political prisoner. Thus, to train filmmakers, some other school was needed, and we established that school: The Makhmalbaf Film School.

With fourteen feature films, three short films, twenty-eight books and twenty-two films as editor, I was the most active Iranian filmmaker at that time. My mind was full of ideas, and my heart bursting from the thrill of creation. Having just finished making A Moment of Innocence, my favorite film, I stopped working and spent four years teaching the arts of cinema. Instead of creating films, I was going to create filmmakers.

I informed the Iranian Ministry of Culture of my plans to accept one hundred students of cinema through a selection exam and to use new methods to train them for four years. But the Ministry of Culture of that time did not accept. They feared a new wave of young filmmakers making films in favor of democracy, officially announcing that one dangerous filmmaker like me was enough for one country and that one hundred others were not needed. As an example, they stated that if the human population (claiming to be movie fans) who went on strike in Salam Cinema were to be trained as filmmakers, there would be no way to keep the Iranian Cinema under control. And so we established the Makhmalbaf Film School with eight of my family and friends, and having no other place to use as a school, used our own house.

The school lasted eight hours a day, sometimes going on as long as sixteen hours. The oldest student was one of my friends who later filmed The Apple and The Door. The youngest one was Hana, my eight-year-old daughter.

Our curriculum was not limited to cinema; it also included studies in life and art. For example, for sports we had cycling, swimming and skating. A filmmaker needs to be physically strong. For everyday life, we had lessons on driving, traveling alone outside the country, urban navigation, cooking, computer science, and foreign languages, the latter because a filmmaker needs methods of communication. The following subjects were also included: for further art studies, an introduction to painting, photography, poetry and music; and for further cinema studies, Film Economics, Production Programming, Screenwriting, Acting, Camera Operation (Filming), Editing, Sound Mix, Decoupage, History of Cinema, and Film Analysis.

Our method of training would focus on one subject every month. For example, we would skate or ride bicycles for eight hours a day for one month, so that by the end of that month, every single student, even eight year old Hana, could easily cycle for a distance of fifty kilometers. Then, we would spend a month looking through art books, introducing students to the styles of painting used all over the world. We would spend a month on the local Iranian music, introducing students to the most primal tones of different Iranian regions. Four months would be spent behind the editing table, learning how to edit films. So, a minimum of one month with a minimum of 8 hours per day would be concentrated on each subject. During this four-year period, several films were produced as practical training. Marziyeh, my wife, made a three-episode film titled The Day I Became a Woman. Samira made The Apple and The Blackboard. Maysam who majored in Photography and Editing, handled the still photography of The Apple, The Silence, The Blackboard, and The Day I Became a Woman, while editing two short films, The Door and the first episode of The Day I Became a Woman, and making a video production about Samira and her filmmaking which he titled How Samira Made The Blackboard. Hana used the video camera to make a short film titled The Day My Aunt Was Ill. And they all experienced being an assistant director on The Silence, which I directed. As all these films were produced in an office that was, in fact, our own house, “Makhmalbaf Film House” became the name of our production company. In fact, the “Makhmalbaf Film House” is the production department of the “Makhmalbaf Film School.” In one house, we established both a school and a film production company. But fate had other things in mind for that house.

A Moment of Innocence was held by the government. This was the first film I had produced by taking out a loan, and I had promised to sell my house to pay the debts should the film be held. And that’s what happened. The Ministry of Culture told me to cut some scenes if I wanted the film to go to the screens. I went home and discussed the matter with my family. I asked them if they preferred owning a house, or freedom of thought and art. We could either let A Moment of Innocence be cut to pieces, along with our freedom of expression, and still be owners of a house, or sell the house, repay the debt I had incurred to make the film, and let the film remain uncut, thereby retaining its meaning and sense, but also permanently held back from release. All of my family members, including Hana who was the youngest one, said they didn’t want the house and that owning the name would suffice. We decided that from that moment on we would use the name of the house as the banner for all of our productions. That is how we sold the “Makhmalbaf House,” product of fifteen years of our filmmaking and writing, to establish the name of “Makhmalbaf Film House” as our only asset at the time as well as our permanent mark. From the afore-mentioned school, one student graduated as a cameraman, another as a sound engineer, one as a set designer, three as directors, and one as a still photographer and editor.

Mohsen Makhmalbaf, June 7, 2000

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