Abbas Karostrami

I met the critically-acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami at the Museum of Islamic Art in September 2013 who told me Iranians turn to art as a weapon for survival. Kiarostami died in July 2016.
Abbas Kiarostami
By Salman Siddiqui

Despite strict censorship and a regime considered oppressive by the Western world, internationally acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami believes that art and culture is flourishing in his part of the world.
The filmmaker is in town as part of an invitation extended by the Doha Film Institute, which is presenting a  programme of Kiarostami’s early works, documentaries and award-winning feature films including Taste of Cherry (1997) and The Wind Will Carry Us (1999) at the Museum of Islamic Art from  September 13 to 21. 
In an interview with Gulf Times yesterday, Kiarostami said that “people [in Iran] are all turning to art as a shelter; as a weapon for survival. This is the only choice that they have in order to be able to undergo and overcome the social and political pressures.”
He said that if one looked at the history of Iran, one would observe that whenever there had been political repression, art production gained strength and quality. “This is what you can see in Iran today also. These days everybody takes calligraphic and painting classes.” 
In his opinion, there was no doubt that Iranian cinema was flourishing. He said there was very little part of it which was seen by the world abroad. “There is this big unknown part of it which is made outside of the great cities, out of small budget, sometimes using just only mobile phone cameras. We are witness of a growth of creativity and development of Iranian cinema.” 
According to him, the background of this art expression is the poetry that is part of Iranian culture.  Also, he recalled that when the Lumière brothers invented the first camera, Iran’s king went to France six years later and brought the camera to his court . “That’s the reason why there are some Iranian films that are more than a 100 years old.”
He said there were two possible reactions to censorship. Either you let it destroy you or an artist becomes more imaginative in finding ways to circumvent it. 
About his experience of freedom in Iran, he said: “Total freedom is something I’ve never felt. But I never expected it either. How can I imagine having total freedom in the Iranian situation to make the films I want to?”
But at the same time for every single film and piece of art he created, he said that he never felt restricted either because he said he ‘predesigned’ his films in such a way that they could escape censorship.
Interestingly, the filmmaker said that none of his films were inspired by literature or other cinema or books. “It’s always been inspired by either my own experience of life or people around me and the stories they’ve told me. My inspiration for films is life itself. I’m like collecting pieces from real life and showing them on film,” he said.
Kiarostami has been an active filmmaker since 1970 directing over forty films, including shorts and documentaries. He attained critical acclaim for directing the Koker Trilogy (1987–94), Close-Up (1990), Taste of Cherry (1997), and The Wind Will Carry Us (1999). 
Censorship and hardship in filmmaking also made Kiarostami go abroad and experience filmmaking in a different culture and a different language. In his recent films, Certified Copy (2010) and Like Someone in Love (2012), he filmed for the first time outside Iran, in France and Japan, respectively.
First published here:

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