2021 Dialogue Between Reza Mirkarimi and Shadmehr Rastin
27 May 2021 - 7:34
Reza Mirkarimi is an Iranian film writer and director. He graduated from Fine Arts University in graphic arts in Tehran. His cinema activities started from 1987 with a short film named For Him (16mm camera) and with a series of shorts followed by two TV series aimed at young people.
His 1999 first feature, The Child and The Soldier, won several national and international awards, including the Golden Butterfly at the 1999 Isfahan International Children and Youth Film Festival, and the Montgolfiere d’Argent at the Festival of 3 Continents, Nantes, France, in 2000, as well as the Golden Shoe at the Children and Teenagers Film Festival in Zelin, Croatia, in 2001.
In 2000, his second feature, Under the Moonlight, dealing with social and religious issues won the Best Feature Award at the 40th Critics’ Week at the 2001 Cannes International Film Festival. The film won the Best Director’s Award as well as the Special Jury Prize at the Tokyo IFF in 2001, and the Golden Peacock Award at the International Film Festival of India. His fourth and fifth feature films, As Simple as That (2007) and Daughter (2016), won the Golden George Award for the Best Picture at the 30th and the 38th Moscow International Film Festival respectively.
Mirkarimi contributes to young Iranian directors by producing their films. He produced Don’t be Tired in 2012 and Voice of Silence in 2013. His Castle of Dreams (2019) won big at Shanghai International Film Festival, receiving three awards for the best picture, the best director, and the best actor. Mirkarimi has so far won seven Golden Simorgh awards at the Fajr International Film Festival. Three of his films were presented by Iran for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar: So Close, So Far, A Cube of Sugar, and Today.
Here is a quick dialogue between Reza Mirkarimi and screenwriter Shadmehr Rastin:
You were the director of Fajr International Film Festival and I remember that you put a lot of emphasis on the fact that the festival is not just about watching movies, as the workshops also create an educational connection, especially for students and fans. Due to the pandemic, we do not have Darolfonoun workshops this year. However, an online platform has still attracted a large audience. How do you see cinema and how do you find your own style? I remember this was your first question in an interview with Abbas Kiarostami.
You know that several factors were important for me for this interview. So far I have not agreed to hold any training workshops, not because I am bored. But because I think the transfer of experience requires a skill that I may not have acquired yet. The reason for my participation in the interview is you, Shadmehr Rastin and the Fajr International Film Festival itself. I really care about this festival and its educational background and I hope that it will follow this policy in the future as well.
There are different answers to this question. Storytelling is very important in cinema: Fascinating skills in telling a story and sharing a life. Or, in fact it’s the creativity of the author. My emphasis is on telling a compelling story. To explain further, I have to say what are the characteristics of storytelling, whether in cinema or in literature and in various art forms, in order to attract an audience. I sometimes think that telling a story is like summoning ghosts. There is a kind of magic. If it is not this magic, all the tricks that you have learned to make the story interesting will be revealed. Like a magician who knows he is cheating when he succeeds in believing in the moment that a miracle is happening. That is, he must be excited and surprised by his work.
Summoning ghosts is more like cinema. Cinema has such a feeling. Before showing a spirit on screen that amazes others to follow the story in curiosity, you must pull the spectator’s soul out of his body. The spectators are the first to summon the soul. How to tell a story to get the soul out of his body? We have simple words to understand this skill, such as empathy or bringing the audience to a believable point about the story and character. These terms are not enough in my opinion. You seduce the audience with different methods and he is ready to accept anything and go in the body of another person, to worry with his worries, to have a crisis with his decisions. You have not seen anyone summon a soul in daylight. They always go home and draw the curtain to summon the soul. That means a series of tools are needed to do this. To begin with, we need to work so that the audience slowly emerges from their daily life and their own views and is transferred to another format. Some believe that it is moral to immerse oneself in another character.
Because the foundation of morality is that what you do not like for yourself, you do not like for others. Even if cinema tells a bad story, as soon as it teaches the viewer the skill so that he can be somewhere else in life in the moment, it is moral. This fixate your audience to the cinema screen is sometimes done by darkening the room, enlarging the screen, that is, it happens with physical tools in the theatre. In the tone of the film and the cinema itself, there are things that must be observed. For example, the subject of a film is sometimes attractive. The narrative is fascinating. So the first point is that the story should not be repetitive. As magicians what should we do when the rabbit comes out of the box to make a real sense? And we get excited. I personally do not like to see my films again, but I would love to be somewhere near the curtain to stand in the corner of the theatre and see the reaction of audience in their faces. The question for me is, is this magic as attractive to them as it is to me? When the audience reaction is not great in a moment of my film, I ask myself a question. So, attract the audience more to the story with the help of theatrical tools or narration, which depends on the genre of the story.
What about the initial idea?
The initial idea is definitely important, but I personally did not care much about it. Some people tell me that “you find a button and embroider a shirt for it. Be more serious. Find a more important idea.” The truth is that when the initial idea is so brilliant, it may be because you do not have the skill to find the hidden connections of the elements in the universe. He has to accept this as a principle. All these irrelevant things are like a panel connected from behind. Your job as filmmaker and storyteller is to find the connection between irrelevant things. It will be exciting for the viewers to discover that the world is full of related events. In many stories that are exciting enough in one line.
They have no more discoveries.
Finding the hidden connections between the completely heterogeneous components that make up a story should be exciting for both the storyteller and the audience. Of course, it requires skill. You need technical tools such as big screen, etc. to attract the audience and conquer their soul, and you must use arrangements in decoupage and storytelling. The more you go into the details, the more you can analyze what, like the storyteller Shahrzad, can attract the audience. For example, is it right to reveal an event or situation or to narrate a situation and create an equation or to create a suspension? Then what should be done to create a suspension in the story? What to do in decoupage? In some places, a shallow depth of field or something makes the viewer curious. And the storyteller patiently narrates something that is interesting to him as well. Having this skill is a major part of your acquisition. Tricks can be learned. Part of it goes back to your life experience. Even occasional experiences such as humiliation, achievements during a younger age, are accumulated things that make you an explosive force in one of life skills. And it works to turn into storytelling. That longing to attract people with your own words can give you the skill to speak. If you don’t have the itch to tell a good story, you will not become a good filmmaker. Because you have nothing to say. Top filmmakers had a period of isolation, but they could observe society. But they did not have the opportunity and courage to shine. This energy accumulates and comes out somewhere. My point is that much of it can be formulated.
It means that there is chemistry in the international industrial production; there are many things that have attraction. It has been formulated a lot, it is a chemistry based on that formula. Most filmmakers in the world have this acquired skill. This chemistry has the potential to turn into alchemy a small percentage of filmmakers. At this stage, empathy becomes part of one’s behavior. When you leave the cinema at this stage, this experience stays with you and does not disappear in a short while. You become more curious. This is alchemy.
That is a travel guide that takes you on this trip, for example to the Maldives. The route is not important to anyone here at all. There is a time when we want to discover a place. But we have already travelled. We as directors and guides are going to discover a place. Sometimes, as you say, we go hunting for something. We really do not know what we will face.
An alchemist is someone who does not use pre-designed patterns and turns everything into gold. He turns a very ordinary story into gold. He makes an attractive movie out of an ordinary story. For such a filmmaker, all routines of life disappear. He can see behind the scenes, because he presents this to the audience. The viewer does not follow any predetermined path or pre-designed pattern. The viewer is in no hurry to reach the end of the film. Because he discovers new things every moment. The culmination is in the seconds.
Exactly, he has passed the stage of alchemy and wants to become a creator.
Yes, especially if the narrator or the storyteller is intoxicated with the story, he is fascinated by the story. If you tell the story in the form of a claimant, the story loses its charm. With his skill, it feels that you have a share in storytelling. This is mutual pleasure.
This discovery means finding new relationships. What you are saying is a change in the spirit of all relationships that are discovered. How to develop this point of view? “What is published in the newspaper is the latest important news for me in filmmaking,” so says Steven Spielberg.
Of course, Spielberg says this, but he happens to be looking for these things. If you remember, during the shooting As Simple as That, I simply said in an interview that at the time of writing, we were looking for the story of silent characters in the society whose stories are not published in the events pages of newspapers. Like housewives, they have no social appearance and no news at all. But because they affect our society, they have crises that are not seen, but the discovery of these hidden crises is fascinating.
But if they ask me, do you understand the pain of the heroine of your story? I say no, I approached part of her crisis. The beauty of the work and, as I told you, the charm of the narrator’s work is that he did not issue an exact verdict on his story characters. The storyteller does not know the answers to all the questions.
This was a lot in the movie Castle of Dreams. You had to find out what a loser is like when he comes back.
Yes, I cannot go into that character’s head. We absolutely cannot leave our audience in the form of another character. I cannot be in your place, but I can get close to you. I can see everything from your point of view.
One of the things that make watching your movies attractive is that you constantly want to get closer to your characters, we are not dealing with an external character, we are facing relationships that must be constantly discovered. Do you find the subject interesting or the character?
I do not remember starting a project with a story. The theme is always associated with a character. I do not know which one came first.
Maybe it is like Under the Moonlight.
No. the main character of Under the Moonlight is in a crisis of faith. This is where the story begins. I think even if you hate the people around you, you should respect and love them in your story. Dostoevsky also respects the characters of his book Crime and Punishment. An author who does not like his characters is a claimant. This feeling is palpable for the spectator in the theater. In my opinion, most of the filmmakers of the eighties loved what they said and discovered their characters they made. Therefore, it was a spiritual pleasure and a good intellectual feeling for the viewer to watch such films. But what happened in the nineties and 2000’s? Most films are formulated. Of course, my point is relative. This trend became popular. You see a film whose filmmaker did not enjoy his story and characters. Director enjoys destroying his characters in the story. Ironically, in your interview with Kiarostami, this was important to him. He takes the characters of his story to the brink of humiliation, but he did not humiliate them more than a certain amount. This humiliation was also to create a crisis so that the character could reach a new understanding. But he did not mean to say that I am a storyteller ahead of the audience and you do not understand. The essence of cinema is that the spectator identifies with movie characters. This inevitably happens after ten minutes into any movie. If you see the character constantly humiliated, the viewer feels humiliated as well.
The 2021 FIFF is underway in the Iranian capital until June 2. This year’s event is presided over by Iranian film director and screenwriter Mohammad Mehdi Asgarpour. The festival is widely considered one of the most prestigious and influential in Asia, Europe and Greater Middle East.