CD: International producers, production companies, and the international film festivals fear that directors have to leave Iran, because they lose the natural ambience they so strongly draw from. Some people think that’s what happened when Abbas Kiarostami did his first film outside of the Iran; that he lost something. I can understand if people want to stay.
VJ: Often people say that directors who are forced to leave their home countries lose their edge as filmmakers. But that’s also an issue of how movies are made because when a filmmaker is exiled he suddenly loses his crew: cinematographers, editors, art directors, set designers, actors, and actresses. Cinema is a very intimate industry full of personal relationships. When a director faces exile, he has to rebuild all this; relearn how to communicate with whole different crews. This can lead to a radical change in his narrative tone and voice.
»Films are created when there is no one looking. They are the invisible. What you can’t see is the incredible, and it’s the task of the cinema to do that.« – Jean Luc Godard in Room 666
SB: Certainly this happens. Artists take many ideas and inspiration from their own societies because they have a history with them. In terms of documentary film, it’s even more sensitive because the filmmaker is dealing with realities. To be able to record this reality, he or she needs to establish strong connections with people. This connection is first recognized through language and then through shared history with those people. The same linguistic connection and the common history between the filmmaker and his or her crew also exists. Filmmakers lose all these strong senses when they forced to leave their countries, which certainly affects the quality of their work. We’ve had filmmakers who preferred to stay in Iran and not make any films for many years. Nothing is more terrible than being an artist in your own country and have the status of an exile.
Nowadays, there is another challenge for filmmakers like me. The condition of making independent films in Iran is getting harder and more restrictive every day. On the other hand, most international film festivals as well as international funding bodies, TV channels, etc. expect an Iranian documentary filmmaker to put his or her life in danger for making films. It is mostly by having a journalistic view that those films are considered valuable and watchable! So I feel I’m limited both inside and outside of my country. Dealing with this is a challenging stage in my career.
Christoph Dreher is a Berlin-based film director and lecturer at Merz Akademie Hochschule für Gestaltung, Kunst und Medien in Stuttgart.
Vinicius Jatobá is a narrative, essay and theatre writer and Solitude fellow for Literatur 2017-2019.
The round table discussion was conducted by Judith Engel and Denise Helene Sumi.