abbas kiarostami

Festival Alum to Screen at Slamdance

by Rebecca M. Alvin

Mohammad Mohammadian 2In the 2017 edition of the Cape Cod Festival of Arab & Middle Eastern Cinema, we presented a tribute to the late Iranian cinema master Abbas Kiarostami, with a screening of his film Taste of Cherry, preceded by the short film by Mohammad Mohammadian called Only Five Minutes. The film looks at life through the eyes of a blind woman, featuring a black screen and audio only and is dedicated to Mohammadian’s cinematic hero Kiarostami. Mohammadian, a prolific filmmaker living in Iran, is about to present an even shorter work at the prestigious Slamdance Film Festival in Utah next month. The film is called Life and it is only four seconds in length—that’s right, four seconds. Mohammadian took a few minutes to answer questions about the film, which will screen virtually at the Festival February 12 – 25, 2021.

  1. How did you decide on the idea for this film that is so short?
    I remember, I was very upset in the middle of the night because of reviewing past memories, nostalgia for an old friend, my life problems and my age, and after one hour I made this short film. This film is a protest in my world and a drop of my tears: yesterday I was a child and today I am 33 years old. Why do we humans get old? In my world, senescence is a genetic disease and unfortunately everyone in the world is sick. This is not fair. The human lifespan is almost 100 years; why not 1,000 years? And even hundreds of thousands of years? After the age of 30, aging should be stopped. We need medicine and maybe a vaccine. Of course I understand that my thinking about age unfortunately is a joke for some people. If people believe that God created us, God has given us a mind to use, just like feet for walking. We need a global unity to build an aging vaccine. And maybe a smart scientist in a small lab.
  2. What do you hope people will feel after seeing your film?
    I do not care and it does not matter to me—not just this film, for all my films. In my world, cinema is not a restaurant and I am not a chef. Cinema is my personal feelings and thoughts. But one of my dreams is to go to a film festival and watch my film in the cinema. On my resume there are more than 100 international festivals outside of Iran and (if necessary, you can check) I have not even seen one of my films in a cinema once. This is a really bitter story because I have an Iranian passport and it is very difficult to get a visa for Europe and the United States. Unfortunately, my financial situation is very bad.
  3. Who is your cinematic inspiration and why?
    Abbas Kiarostami and Italian cinema because they are like real life. The sincerity and truth of Abbas Kiarostami’s cinema and of Italian cinema amaze me. I get a pure sense of Italian cinema and Abbas Kiarostami. It is very difficult to explain: like the beginning of spring and very good clean weather. Cinema is life, and when I watch Kiarostami’s & Italian films, I find that purity again. These works are the artistic spirit that gave me hope and changed my view of the world.
  4. You have made a few shorts. Are you interested in making longer works as well?
    Most of my ideas for making movies are features. I’ve completed many experimental, documentary, and fiction screenplays. My first feature-length documentary will be completed soon. The title of this film is Abbas Kiarostami and it’s about his biography and movies. He is like a father to me, and unfortunately, he left us too soon. I am proud to be one of Abbas Kiarostami’s students.Y ou may be interested to know that my date of birth is Abbas Kiarostami’s (June 22) and I feel a complex feeling in this history every year, especially after he left us. I’m not a superstitious person, but we have a lot in common in terms of thoughts and feelings, this is a personal opinion. Maybe a common view of life. Unfortunately, I cannot describe it well because it is complex, but very simple.

Mohammad Mohammadian was born on June 22, 1987 in Isfahan, Iran. He is an Iranian film director, screenwriter, editor, producer, photographer, and graphic designer. He became interested in cinema in his teenage years and started his filmmaking education with the Iranian grandmaster of cinema Abbas Kiarostami, whose cinematic style has been an influence. 

From Iran to Egypt: Saturday Spotlight Screenings

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Homayoun Ershadi in Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry (1997). Courtesy of Criterion Collection.

So far it’s been a lovely rainy weekend on Cape Cod, perfect for going to the movies. Today that movie weather continues as we offer two programs at Wellfleet Preservation Hall.

One of the few Middle Eastern filmmakers I had been familiar with before I founded this festival was Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami. The first film of his I saw was Through the Olive Trees, and I was struck by the quiet, reflective nature of his work. Since then, I have seen numerous Kiarostami films, and always I had the same feeling about them. In some ways, they reminded me of Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu, with their simple situations and everyday characters struggling with the human condition. When Kiarostami died suddenly this past July, I knew I wanted to include one of his films in the festival this year.

The film I chose is Taste of Cherry (1997), which we will screen today (Saturday, May 6) at 4 p.m. The film, about a man driving around northern Iran looking for someone to help him with his plans for suicide, is, again, a quiet film, but there is constant motion as Kiarostami liked to film in cars. After seeing the film on the Criterion Collection DVD, I watched the supplemental documentary, a rare interview with Kiarostami, conducted by Iranian film scholar, Dr. Jamsheed Akrami, a professor at William Paterson University. I tracked Dr. Akrami down, and he has agree to present the film this afternoon and lead a post-screening discussion as well. This is an amazing opportunity, and I am so grateful that we can learn from him, not only about Kiarostami, but also about where that work fits in both world cinema and Iranian cinema, in particular.

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Bassem Youssef, the subject of Sara Taksler’s Tickling Giants. Photo: Ellen McDonald

This evening at 7 p.m., also at Wellfleet Preservation Hall, we will be screening a documentary about “the Egyptian Jon Stewart,” Bassem Youssef. The film Tickling Giants was directed by Sara Taksler, a producer at The Daily Show, and it chronicles his career from its heights, reaching more than 40 percent of the population in Egypt, to his eventual arrest and exile. It is an excellent example of an Arab voice using comedy and satire, in particular, to combat injustice and intolerance. This is something we rarely hear about in the U.S. I hope you will join us tonight to learn about this courageous comedian.

Each screening will be preceded by a short film, as well. For the Kiarostami Tribute, we will screen a short film by Mohammad Mohammadian that is dedicated to Kiarostami, called Only Five Minutes. The film looks at life through the eyes of a blind woman, featuring a black screen and audio only.

Tickling Giants will be preceded by another Iranian short film, Light Sight by Seyed M. Tabatabaei, an animated student film that demonstrates the desire for freedom and the obstacles to finding that freedom. You can see the trailer for it here: https://vimeo.com/162086737

I look forward to seeing you tonight in Wellfleet!

The Tribute to Abbas Kiarostami featuring Taste of Cherry presented by Dr. Jamsheed Akrami screens this afternoon, Saturday, May 6, at 4 p.m. and Tickling Giants screens tonight at 7 p.m. Both shows are at Wellfleet Preservation Hall, 335 Main St., Wellfleet. For tickets ($15 per film) and information on this screening as well as the entire festival schedule, click here. Tickets will also be available at the door 30 minutes before screening time.