Exiled Iranian film director's flight to freedom

Mohsen Makhmalbaf: Living like a nomad to make films
Mohsen Makhmalbaf: Living like a nomad to make films

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Story highlights

  • Makhmalbaf has won more than a dozen awards for his films
  • He left Iran in 2005 to gain freedom for his film-making
  • Since leaving Iran, he has lived in Afghanistan, Tajikstan, India, Paris and London
Mohsen Makhmalbaf, one of Iran's most high-profile film directors, has been on the move for six and a half years.
He left Iran in 2005 to avoid restrictions on his film-making and has since moved to Afghanistan, Tajikstan, India, Paris and finally London.
Makhmalbaf's films include the 2001 film "Kandahar," which won an award at the Cannes Film Festival and was listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 best movies ever. He has won more than a dozen international awards for his films.
He said he left Afghanistan because of an attempt on his life by the Iranian government and has since received threats in other cities.
"I moved from Iran about six and a half years ago to make more films because at that time the Iranian government doesn't let me make more films in Iran.
"I went to Afghanistan with my family we made some films there. Then the Iranian government sent a terrorist group to make an explosion bomb there, one of our group was killed and more than 20 injured.
"We moved from Afghanistan, to Tajikistan, India, then Paris, then London like refugees, like nomads to try to save our lives and try to make more films."
Leaving his country, Makhmalbaf said, was the price for continuing to make films, but it was a decision he did not take lightly.
He said: "When we are out of our country somehow we become a little depressed, we lose our root in our culture but we will find something more. We could see our nation from outside from different angles.
"Being out of Iran, out of the Middle East, is not easy for me really because I belong to that part of the earth. But how can we do it when in Iran we should (would) be in prison, they will torture us, when we are even in Afghanistan they try to kill us? They didn't let us make more films, they censored all the books that I wrote, so we come out to do something."
Makhmalbaf was jailed at the age of 17 for his political activism. At the time, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, was in power. He went into exile in 1979 and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was instated as the Supreme Leader of Iran, which soon after was renamed the Islamic Republic of Iran.
"When I was 17 I was against the Iranian regime because he (it) was a dictator(ship)," he said. "I was ready to die for my country; for freedom. Still I am in the same mood but in a different age and in a different way. In that time I tried to have a gun to kill the king (Shah), but when the revolution happened the situation became worse than it was before.
"I try to use my art, my cinema like a mirror, to put it in front of society to show people to themselves to correct them. Dictatorship has a root in our culture, in our religion, in our history."
Film-making is a family business. Makhmalbaf's wife Marziyeh, son Maysem and daughters Hana and Samira are also respected names in the industry and together they run Makhmalbaf Film House.
Samira's film "Blackboards" won the Cannes Jury Prize, while Hana had to flee Iran while shooting her film "Green Days" amid protests during the Iranian elections two years ago.
Makhmalbaf, 54, said it was not his idea for his children to follow in his footsteps.
"I haven't encouraged them," he said. "They love cinema. They were searching for meaning for their life. They were asking me: If we go to ordinary school, if we follow the same level that everybody has, it has no meaning for us."
Hana said of conventional education in Iran: "They were talking to me about how to wear a scarf and if my hand shows up I will go to the hell, and everything about religion.
"But in my father's school they were talking about art, about cinema. I loved the things that my father was teaching."
Makhmalbaf said he has been in contact with fellow Iranian film director Jafaar Panahi, winner of the "Golden Lion" prize at the Venice Film Festival for his 2000 film "Dayareh" or "Circle," who was jailed for six years in 2010.
Amnesty International said Panahi also received a 20-year ban on all his artistic activities, including film-making, writing scripts, traveling abroad and speaking with media.
Makhmalbaf said: "The government is going to put him for six years in prison to announce to the other artists look at Jafaar: 'If you are famous like Jafaar we put you under pressure.' It is an example for (the) Iranian government."
He added that many artists were put under pressure or jailed in Iran.
"Most of them could not work there, but say, 'If I come out I would become depressed, I would become homesick, I don't want to leave (the) country even if I couldn't work in the country," said Makhmalbaf.
Despite the difficulties he is optimistic for the future of his country.
He said: "This generation are more educated than my generation. The have access to the internet, to media. They have (a) connection with other young generation of the world, through Facebook or something else.
"I think they know what they want. Only I ask them continue, don't stop, don't be afraid. Success is very close to us, sometimes you need to open the door and you have your freedom."