Q&A with Rakhshan Banietemad
Iranian veteran Rakhshan Banietemad’s most recent feature, TALES, is a social realist film with naturalistic dialogues and performances. The film won the best script award at the 2014 Venice Film Festival and is screening at ADFF as part of the Narrative Competition.
1- Watching Tales, one cannot but wonder how you were able to shoot the film in the streets of Tehran? Could share the shooting experience with us?
It was very normal for me to shoot films in outside locations. In Iran most films are filmed on location. So many films are made all the time that it is very normal to see films being shot on the street.
2- The film is extremely naturalistic. How much room did you leave in the script for improvisation?
The film was all scripted. The actors had long rehearsal periods. I tried to make the dialogue as close to real life as possible, almost like a documentary. All people have hopes and dreams and they have struggles too. That’s what I wanted to show in my film. The dialogue became part of their lives.
3- Despite the sad and sometimes tragic stories you are presenting, there is a sense of strength that you endow your characters with. Where does this come from?
Actors are the crème of the Iranian cinema, the characters that they portray in the films become an essential part of their lives and they empathize with the characters that they play on screen and what they are going through in their lives.
4- The film oscillates between being confrontational at times and indirect at other times. It occurs to me that the final dialogue in the film where the two young people describe each other by being "romantic" does actually apply to you given the ending that you chose to close the film with: the “director" in the film is telling someone over the phone that he will keep on making films. Is this your romantic stand? Or is it to say that cinema or art is the solution?
That’s a heavy responsibility on cinema. It’s true that the characters in the film do say romantic things to each other, but that’s not what will save them, it’s the truth. The truth will be their savior.
5- For you, what can cinema really do? What change can it instigate?
Cinema can be informative; it can make people aware of and sensitive to their rights. It can make people dream. The films that I make show the truth that people can follow in their lives. The beauty of cinema is not to cure the problems that people have but rather to highlight them, that’s what cinema should be all about. It’s like a doctor telling you the diagnosis of your problem but he is not the one performing the surgery.
6- After decades of focusing on poetics, Iranian cinema seems today more inclined towards realism. What does that tell us?
There is a social realistic cinema movement in Iran. The first film that I directed 27 years ago was rooted in social realist cinema. The Iranian directors that have been described as being the new group of filmmakers in Iran have also been making these kinds of films for a long time.
7- How was the film received in Iran?
The film has been very well received by the public. It was screened in five film festivals in Iran. The feedback has been extremely positive. There have also been special midnight screenings arranged as a result of the positive feedback and more people wanting to come to see the film. The film will be publicly screened by the end of autumn.