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During the making of "Mardan-e Sahar" in 1970. From left to right: Esmail Nooriala, Ali Reza Noorizadeh, Beik Inmanverdi, Habibollah Bolour, Shokrollah Rafiei.

Frozen in time
A 30-year-old ad brings back memories

Esmail Nooriala
July 5, 2000
The Iranian

Thank you for surprising me this morning by putting that time-infested ad in your Nostalgia section. Also my thanks to Mr. Kamal Noori, the sender of this ad, whom I do not remember to have known before. What he has come up with is a piece of history from 30 years ago, frozen in time and faded away in memory. I cannot believe how we (me and my generation) managed to do so much in a short span of time ­ that is, between the ages of 20 and 30.

In fact, it was 28 years ago when I left Iran, feeling that I had had enough of everything and should go out and search for something new. Thus, considering that I am 58 now, my coming out of Iran has dissected my life into almost two equal parts: The first full of hope, energy, youth and playfulness, and the second, mostly wasted on jobs you don't like and people you don't approve, looking at times solemn and torturous.

In the first half, you have lived like a plant growing on a soil that has been designed to nourish you over millions of years. You can move, dance and fly - if you have the stamina and a pair of wings. You can publish your poetry and your books; you can make films, become a member of juries in film festivals and teach at the university.

Then the scene changes and you are thrown onto another stage for Act II. Here, you are an alien and overwhelmed. Your language is not efficiently functioning, and your mind is trying to adjust itself to a new environment. I have not read the third part of this play yet but it inevitably will come and, I hope, will bring some structure and meaning to this sometimes-absurd play.

I made "Mardan e Sahar" in 1970. It was supposed to be a modern adaptation of Rostam-o-Esfandiyaar. Making films, without having been trained for it, is a sheer adventure that I was lucky enough to be able to plunge into it. I knew that I was not prepared to be a full-blown filmmaker. I knew that I had not the patience for such a lengthy process of creation. But I could not ignore the temptation of attaining that omnipotent presence of a director on the scene.

I have no idea how this film would look today. The worst part of filmmaking is that you may not be able to see your creation ever again. But, films are preservation of life on dead celluloid. Several people begin to live a new and independent life by playing in each film. And they are doomed to remain in the same image they have projected into the celluloid forever while they go through the process of aging in the real world. It is an Oscar Wildian world.

Amongst the names on that poster, Iran Daftari and Habib Bolour are now dead. A friend who has recently come from Tehran tells me that Ghadakchian is a member of a group of elderly artists who gather every now and then and call each other "kolangi" (like old buildings that are beyond repair).

And there are also other people whose names are not on that poster; people like Shokrollah Rafi'i, the cameraman who skeptically watched me on the first day of shooting the film. He knew that it was the first time I was confronted with a 33mm camera. What he was not aware of was all those years that I had spent on reading about cinema and all those hours that I, together with friends like Bahram Beizai, had spent on imagining how a film is made. We could make films by the sheer force of our imagination and enthusiasm.

There were others too, whom I still have communication with, such as Dr. Ali Reza Nourizadeh who was my assistant in that film. He is now a famous writer who has played a great role in shedding light on the mysterious "chain murders". Just a few weeks ago I received his recent books (poems, memoirs and reports) with a long letter reminding me of all those sweet moments we had had together.

I actually have a piece of this frozen time in my album (above photo) that shows him, together with Beik Imanverdi, Habib Bolour, and I - standing in front of Rafiei's camera and playing like children. The scene is a "zoor-khaaneh" and we are showing off our "jaaheli" hats ­ a prop that was then an indispensable ingredient of all Iranian films, or "film-farsi," as coined by Dr. Houshang Kavousi.

Anyhow, I wonder if I should be sad to see this youth gone by, wounded by revolutions, misfortunes and nightmares. But no, I still feel happy and full of hope and creativity - because I have finally come to realize that no one has ever been lost in the crowded alleys of history. And your Nostalgia section is also a part of this virtual geography.

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