Iranian director makes history
Samira Makhmalbaf makes history at Cannes
By Pam O' Toole
May 12, 2000 -- Iranian film-maker Samira Makhmalbaf is making history
at Cannes, becoming the youngest ever director to compete for the prestigious
Palme d'Or with her film, Blackboard.
Although only 20 years of age, Makhmalbaf is no stranger to the glitter
of the Cannes circuit - her first film, The Apple, directed when she was
only 17, was well received when it was shown out of competition at Cannes
two years ago.
Its subject matter was compelling; the true story of two Iranian girls,
locked away by their parents until the age of 12 as a means of protecting
them, taking their first tentative steps into the outside world. The girls
and their family played themselves.
Her new film follows teachers wandering through remote areas of Iran's
Kurdistan province in search of pupils to educate. Using mostly non- professional
actors and a hand-held camera it records their encounters with a variety
of people in this remote region, ranging from smugglers to Iraqi Kurds
fleeing a chemical gas attack by President Saddam Hussein.
It has been described as "an epic tale of three generations of
displaced Kurds adrift in the mountains".
The film itself has received somewhat mixed reviews so far, with some
critics predicting it will not attract the same kind of enthusiasm as The
Apple. Nevertheless, the director's youth and her colourful background
mean that she is receiving a huge amount of media attention.
Samira Makhmalbaf is the daughter of one of Iran's best-known film
directors, Mohsen Makhmalbaf. In his youth, her father was an Islamic revolutionary
who was jailed for stabbing a policeman. After being released from jail
he became a propagandist film-maker for the leader of the 1979 Islamic
Revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini.
In later years, the director has been quoted as saying that the process
of discovering his own artistic voice has mellowed him.
His skills and experience have rubbed off on his family. Samira began
visiting film studios in Tehran at an early age. When she dropped out of
school she badgered her father to begin teaching her about film-making.
This gradually led to full scale teaching sessions on cinema and the
arts, with Mohsen and his artist friends as teachers and Samira and her
friends as pupils.
"After a few times" she said "it was like a private art
school. We learnt about paintings and books and film"
Since then she has travelled the world as a result of The Apple's popularity
- an international success story even by the standards of Iran's globally-acclaimed
film makers. Although the young director is credited with being the creative
force behind her first two features, she acknowledges that her father has
provided practical help and support.
And she may yet face competition from within the family - her younger
sister, Hanna, produced her first short film entitled The Day My Aunt was
Ill, at the tender age of eight.