A pioneer in filmmaking and literature, Ebrahim Golestan has influenced generations of Iranians in various fields of art for more than half a century. Golestan’s feature film, “Secrets of the Treasures at the Ghost Valley” presents an insightful, thought provoking account of dynamics of various social strata of Iranian society at a historical juncture. In an interview with Ebrahim Golestan, I asked about his views and thoughts decades after the creation of his rarely seen masterpiece.
MSM: There are so many contradictory pieces of information about you on the web. Does this bother you in any way? Do you ever try to clarify any of it?
Golestan: It is true that the Internet is uncontrolled and wide open for anybody to put in and say whatever their fancies dictate. The same is true also for anybody who is searching information for various uses. In my own case, there is a lot of wrong information under my name in the multiple sections of the internet. I have not considered it either my job or even necessary to waste time in correcting mistakes and rumours etc., whether made up intentionally or otherwise, by others concerning myself or my work. If there are serious people who would consider with a degree of seriousness my work and what I have done, and find them worth a certain degree of serious attention, then the expectation is that the efforts should be taken by them to find the correct and the true. I should not and would not and do not act as my own publicist and PR man, spending or wasting my time as corrector of mistakes and the denier of lies concerning myself.
MSM: “Secrets of the Treasures at the Ghost Valley” has been described in many ways by many people, how would you describe it?
Golestan: Not as a caricature of time, but a tongue in cheek telling of a story, the story is tragically true. This film is a sad film account and prediction of the sad downfall and dispersal of positive opportunities for a rightful, talented but blind, thoughtless and verbose group of people. I had already left Iran, my country, but I felt the compelling need to go back and say what I had to say. It could not be a funny film or account. Not a caricature of a situation so sadly, badly mismanaged by all concerned. The twisted image was the image of a twisted situation.
MSM: Are you happy with the result? Do you feel you said what you had come back to say?
Golestan: The film was intentionally made for general public’s easy access. It was intended to be a kind of pamphlet to illustrate a society in a particular time. I tried to say what I wanted to say through the repartees and whatever is said and exchanged by the characters – Just a position of various outlooks, intents, and hopes. I tried to gather the variety of points of views and let them be heard, let their footprints be left in the lowly, slowly shifting sandy course of the narrative.
I was after producing my own witness statement. And I was aware and careful and in need of precautionary attention towards the adverse conditions and possibilities inside which I lived and wanted to work. This was as far as my side of saying —or showing—was concerned.This was, and always is, one side of the engagement. The other is the side of the receivers, the addressees that are expected to understand—the public, the audience, the viewers and readership.
MSM: Do you think the audience received your message then?
Golestan: When the film was made, a very dear friend of mine who was miraculously clean and honest and, yet, working right at the core of the system of the country, took the initiative of arranging with a cinema owner for the show in their big private hall and invited a crowd that included several ministers, top officers of the Imperial guard and the Police and the Army, and some businessmen. I went along with his decision, and the show took place. The audience laughed and laughed. No one, except the daughter of a retired general, had formed and expressed any hint of having understood, or recognised any semblance between what went on the screen and what in the world of the crowd in the hall. Six years later nearly half a dozen of those who saw the film on that night were on the floor of a different hall, filled full of bullets of the revolutionary firing squad.
MSM: When did you write the novel? Why?
Golestan: The film that was made in 1971/72; it was not adapted from the novel that was to be written in 1973. The novel “Asrar e Ganje Darehye Jenni” was written after the film was made. Fearing the suppression of the film, I had decided to have an alternative record of my thoughts, a memento of my reaction towards the society in which I lived and was witnessing.
At the end of the novel version of “The Treasures…” the Painter looks back at the distant location of the story where bulldozers are busy “clearing” up the site for the new highway, their blades shining and sharp from the distance. And he knows that, closer up, they are dirty and dented; perception of facts, not pessimism.
MSM: How do you wish the future generations to view the film or the novel? What message do you have for them?
Golestan: You need to look at it, or read the novel of it, with the compassion that our present day should urge you to form and to have. It is a representation of the various strata of a society that tore itself apart. It still is, and it still does.