(Interview by Tassvir magazine, Feb 1995,
special issue on Salaam Cinema and the centenary of cinema)
Salaam Cinema & Cinema Cinema *
The advantage from our point of view was that, there really was no special planning on this documentary. I had a contract with an Australian producer to make a documentary on Iranian cinema for SBS TV in Australia and Farabi Cinema Foundation in Iran. At first, we tried to have an interview with Makhmalbaf to include in our film, but he refused our invitation.
Finally, after much pursuit and insistence, he said to us, “I’m making a film. You can come on the set. You can be in my film and I’ll be in yours”. In a meeting, which took place the day before filming, for some reason, he was obliged to tell us parts of his story.
Originally, there was an officer who was an applicant for acting, he became involved in the shooting of a fight scene, and these layers of reality and fiction are intertwined in a way that baffles the viewers and leaves them wondering what is happening.
Actually, he wanted to use our real characters, meaning that we appeared in his film as a film crew from Australia. In all the confusion, whenever we asked him, “What’s going on?!” he’d explain into our camera. I concluded that life is always give and take. He would not accept an interview under any circumstances, but once he felt we could be of use to him, quite frankly, he accepted being in our film in exchange for us being in his film.
*Salaam Cinema and my own documentary, both being shot in a very similar situation, have some relation to each other in terms of form and content. In terms of content, we both had some ideas before the shoot, but during the shoot, we were still not clear where we’d be going. In terms of form, it was very unpredictable. On the whole, we were faced with alive phenomenon. Nothing was planned.
I think Mr. Makhmalbaf has worked nicely with the relationship between the form and content in his film, in a way that the combination of form and content, have done the true job of art, which is questioning both form and content. Actually, we were constantly wondering where the film is going. We were wondering what art means for all these applicants of acting. What is cinema for them? Why are these people so interested in it? What is their real life? What are they looking for in cinema that they cannot find in their real life? How do they intend to reach it? What are the boundaries of creativity? What are the boundaries of humanity? What are the boundaries of honesty? The great thing that Makhmalbaf was able to do was to question the content of his own film. He even questioned his own position.
I must say that we have enough material to make a one-hour film from it. We were filming behind the scenes of Makhmalbaf’s Salaam Cinema for his own segment in our documentary on Iranian cinema, which, for some reasons, was never made. This film will be shown separately.
Since I was involved in his film, it’s difficult for me to see its imperfections. But it’s really not important to me if a film has imperfections; what is important (which I noted in this film more than any other), both in terms of form and content, is daring to question anything in the line of art and placing enough value in that questioning.