This interview started with the objective of introducing Festival Cinema Invisible to Iranian, and Middle Eastern independent filmmakers. Yet it quickly expanded into a much longer conversation that encompasses many other motives and causes, which go well beyond a film festival.
However, to keep within the matter at hand, I bring you only a part of this conversation, which relates to FCI. Those who are interested in reading more of these conversations, may follow the future sections on FCI website. They may also join us by sending us their questions, or offering responses as they see fit. May we all contribute, in what and how we can, to the registering and recording of that parts of our cultural and artistic history that is left unrecorded.
Less than a year ago, in such a cold weather, with my last bits of remaining energy, I found refuge with my friend Azin’s house in northern Iran, along with a laptop and few books. A friend’s request from the other side of border had given me an excuse to write a play after so many years. I wrote an outline as well as a few dialogues from a documentary film that I was editing. I sent them for my friend’s review and suggestions. Waiting for his response and reaction to my outline, I sat staring at my inbox when the phone rang.
“Are these dialogues real? What is it about?”
“Yes, they are. It is all part of a documentary film that for some reason has remained unfinished. I sent it because I thought some of it might work for the play we are working on.”
“Forget about the play. Finish the film and send it for the festival.”
“Festival Cinema Invisible.”
“How much time do I have?”
“I can’t do it. I am alone here and cannot do this by myself.”
I hate being ordered, and in such situations I normally have a defensive reaction. But, this time, his voice and these words had a whole different meaning for me. In this voice that same instructive energy existed that some twenty years ago made us friends. Back then, it had urged us to build a working rehearsal studio out of a ruined, uninhabited space. Following this same voice, we climbed ladders with hammers and nails in hand. We demolished and rebuilt. We experienced making the impossible possible. And for the first time, I witnessed a western educated professor of theatre take up a broom before anyone else and climb down the ladder after us all.
Although it didn’t take long for the powers that be to pull down the ladder from under him in a middle of A Midsummer Night’s Dream inside a building called Freedom. I could only hear the sound of his fall, waiting in line along with other audiences.
Twenty years later, I saw him again with a hammer and nails in hands, this time along with a young man, who was ironically named Borna (youth). This time he was transforming his basement into a film-editing studio, helping me to view and work on films I had brought with me from Iran.
I gave him the films along with a pebble I had taken from a river bed in Darake mountain. This was the only gift he asked me to bring him. Like candy, he threw the pebble into his mouth, took a deep breath, choked up, and a river of tears washed his face. I did not wish to console him. He needed to cry. But, even though his tears saddened the rest of us, as he always did, he told a funny story and made us all laugh. The rest of night was spent drinking tea, with dates and enjoying good conversation.
Elahe Golpari: We have always known Mahmood Karimi-Hakak as a theatre teacher and director. Why did you decide to start a film festival?
Mahmood Karimi-Hakak: In the Fall 2011, I was invited to talk about my production of Hamlet IRAN in Montreal, Canada, a play that I had staged the spring before, in which I positioned Shakespeare’s character within the Iranian Green Movement of 2009-10. The conversation shifted to talking about Iran and its youth, a generation for whom I have the utmost respect, and sincerely believe in their wisdom and intelligence. While talking about the Iranian youth, I used few examples from films I had received from some of my Iranian ex-students and friends. These valuable works unfortunately had not have much opportunity to be screened in Iran or out of the country.
At breakfast the next day, my friend and host Khosro Shemirani, himself an active promoter of Iranian culture, asked me to speak more about these films. I told him I had collected some 40-50 films that, except for few private or academic gatherings, I haven’t been able to show to anyone.
“Montreal has a relatively large Iranian community, you know?” He said, “You might want to show a selection of them here.” Not wanting to be forced to make a selection, I asked if we could show them all as a Festival in one weekend perhaps.
“A Festival?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered, “In this way we don’t have to impose our own taste to make a selection, and we could screen them all.” I think we had finished the third or fourth cup of tea when we agreed on a film festival for the coming spring. Now we just had to find a name for it.
EG: So this marked the beginning of Festival Cinema Invisible!
MKH: Yes, Festival Cinema Invisible, FCI.
EG: How did you come up with this name?
MKH: The word Invisible is the heart of our mission in this festival. The films in this festival either have not been screened at all, or if they have, it has been to a limited or select and/or private venues with very small audiences. So, after considering few options, we agreed on Festival Cinema Invisible.
I understand that in English Invisible Cinema an oxymoron; however, not only is Cinema Invisible a more poetic and metaphoric, it also suggests a sense of a forbidden event. In addition, it works in both English and French, which, given the fact that Montreal is a bilingual city, feels more appropriate.
The first FCI took place at Concordia University’s Cinema DeSave in May, 2012, and was warmly received by both Iranian and international film lovers. Therefore, we decided to continue this festival on a yearly basis.
EG: Did FCI receive any financial support from any other entities besides Mr. Shemirani and yourself?
EG: Why not? How could a festival happen without financial support?
MKH: We did it, and it happened!
In fact the first condition Khosro and I set for ourselves was, and still is, to keep FCI completely independent and free from any financial commitment, dependency, affiliation, and/or connection to any and all political or religious entities or organizations. And I can tell you with absolute certainty that as long as I serve as its President and Artistic Director, FCI will maintain this independence and autonomy. Even though we are well aware of the fact that such autonomy might, indeed, cause financial and administrative difficulties, we still prefer to run a small festival with limited possibilities, rather than allow FCI to depend on or align itself with a certain ideology; political, religious, or otherwise.
EG: I do respect your struggle in keeping your independence, but my question is: If some person or organization wanted to help such artistic and cultural event, would you still refuse their help?
MK: Of course not. As long as that individual or organization does not expect anything in return! Witness the support we received from Concordia University (2012), University of Maryland (2013), or The Proctors Theatre (2014). The only reason for supporting FCI is, and should be, supporting Iranian independent filmmakers. And that is the most fundamental goal of Festival Cinema Invisible.
(by Elahe Golpari)