Culture Events Film & Television Interviews: Events Interviews Massoud Bakhshi Tehran Anar Nadarad Tehran Has No More Pomegranates
by Pars Arts
Experimental documentary Tehran Has No More Pomegranates is coming to L.A. this week, with two screenings each on Wednesday and Thursday at the Landmark in West LA, at 7pm and 9pm (details at Sociarts). Watch the film’s opener above, and find out more about the film and its director, Massoud Bakhshi, in our Q&A below:
Pars Arts: The narrative context of Tehran Has No More Pomegranates – the “musical, historical, comedy, docu-drama, love story, experimental film” you’ve created – is a report you’re writing that explains why it’s not complete. This self-reflexivity – referring to the process of creating the film, within the film – continues throughout. Can you talk a bit about why you decided to couch the story in this context and format?
Massoud Bakhshi: Personally, I am fascinated by form in cinema, and “film in film” or “making of” has always been a wonderful plattform for any narrative film to me. And I think here in Iran, stories behind the camera are more interesting than those in front of it.
PA: The idea of a story or film not being complete or finished seems especially appropriate for a story about a big city, because they’re so dynamic. It took you five years to edit the film: how many iterations of the film did you go through, and how did you know when you were done?
MB: I am always working with a script, no matter if it’s fiction or documentary. I had the complete story of this film in my hand in 2000! And then I changed everything in shooting and especially in editing. I think a good film never ends -it continues because it remains with its audience. But this film is “unfinished” in its form because I think nobody would be able to finish a film about Tehran!
PA: I read that you were really limited by the equipment available to you to create the film (namely, a camera that didn’t record sound), and that’s partly why even the footage that’s not archival has a retro feel. In fact, for a person that doesn’t live in Iran, it can be somewhat difficult to tell if some of the color footage is archival or not. Is that something you were going for all along? Do you think you would have approached this film differently or had a vastly different result with different equipment? How much did the limitations of your equipment help or inspire (or interfere) in shaping the story you told?
MB: I think limits make young people more creative, especially here in Iran. I had lots of problems getting 35 mm stock, because everybody asked “Why are you making this film in 35mm and not in video?” But from the very beginning I wanted to make this film in 35mm, because I wanted to give life to dead, archival film footage and I was quasi-sure that I was making a film that captures the face of a very changing city and society and wanted to transmit this picture for future generations. The fact that we couldn’t record voice forced me not to use 25 hours of interviews I had recorded in video, blow them up in 35mm, and to make myself content in using the 35mm rushes I had in a different way.
PA: There are sizable doses of both history lesson and nostalgia in this film, particularly in the narration of Nosrat Karimi and in all the different music you used, which I imagine resonate a great deal with Iranians around the world. Have the reactions of the Iranian diaspora to this film been markedly different from those of audiences in Iran?
MB: Well, I saw different reactions in different places, but among Iranians, young people and old people both loved the film and its music. I think the different music used in this film evokes many different time periods in Tehran and that’s why people from different generations like it.
PA: You’ve said that your aim with Tehran Has No More Pomegranates is to hold up a mirror and reflect back a true image of Tehran and the country at large. The movie seems to be the most critical of the city in certain scenes that are cut off, or when your voiceover clearly contradicts the reality of the visuals on the screen – and in fact your voice seems that of the classic unreliable narrator (or at least the narrator that’s not playing it straight). In fact, the only character that does seem reliable is Jafar, who emerges throughout as a sort of protagonist. Most of the other characters are just visual portraits. How did you settle on him as the truth-teller in the film?
MB: I think he found us himself and he put himself into our film. From the beginning, I was telling myself not to shoot poverty and the poor so that I won’t be accused of making a “geda-geraphy” film (a the term invented for filmmakers focusing on those subjects so they can go to festivals with their films). But Jafar was an exception. He is not acting – he’s just telling the truth about himself and about the city, and that’s why he’s a key in the film. I shot him for just five minutes and I think I used all five minutes in the film!
I ‘d love to screen the film one day in his presence, and I know that he’s still wandering the streets of Tehran, looking for someplace to sleep and something to eat.