A Podcast with Bahman Farmanara, Filmmaker

Despite his place as one of the founders of socially-conscious and politically subversive Iranian New Wave cinema, Bahman Farmanara is noted as much for the films he didn’t make as for those he did. In fact, until he made the award-winning 2000 film Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine (Booye Kafoor, Atre Yas) Farmanara hadn’t made a film in twenty years.

Rewind to 1979 and the politically-charged Tall Shadows of the Wind – a film about villagers who build a scarecrow that soon becomes their dictator – is banned by the Shah. After the Iranian revolution, the film is released for three days before being banned again, this time by the new regime. Farmanara leaves Iran for Canada in 1980, where for ten years he works as a film distributor and producer because making films in North America is not financially feasible. Then, in 1990, Farmanara is called back to Iran to run his family’s large textile business. For the next ten years, he submits ten scripts to Iranian censors and receives ten rejections. Until, a few days after his last rejection, he comes up with the idea for Smell of Camphor, which is a tongue-in-cheek tragicomedy about a director named Bahman who hasn’t made a film in twenty years. Farmanara ends up playing his own lead (the photo of him above is a still from the movie). In the film, his character says, “For a writer not to write or a filmmaker not to make films is a kind of death,” so it is fitting that the character is working on a documentary about Iranian burial rites and that death is a recurring theme in Farmanara’s work.

Since Smell of Camphor, Farmanara has made two other films, and he was in New York this week for the Film Society of Lincoln Center series, “Storm Warnings: The Films of Bahman Farmanara.” Pars Arts attended several screenings and talked with him about dreams, religion, his films, and Iran:

Pars Arts podcast with Bahman Farmanara
(right-click to download the mp3).

Some notes and more context: There are a few interruptions and the interview starts with us chatting about USC, where Farmanara went to film school. In answer to the first question we posed about the name of the series, Richard Peña, the program director at the Film Society wrote to tell us, “I think Bahman’s films have a certain ‘lightning rod’ quality to them–they seem to be good indicators of feelings and disturbances simmering just below the surface of daily life.” This interview with Bahman Farmanara was recorded live at the Walter Reade Theater on Monday, 1/29/07, by Sepideh Saremi. Many thanks to the Film Society and Mr. Farmanara. Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine, is the only Farmanara film available on Netflix at this time.