Interview with Samira Makhmalbaf:
Q: A bomb was thrown at you while making the film Two-Legged Horse.
Samira: Yes we were shooting in north Afghanistan in the city of Sarpol. It was our 40th day of shooting. The scene took place in the old bazaar. We had begun shooting since 7 o’clock in the morning. Many extras were working with us. For example, little boys riding donkeys passing across the frame or men passing by on horses or carts in the bazaar. Right in the middle of such a bustling bazaar a hand bomb was thrown in front of our camera. Later by rewinding and forwarding the frames that recorded the moment of explosion it became clear that the hand bomb was an offensive war grenade were used in group killings. The explosion resulted in severe injuries of the extras present on the scene mostly children and groups of people who were watching and my assistants who handled the extras.
Q; How did you feel after the explosion?
Samira: I was shocked at first. I didn’t realize anything for a few minutes. Even our photographer who was shooting the scene was shocked and the explosion happened right next to him. After a few moments the injured were screaming and one by one they fell on the ground. Blood was all over the ground and the severely injured wanted help. Farid, one of my assistants was critically injured and he was making a will and worried about his mother. We were giving him artificial respiration and asking hospital address from people. But there was no surgery unit at the hospital either. Some were almost dying right in front of us. Only on the charge that they had appeared in cinema or were accompanying us. Unfortunately, right after the explosion the camera had turned off and did not record what we saw. This hand bomb had exploded into 80 pieces, each like a bullet thrown at our group, extras and people. Later, I saw that the umbrella above the camera was full of holes and if the horse that sadly lost his life had not absorbed the shrapnel there would have been more human casualties. An innocent horse became victim of humans.
Q: Who threw this bomb?
Samira: It still remains a question for me. Who and why? I ask myself why don’t they let us make films in our own country? Why do they throw bombs at our camera in Afghanistan? Why do they offer money to the head of a festival in Italy not to screen my father’s film? Are these and other incidences that I can not mention all related? It is only clear that whoever threw the bomb intended to terrorize. Whose benefits are we jeopardizing by our filmmaking?
Q: Was your father present on the scene?
Samira: Ironically, it happened on the day that my father came on the scene. Why didn’t it happen the previous days when he wasn’t there?! This bomb was aimed at a specific target. A deadly bomb with a 5 meter casualty radius from every side. This was not a bomb intended to just destroy regardless of who gets killed.
Q: Where were you standing at the time of explosion?
Samira: Next to the camera.
Q: Did you see the bomber?
Samira: I didn’t see him throwing the bomb but the extras that were injured saw him rise from the roof top, pull the safety pin, throw it at us and run away. This is the same person who as an extra among others was around us for two hours.
Q: Did you continue with shooting after the explosion?
Samira: First we transferred the injured to a hospital in another city an hour away from Sarpol. Then the Swedish UN forces that had arrived in town advised us to leave town immediately without informing anyone before another attack and more casualties happened. We went to another city. The whole group wanted to continue on with the shooting so as to stop those who had ordered the bombing from reaching their goal. We continued to shoot for a few more days but we felt threatened again and although 85% of the work was finished but we stopped it.
Q: What happens to the rest of the film?
Samira: The film will be made but don’t ask when and where.
Q: Has the situation in Afghanistan become unsafe? It is said that the Taliban are returning.
Samira: A bomb explosion doesn’t imply that a country is unsafe. I can not make judgments on a country’s security beyond this incidence. Besides, I am not an Afghan affairs expert but since in the past years I have traveled there so often I have seen the changes. Thousands of new roads have been built. Ruined buildings in big cities are being renovated by immigrants returning home but it is evident that the countries that have invaded Afghanistan have not done any significant work towards its development. For example, the millions of immigrants who have returned from Iran and Pakistan are trying to leave for work again. On the other hand, western politics on Afghanistan is twofold to the extent that Afghan people believe Taliban is no one but the American soldiers. They defeat or activate Afghans as they wish and this way they justify their presence in the region. About the return of Taliban, the question is how would a car move if you don’t put fuel in it? Well, who puts fuel in Taliban and al-Qaeda engine that they can still move? Taliban and al-Qaeda is another name for the hidden war between nations. In my view Taliban is a name with a different meaning every day. To make a low budget artistic film we need permissions and facilities from the countries. How can the Taliban go on living without the support of some countries?
Q: Why did you make the film in Afghanistan?
Samira: For two reasons. First, that they did not let me make my film in my country. Secondly, Afghanistan speaks my own language and we share the same roots. I connect more directly to the actors I direct in my film otherwise the Two-Legged Horse is a human story and can happen anywhere.
Q: Talk about the story of your film.
Samira: I don’t like to get into details because 15 percent is left to be made and I f I tell the details it will loose its energy. Let me say this much that I am searching to discover human relationships. I agree with the sentence that anywhere there are two people one rules and the other obeys. I am after finding the reason. For me this film is a discovery in two people’s relationship.
Q: Was your father supposed to make this film?
Samira: My father wrote the script. He gives me his best stories. This is part of his fatherhood.
Q: Five years have passed since the making of your last film, Five in the Afternoon. What were you doing all this time?
Samira: Finding subjects that excite me to want to make a film is hard for me and takes time.
Q: Why didn’t you make this film in digital format?
Samira: I felt that the subject demanded the texture of negatives.
Q: You were not allowed to make your film in Iran. Where do you live now?
Samira: In Iran. I am used to being there. I have my roots and culture there. But my father says that he is a citizen of cinema and his country is where he can make films. They say when Marco polo traveled the world over he was first excited to come back to his hometown Venice but once he arrived in the city he realized that he belonged to the road not to his country. My heart belongs to Iran and my dad’s heart to the road. Perhaps, I am his past and he is my future. He may return to Iran some day. My dad is not the only person in the world on self exile.
Q: Will you go to Afghanistan again?
Q: Aren’t you afraid?
Samira: I am but I don’t run away from my fears. To me, making every film is welcoming some kind of fear. Fear of the film that will be born. And I don’t know whether it is a disgrace or an honor. But I know one thing and that is I don’t want anyone to die for the sake of my film. Not even an insect. And now I am so sorry that some people were wounded in my film and a horse lost his life.
Q: Is there freedom in Iran today?
Samira: My grandmother has come down with asthma because of Tehran’s bad air. Whenever she feels breathless she curses the air in Tehran. I have my own scale to measure freedom. One is the possibility of making films. They did not give me permission to make my film in my own country. If rejecting film scripts is called freedom, then we have a lot of it.
Q: Why do you make films?
Samira: I want to soothe human pains and sufferings by my films. I believe many of these sufferings stem from human thinking. We are what we think. Cinema can change thoughts. That’s why I am in cinema. This is the human and social aspect of the subject. But it does have a personal dimension too. I think life is void and everyone fills it in their own way. I do it with cinema. This is the only amusing doll remaining for me from my childhood.