1- As a child I was raised with my grandmother’s teachings and believes. She was a very kind human being very religious and against cinema. She strongly believed that those going to cinema would be denied paradise.
Being in love with her because of her charisma, I spent my childhood avoiding films and going to cinema. Thinking of it today, I have no regret for three different reasons:
Firstly, the theatres in my childhood were occupied by Hollywood and Bollywood films. One could hardly find an independent or art film on the screen. Therefore I did not miss much by not going to cinema back then.
Secondly, being a cinema virgin when I went to watch film as an adult the film had more effect on me compared to the rest of the audience. It was like someone who is born blind and suddenly in his adulthood he is given the gift of sight and is able to see the light and colours.
Thirdly, not being exposed to so many films as a child, helped me to go my own way in cinema when I started to make film. As my mind and head was still pure in this respect.
2- I was born in a totalitarian state, called Iran, and lived in a very poor area. In my home even having a simple food like bread and something to warm ourselves was a big issue at times. The poverty in my family meant that I had to go to work as a child to earn some bread for myself and my family. As a result until the age of 17, I spent my childhood working in 13 different tough jobs as a labour.
At the age of 15, I started my political fight against dictatorship in my country and I was arrested when I was 17-years-old. I was put into prison, tortured and given the death penalty.
However, since I was under the age of 18, my death penalty was changed to 5 years imprisonment. Having experienced this hardship myself is one of the reasons why throughout my works as a writer/filmmaker I remember and identify the people who are suffering from the poverty and dictatorship.
3- Despite the fact that I did not go to university and didn’t even have the chance to get the high school diploma, but my constant pleasure in life was reading books. During my years in prison I read around two thousands books. When I was released from the prison I started to write. In fact my way to cinema was through writing scripts. And I had learned the writing through reading a lot.
4- Iranian government censors its artists, put them in prisons, send them into exile or push them to leave the country.
Due to extreme pressure of censorship on my works I left my country 10 years ago. However, the Iranian government did not stop there and tried to kill me. A few times they sent terrorist to assassinate me over the past couple of years. Even they managed to explode a bomb in front of the camera on our shooting location, which led to the sad death of one person and twenty injuries.
As a result I was forced to change my living place and working locations many times. Until now, I have made film in more than ten different countries including: Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Turkey, Tajikistan, Georgia, Israel, Korea, Italy and United Kingdom.
Living and making film in different countries has thought me that human being on our planet has very similar pains and dreams. And in fact apart from the difference in the language they speak, people are very similar across the world. Therefore, although I was born in Iran but I consider myself as the citizen of the world and when I am making film I think as much about the Japanese, Korean, eastern , western audiences as I think about the Iranians.
5- My two daughter, my son and my wife believed that state classical education in Iran will not help flourish their potential. Despite them witnessing that cinema has put a lot of censorship, governmental and financial pressure on me but seeing my eagerness for creation had led them insisting for entering to the film industry.
Consequently I spent 8 years nonstop to teach my family cinema through theory and practice. And during this time our house had turned to a school and laboratory for filmmaking for them as well as a few others.
Now, all my family members are working in cinema. Although we all work in the same family and through the same system but our films are very different. The reason behind this is that during my teaching I tried to help each one to follow their own talent in cinema. It was like a gardener who expect the red rose to be a red rose and allows the white lily to be a white lily.
6- I have lived in middle east. A place in the world where the suffering from poverty, illiteracy, patriarchy, religious extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism create danger to the lives of everyone on a daily basis. My family and I have tried to shed a light to one of this problems with each film that we make. Not only to show the reality and the problems but are more trying to have an effect and change the situation.
Let me give you an example of one of my films “Afghan Alphabet”: Around 700,000 Afghan children refugee live in Iran. These children were denied the right to go to school for a period of 8 years, as they have entered Iran without a valid entry visa.
In fact these innocent children have runaway from their country to avoid starvation and death during the Taliban regime to seek refuge in the neighbouring country.
I along with my family brought the issue up by making the film Afghan Alphabet. By showing the film to the government of Iran, during Khatami presidency, we managed to change the law in favour of these innocent refugee children. And as a result the following year the door of the Iranian schools were opened to half a million of these children. Today, if I believe that cinema can change the world, it has its roots in these kind of experiences.
7- I have always tried to avoid repetition. In every film I made I have tried to find a new way and form. It has been times that I have made two films in one year but they look very different. For example “Salam Cinema” and “Gabbeh" were made in the same year but in terms of style and subject they are miles away. Owing to the fact that each of them were an attempt to find and create a new form in cinema.
Cinema for me is not something that I learn it once and then keep repeating it. Cinema is a constant recreation.