About “Makhmalbaf Film House”
By: Mohsen Makhmalbaf
June 7, 2000
In early 1996, Samira Makhmalbaf left ordinary school to study cinema. Learning cinema from the available universities was the worst option. Iranian universities have rarely been successful in teaching cinema, as none of the famous and important filmmakers ever graduated from such schools. Forough Farrokhzad who made “Home is black” (“Khaneh Siah Ast”), the female poet who passed away at the age of 30 and made in my opinion the best Iranian film having effected the contemporary Iranian cinema, never went to a college to study cinema. Amir Naderi made the important films of “The Runner” and “Water, Wind, Dust” never went to college. He started in photography and the college he attended was the “difficulties of life”. Kiarostami studied Graphic Arts. Mehrjui studied philosophy and Beyzayi never went to any college to learn. The days others spend in college, I spent in jail as a political prisoner. Thus, to train filmmakers, some other school was need, which we established: The Makhmalbaf Film School.
With 14 feature film, 3 short films, 28 books and 22 film editings, I was the most active Iranian filmmaker at that time. My mind was full of ideas, and my heart bursting from the thrill of creation. Having just finished making “A Moment of Innocence”, my favorite film, I stopped working and spent four years on teaching the arts of cinema. Instead of creating films, I was going to create filmmakers.
I informed the Iranian ministry of culture of my plans to accept 100 students of cinema through a selection exam, and to use new methods to train them for 4 years. But the ministry of culture of the time did not accept. They feared the generation of a new wave of young filmmakers making films in favor of democracy, thus officially announced that one dangerous filmmaker like me was enough for one country and that one hundred others like me were not needed. As an example, they expressed that if the human population (claiming to be movie fans) who striked in the “Salam Cinema” were to be trained as filmmakers, there would be no way to keep the Iranian Cinema in control. And so we established the Makhmalbaf Film School with eight of my family and friends, and having no place to make a school, used our own house as school.
The school lasted 8 hours a day, which sometimes extended to as long as 16 hours. The oldest student was one of my friends who later filmed “The Apple” and “The Door”. The youngest one was Hana, my eight year old daughter.
Our curriculum was not limited to cinema, it also included parts life and art. For example in sports, it consisted of cycling, swimming and skating. A filmmaker needs to be physically strong. From everyday life, we instructed on driving, traveling alone outside the country, urban navigation, cooking, computer science, and foreign language, as a filmmaker needs methods of communication. The following were subjects were also included: From other arts, an introduction to painting, photography, poetry and music, and from cinema, Film Economics, Production Programming, Screenplay Writing, Acting, Camera Operation (Filming), Editing, Sound Mix, Decoupage, History of Cinema, and Film Analysis.
Our method of training included focusing on one subject every month. For example, we would only skate and ride bicycles for eight hours a day and for one month so by the end of the month, every single student, even eight year old Hana, could easily cycle for a distance of 50 kilometers. Later, we would spend a month only flipping pages of painting books, introducing students to the painting styles used all over the world. We would spend a month on the local Iranian music, introducing students to the most primal tones of different Iranian regions. Four months would be spent behind the editing table, learning how to edit films. So, a minimum of one month with a minimum of 8 hours per day would be concentrated on each subject. During this period of 4 years, several films were produced as practical training. Marziyeh, my wife, made a three-episode film titled “The day I became a woman” . Samira made “The Apple” and “The Blackboard” . Maysam who majored in Photography and Editing, handled the still photography of “The Apple”, “The Silence” , “The Blackboard”, and “The day I became a woman” while editing two short films: “The Door” and the first episode of “The day I became a woman” and making a video production about Samira and her filmmaking which he titled “How Samira made The Blackboard” . Hana used the video camera to make a short film titled “The day my aunt was ill” . And they all experienced being an assistant director in “The Silence” which I directed. As all these films were produced in an office that was none other than our house, “Makhmalbaf Film House” was named as the producer of these titles. In fact, the “Makhmalbaf Film House” is the production department of the “Makhmalbaf Film School”. In one house, we established both a school and a film production company, but further strikes of fate awaited this house. “A Moment of Innocence” was detained by the government. This was the first film I produced by taking a loan and I had promised to sell my house to pay the debts, was the film to be detained. And that’s what happened. The ministry of culture told me to cut out some of the scenes if I wanted the film to go to the screens. I went home and discussed the matter with my family, I asked them if they preferred owning a house, or our own thought and art? One option was to let “A Moment of Innocence” be cut to pieces, as our thought and art would be, yet be the owners of a house. Another option was to sell the house and return the debt my film had caused, let the film be permanently detained, but not cut into pieces and lost its meaning and sense. All member of my family, including Hana who was the youngest one, said they didn’t want the house and that owning the name would suffice. And that we would use the name of the house from that moment on, to title all our productions. That is how we sold the “Makhmalbaf House”, product of 15 years of our filmmaking and writing, to choose the name of “Makhmalbaf Film House” as our only asset at the time as well as our permanent mark. From the mentioned school, one student graduated as a Cameraman, another as a Sound Recordist, one as a Set Designer, three as Directors, and one as a Still Photographer and an Editor.
Tributes paid to Makhmalbaf Film House across the world:
- Hong Kong Independent Film Festival, Hong Kong 2014
- Tbillisi Film Festival, Georgia, 2012
- Kochi Film Festival, India, 2012
- Tiblisi Film Festival, Gorgia, 2006
- Europe Asia Film Festival, kazakhstan, 2006
- Munich Film Festival, Germany, 2006
- Yerevan Film Festival, Armenia, 2006
- Retrospective of Makhmalbaf Film House in House of cinema in Bishkek, kyrgyzstan, 2005
- Osian's - Cinefan, the Asian Film Festival, India 2004
- National Gallery and American film institute, USA 2002
- City of London 2002
- Moscow International Film Festival, Russia 2001.
- Museum of Fine Arts, Boston , USA 2000.
- Pusan International Film Festival, South Korea 2000.
Makhmalbaf Film House International Awards:
- Award for the committed supoort in defense of human right of women, Terre des Femmes (Tuebingen) Film Festival, Germany, 2010
- The prize of The Golden cycle, Vesoul, France 2009.
- The prize of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA 2000 for the presentation of the first Ilex Prize for excellence and innovation in cinema.