An Interview with Mehran Tamadon (Director)
The Power of Dialogue
Q: Your film made me realise that Islamic society, which I had always felt from a far, was created by humans just like myself. You stated in this film that you questioned the Bassidji because you wanted to understand them.
MT: That’s correct. In the beginning, I wanted to build a relationship of understanding between us. That’s a little different now. Film’s don’t have that much power. But I do think it’s possible to learn what they think. I endeavored to know the Bassidji in our interviews, and felt I had to have as many scenes where we speak to each other as possible. We filmed little by little, and gradually I waited for them to feel like they wanted to talk more.
Q: Did the Bassidji question you directly?
MT: They asked me almost no questions. They believe they know everything. Even if they have a question, they would not ask a common person like me. They would seek answers enlightened by the Koran, from Islamic specialists. Through the Bassidji I met, I came to know their society. On their side, they came to acknowledge me as a person, but never tried to train their eyes on the society I am a part of.
Q: Was there anything you were afraid of on the shoot?
MT: I was completely absorbed during shooting and didn’t have time for fear. People on a boat, floating on the ocean in the middle of a storm think desperately of only one thing—rowing. They can’t reflect on their situation until they escape the storm. Before shooting this film, I found the Bassidji to be a mysterious group. Of course I felt a vague fear, but that diminished as I shot the film. I became able to look more concretely at what was different between me and them, and what was frightening about them.
Q: Are there any scenes you were attached to?
MT: Every second I shot was a new discovery for me. I am attached to all the scenes, but the one that grips me most among them was the mosque where sobs reverberate in the dark. I went to a prayer gathering and was speaking with the person next to me, and then suddenly the lights went off and prayer began. People I had been speaking with normally instantly burst into tears. I will never forget that shock.
Q: In the beginning of the film I was similarly puzzled by the people sobbing on that old battlefield.
MT: You call it “war” in Japan, but in Iran it’s “national defense.” That difference is important. Iranians don’t think they kill others, or that they engage in war. They are just defending their country to the end. So, the question of whether they defended the country as virtuous men comes from all sides. They don’t detest their adversaries like villains. Even though they fought Iraq for 8 years, when the Americans attacked, people on the Iranian border prepared to accept Iraqis fleeing from the fires of war. It was the same when Iraq invaded Kuwait.
Q: What do you want to say with this film?
MT: No matter who you are speaking to, he or she is also human. No matter the situation, I want you to absolutely believe in the possibility of dialogue. In front of the camera I was only able to interact this much, but there must be possibilities to communicate further. By talking you may get angry. But, that could also be because you find something in your adversary that resembles yourself, which angers you all the more. At any rate, I want you to always be looking for ways to have dialogue.
(Compiled by Arakaki Maki)
Interviewers: Arakaki Maki, Ishii Tatsuya / Interpreter: Takada Forugh / Translator: Kyle Hecht
Photography: Horikawa Keita / Video: Endo Nao / 2011-10-11