An Interview with Bahman Kiarostami (Director)
Filmmaker’s View on Afghans Leaving His Country
Q: I was surprised that the immigration officers’ interviews with Afghanistan migrant workers were so congenial—sometimes chatty, sometimes confiding.
BK: Normally, immigration control is about routine questioning, fingerprinting, and passport check, but in their case there is hardly any documented data. Many people have no identity papers and even if there were records, sometimes the fingerprint data will not match, as you see in the film the man whose fingerprints were disfigured from handling concrete at construction sites. The records cover only one tenth of all workers. From this lack of data and papers, the officers have no choice but to talk to the immigrants on various topics to gather information about them. This is how that unique atmosphere came to be.
In the film, I have used conversations that are particularly humorous or witty, but I would say Afghans are in general very good-humored and light-hearted.
Q: Was it easy to get permission to film in the border camp?
BK: I simply applied and got the permission. After the 2017 sanctions by the United States, the value of Iranian currency plunged and the economy was hit by inflation. Foreign workers were going back home and this became a national issue. I would guess that the Ministry of Interior wanted to know what’s happening at the border control, what are the workers thinking and why do they want to go home. Moreover, I think the authorities wanted the international society to hear about the problems that Iran is facing, because Iran hardly gets any support from the United Nations and other institutions that usually provide for countries that accommodate refugees.
Q: Did you decide to film the border camp after Iran fell into economic crisis?
BK: I’ve been covering Afghan refugees in Iran long before the economic crisis, and have published two photo books (Photo Riahi, Golshahr). That’s why I knew that they were moving back home and wondered why, since coming to Iran surely had not been easy. I personally pondered whether Iran had done something wrong to them. They face limitations on school education and the right to deal in real estate; they work in hazardous jobs that Iranian nationals avoid, and under unfair conditions too. I can imagine there are people among the Iranian public with a guilty conscience.
Q: The film is peppered with Bob Marley’s song Exodus—are you a Bob Marley fan?
BK: I’ve always liked Bob Marley. Since I’d wanted to use music I normally listen to, it was lucky for me that in this case the topic of the music and the film matched.
Q: What do you think about the Afghan migrants’ complaints about Iran that we hear during the border interviews?
BK: Some have endured much worst experiences but toned down their speech because of the video camera. I feel for their suffering. If I were able to present the truth as it is, perhaps some day a decision-maker would see the film and say “Let’s solve the problem.” I don’t want to sound pompous and claim to be able to change the state of things, but as a filmmaker that’s my hope as I make my work.
(Compiled by Oshita Yumi)
Interviewers: Oshita Yumi, Morisaki Hana / Interpreter: Takada Forugh / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Sato Hiroaki / Video: Sato Hiroaki / 2019-10-13