Crossing The Screen presents: Short Film Artist #1: Ali Asgari


Starting today, the Blog of CROSSING THE SCREEN is introducing a new series of interviews with some of the most acclaimed international filmmakers who have distinguished themselves in the art of short filmmaking.

Our first interview is with Iranian Director Ali Asgari.

(The original version of the interview is in Italian. Please click here, if you want to read it in Italian)

Ali Asgari was born in Tehran, Iran. He is a graduate of Cinema in Italy and an alumnus of Berlinale Talent Campus 2013. His short films were screened in more than 500 festivals around the world and won more than 100 awards.
His short film “More than Two Hours” gained 80 awards worldwide and was in competition at the Cannes Film festival 2013 and Sundance Film Festival 2014. In 2014, his short “The Baby” was premiered in competition at the Venice Film festival. His latest short, “The Silence“, co-directed with screenwriter Farnoosh Samad, is his first film made out of Iran and had its world premiere in competition at the last Cannes Film Festival 2016, last May.

‘The Silence’ tells the story of young Fatma and her mother, Kurdish refugees in Italy. During a visit to the doctor, Fatma has to translate for her mother her serious medical condition, but instead of translating the truth, the child remains silent.

Ali, what was the origin of ‘The Silence’?

This short film has a close relationship and was inspired by our own real lives. We moved to Italy to attend the university and, being ‘migrants’ ourselves, we have many past memories that have inspired us.
We wanted to tell a story that has a connection with communication because it has a strong symbolic meaning for us. Mastering a language plays an important role in communication between human beings, but in the context of migration, it plays an even more vital role. With this short, we wanted to explore the condition of migrants, but not with regards to their journey to Europe or the difficulties they face getting there, but the challenges of their new lives in a foreign country.
Moreover, we also wanted to focus on migrant children, because they are the real silent witnesses of what is happening around them.

You said you moved to Italy to attend an Italian university. Why did you choose Italy?

I love Classic Italian films and, for me, Italy has always been (and still is) a great source of inspiration for Art, and especially Cinema. When I decided to leave Iran to study abroad, Itay was among my first choices, so I decided to go.
Also, I had a few friends there and I spoke a little bit of Italian.

You have always shot your films in Iran and ‘The Silence’ is your first “Italian” film. Are there more stories to be told in Tehran or in Rome?

Stories are everywhere, but a Director has to choose the ones the are nearest to him and then the ones that deserve to be told. Being an Iranian, it’s easier for me to tell stories that belong to my own country. When filmmakers make a film, they don’t just shoot a film but they needs to depict many aspects of the land and of the people they are talking about in their film, like culture, language, environment, etc. and they need to know all these elements very well.


Why are most of the main characters in your films women?

I don’t have a precise answer to that. When I get an idea that suits me, I don’t think about the sex of the protagonist in advance. I just think about what I would like to express with my story and how to tell it more effectively.
However, there are also a few elements in my life and in my unconscious mind that might have led me toward this choice: I grew up with six older sisters and I always heard their stories and saw their point of views with regards to society, family and people. Maybe this has influenced me a lot.

Your films often deal with Iranian social issues. You shoot your stories with an essential, very detailed style that has many things in common with social realism. Will this lead you to shoot documentaries soon?

I really like documentaries and I always try to use a ‘documentary’ style in my films, but for the time being, I am very busy with a few narrative projects and I don’t think I will make documentaries. Maybe, in the future, I will think about it again.

The Silence

What about your artistic influences? Which film directors do you like?

Well, when directors make films there are many artistic influences for sure. Sometimes they know who has influenced them, but sometimes they don’t and they think they have created everything by themselves. Any form of creation is a mix of our imagination with our subconscious.
I admire many directors, to whom my idea of Cinema is closer to, such as the Dardenne brothers, Michael Haneke and Cristian Mungiu, but I like also some directors with which my films have nothing to share, especially with regards to the shooting style. I am thinking, in particular, about Theo Angelopoulos, Abbas Kiarostami, and Aki Kaurismaki.

What about censorship in Iran? Does it still exist or something is changing? 

In Iran, censorship started when Iranian Cinema was born. It is nothing new. Sometimes it is more evident and sometimes it is less. Then, apart from the government censorship, there is also cultural censorship. The government censorship, for now, is less tight and directors can work with a bit more freedom than, for example, a few years ago, but the rules always change according to the new government. Topics such as sex, religion and politics are the most censored and there is a very tight censorship on them. For other topics, it gets slightly better.

Is there any form of ‘censorship’ in Italy? Are there any topics that are difficult for independent filmmakers to deal with?

I still don’t know Italian Cinema very well, but I think that ‘censorship’ is not just when a government prevents you from making a film or from publishing a book. There is also a more subtle form of censorship that takes place, for example, when powerful lobbies manipulate directors from a form of Artistic Cinema to more mainstream forms of entertainment. In Italy, there is no official censorship but it seems to me that there is some sort of ‘influence’ that leads young filmmakers to make less and less creative and artistic films. It is almost a form of self-censorship to make kind of films they don’t really like to make.

Last but not least. Why ‘short’ films? Are short films still relevant today?

I think that short films are a very important medium. No matter how long a film is, what matters is that directors manage to say what they need to say. Sometimes, it takes two hours and sometimes just fifteen minutes. It’s much more important the effect on the audience.
Unfortunately, there are many directors who make shorts just to build experience or to ‘cut their teeth’. Some people don’t recognise the importance of shorts as a medium, but, as we all know, many important festivals regard them as crucial and put them in specific sections during the events. Luckily they understand the importance of short films.

© Crossing The Screen 2016

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