Thursday, September 15, 2005

A Cry for Understanding From Iran

Veteran Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi was last at the Toronto Film Festival some five years ago to promote his child-based drama Baran. Like many of his films -- The Color of Paradise and Children of Heaven -- Baran is cinematic sentimentality -- beautiful, poetic and heartfelt -- at its best. It was destined to introduce Majidi to larger Western audiences via a sizable release from its distributor Miramax Films. But the U.S. terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, put a freeze on films from the Iranian New Wave and other Middle Eastern countries. At that time, major U.S. film companies backed off from releasing the newest films from Majidi and his Iranian colleagues despite the apolitical nature of their stories. The Iranian New Wave, arguably the most significant film movement of our time, lost its footing in the West and has since failed to regain its stature.

Majidi, a soft-spoken man with a round face, thick gray mustache and thicker belly, is back at Toronto this year with The Willow Tree, about a Tehran University professor (Parvis Parastui) who regains his eyesight through surgery after suffering blindness at age 8. The Willow Tree is Majidi at the height of his storytelling powers: visually beautiful, modest with its dialogue and rich in life lessons. It is humanistic and intentionally gentle. Yet, because Majidi is from Iran and the tense politics between his homeland and ours, Majidi is unsure about the chances of his film being seen by U.S. audiences. His message for the U.S. is one of tolerance.

“In Iran people are waiting for positive signs from America,” Majidi says, speaking with the help of the film’s producer. “They (Iranian people) are hoping there will be positive signs. But they (United States) think Iran is a small country. How can we have dialogue? How can they expect us to have a positive and open view when everyday they treat us like nothing?”