Magazine article Screen International

Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the President

Magazine article Screen International

Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the President

Article excerpt

Iranian director-in-exile Mohsen Makhmalbaf has The President screening in the Gala Presentation section of this year's BIFF, while Hassan Solhjou's documentary Daddy's School, about him and his filmmaking family, screens in Wide Angle.

In addition, the academic BIFF Forum will hold a session entitled "Mohsen Makhmalbaf And The Truth Of Cinema", for which the director will deliver the keynote speech.

The President, which opened the Venice Film Festival in August, tells the story of a dictator ruling at the expense of his people's misery and the perilous journey he embarks on with his grandson as they flee to safety after a coup d'état.

Initiated by Makhmalbaf Film House in London, the film is a Georgia-UK-France-Germany co-production with France's BAC Films, the UK's F&ME, Georgia's 20 Steps Production and Germany's Brümmer & Herzog Filmproduktion. BAC Films also handles the film's distribution.

About The President - what made you want to do this film?

The script for The President was written and re-written several times, and the story went through several incarnations. But the initial spark came about eight years ago in Afghanistan, as I overlooked the city of Kabul from the rubble of the destroyed Darul Aman Palace.

At that time a thought suddenly entered my mind: What if, when a president was embracing their child and looking out their big palace window over "their" city, the President suddenly decided to entertain his child through a demonstration of absolute power: by turning all the lights, in the entire city, on and off, just for fun? And what if those lights that were shut off during the game suddenly did not turn back on? What happens then? So this imaginary scenario was the initial spark that later led to the story of The President.

Later on, in the heat of the Arab spring, I rewrote the script for The President. I learned a lot by following the news of the different revolutions taking place at the time. I witnessed how these dictators could singlehandedly create national tragedies, which resulted in their overthrow and a revolution. And I also saw how the violence of those revolutions created further new tragedies, and many times led to new forms of dictatorship, violence and tyranny.

Why did you decide to set the film in a fictional country?

The film echoes events that have taken place in many countries in the past, and are unfortunately likely to take place again in the future. There are some common threads that exist, no matter where the events take place. First there is a dictator, who behaves with impunity and oppresses the people of the country. This eventually leads to the collapse of the dictatorial regime. Then, once the regime has fallen, there is further violence involved during the revolution. And here again there are certain common consequences stemming from this revolutionary violence.

My goal was to craft a portrait of all of these elements into one single story: a story that could take place anywhere. And what I have also tried to do with this film is provide a dual insight into these kinds of hardships and tragedies. On the one hand the tragedy imposed on the people by those behind the dictatorships. And then on the other side, for those behind the violent revolutions, I wanted to show the blood and new tragedy that can occur as a result of the revolution.

There is furthermore a personal element to this choice, because after a decade of living in different countries, my heart no longer beats for only one country. Hearing tragic news from Syria affects me just as much as hearing of the events and tragedies that are taking place in Libya, Egypt, Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan. Or any other place in this world.

Dictators do not give up their power easily and without a fight. And people in search of democracy will unwillingly resort to violence to reach their goal. But soon after the moment of victory, they are often very soon faced with a new tragedy, caused by those same violent acts that represented a victory just a little while earlier. …

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