Iranian filmmaker Mohammed Shirvani expects more freedom for artists

February 2006 -

An old man bicycles down a sandy path in the desolate landscape. A large red flag is attached to his bicycle. He is carrying a megaphone over his shoulder. The man is Mir Qanbar, candidate in the presidential elections in Iran. Iranian filmmaker Mohammed Shirvani made a tender documentary about him. The film was co-financed by the Hubert Bals Fund. President Mir Qanbar (Raeis jomhur Mir Qanbar) is a humoristic portrait in which Mir Qanbar travels through the Iranian countryside as a true Don Quixote. Limping Seifolla is his Sancho Pancha. He uses his donkey cart to help: the old gentleman has trouble bicycling. The pair approaches farmers and sheep herders, handing out folders. Mir Qanbar promises Seifolla that he will be the Minister of Health.

Still from President Mir Qanbar

"Mir Qanbar’s boundless optimism was very appealing. He has participated in elections five times in the past, but never received more than a few votes," Shirvani explains with a smile. The director is visiting the International Film Festival Rotterdam, where his documentary is being shown after receiving a Japanese award. "I was at the festival in Lugarno together with Mir Qanbar, and people asked him the reason for his useless campaign. His answer was: ‘It’s better to do useless things than to do nothing’. I wish I could have used that in the film."

Shirvani is one of the new generation of directors in Iran, where cinema has gained fame thanks to Makhmalbaf, whose daughter is also a filmmaker, and Kiarostami. "I started making films after the 1979 revolution. Kiarostami was highly influential in his opposition to strict censure applied by the authorities at the time. During the Khatami regime, conditions did not approve: he did not keep his promises. Now we have an ultra right-wing government that, for the record, consists primarily of people like Mir Qanbar, but they are feeling pressure from the people, who long for more freedom. I think that even despite the current president, Ahmadinejad, artists have more freedom now. In Katami’s time, some films could not be shown at the festival in Teheran. Now they can be. I am cautiously optimistic."