01 Jun 2015

Come and Go

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Today, June 1st 2015 marked the 11th anniversary of my emigration from Iran to Ireland. I was 23 years of age when I arrived and now I am 34, and a tremendous amount of life-changing events have occurred in the time that has passed, however I do not hold any sentimental feelings towards them. I never valued and never will encourage such a manipulative form of expression. I could be wrong but I feel that any person who emigrates does it for a better set of possibilities that could ultimately lead to a better life. But immigration in itself is a highly complex system and it is one that never reaches an end point, even if you decide to return to the place you came from originally. From the very first day I arrived in Ireland, in 2004, there was only one crucial thought in my head: how do I continue Experimental Film Society (EFS). This was a project that I had started in Iran circa 2000, and my jet lag had not even subsided before I began drawing plans to craft EFS into a highly functional, autonomous film production and screening platform. From the exact date of my arrival I started to work on this notion and I refused to do anything else. I also learned, and again I could be mistaken, that everywhere you go is exactly the same in the case of cinema; there isn’t a country or culture in existence that has a ‘friendly’ or receptive attitude towards the kind of cinema that I like. It is a myth; such a place does not exist. So what can you do? The answer is, like almost all practical solutions in filmmaking, you must build it entirely from scratch yourself.

Naturally, if you work this way then you will pay a heavy price, and as Werner Herzog said about his early experiences, it will be years of humiliation, rejection and alienation. In Iran my subjective conclusion was that people were very much opposed to any experimental/avant-garde efforts in filmmaking, and in Ireland the audience simply did not care. After travelling more, I quickly realised that it is more a common or universal view than one held in any particular place, installing in me an Amos Vogel sensibility: “Oh, you don’t like it? We’ll show it again.”

Another surprise was learning that that the biggest hostility comes from within traditionalist, conservative art-house and experimental circles. The filmmakers and curators installed in these institution-like structures simply want to shut you down. It is pointless to try and change their attitude, so rather than fight over a patch of sodden and trampled earth, in which nothing new will ever grow, your best bet is to find your own little plot and farm it yourself. This is the best defense mechanism, to create deeply personal films for yourself, your colleagues and subsequently an audience.  This short quote from Apichatpong Weerasethakul really made sense to me: “I make films for myself, really, as a form of diary. That’s the priority. But I also share many people’s aversion to the feeling that the filmmaker is trying to outsmart you. It’s better for me to lay myself with the audience, to experience the film together. I try to treat the audience with respect, as equals, experiencing this landscape side by side”. Personally, I have always found some enjoyment in transforming negativity into a positive and insurmountable creative force. I have never been disheartened by any such rejections; in fact they made me work harder. In the beginning it was extremely difficult, but through the years I have found the exact sort of people that I was always hoping to find, in order to transform EFS into a resilient machine.

In filmmaking, ultra-radicalism is a choice that you must carefully decide upon, because it is not simply a way of filmmaking but also a way of living. As Philippe Garrel said: “at times cinema has created my life. At others, it’s partly destroyed it. Carax says that “cinema destroys life.” That’s true, but not exclusively. It’s a dialectic, a movement. It creates an erosion; it eats away at life a little. But in other places, it shores it up”.   

The screenshot is Vai~E~Vem (2003) By João César Monteiro