Kiarostami: Silent Moments
A tribute by Gelareh Kiazand
Filmmaker Gelareh Kiazand presents a series of short films in tribute to the late Abbas Kiarostami, who passed away in July 2016, entitled Kiarostami: Silent Moments. The following works were produced in workshops run by Kiarostami himself.
KIarostami: Silent Moments
As I think about what to write for this tribute, Abbas Kiarostami's voice keeps coming back. 'Keep it simple and concise' he would always tell me. He influenced his students and colleagues, who always became his friends, in a way that made his lessons naturally become part of their daily life.
Kiarostami had a role of mentor and uncle to me. His guidance pushed me to find my own advice by turning my queries into analogies. For many Iranians, metaphors and riddles are a common cultural language through which to look at life. He steered away from complexity and was inspired by haikusand poetry, particularly that of the modernist poet Sohrab Sepehri. Clarity was key to him. My chaotic storytelling would often drive him insane. But it was our shared passion for the endless roads that kept our friendship strong. That was where we would constantly discover the stories that reflected life's metaphors. And that was where I received my lessons in perception.
I met Kiarostami in 2006. I remember the day vividly. I was working as a photographer on a project that involved 15 Iranian directors making short films about Persian carpets. It was my dream job at the age of 25. I had just finished work on filmmaker Majid Majidi's set, rushing off to Kiarostami's location. I had only been living in Iran for 3 years and was just getting to know the cinema. I knew of Kiarostami through his films Taste of Cherry and The Traveler, but through reviews written in international magazines.
When I arrived, Kiarostami was sitting on in the corner of a carpet shop looking down at yellow-and-red-hued carpets. After my nerves subsided I went to say hello trying to make eye contact through his dark glasses. He replied in a quiet, deep voice. Not wanting to disturb him, I sat nervously on the opposite side of the carpet and started photographing. His stillness and the emptiness of the store emboldened every detail surrounding us.
Through the next few days, alongside Kiarostami's small team, Arash Sadeghi, with whom I was working on a behind-the-scenes documentary and I followed Kiarostami through the bazaars. He was still searching for the right carpet for his short film. I always kept a distance, observing how he asked his questions. On the last day of his shoot, I was taking a shot of his printer, which required me to stand on a chair. He quietly walked up beside me and held my side so I wouldn't fall. Once I came down, he said,'You are a good worker, it is important to be a good worker.' That was the start of a 10-year bond that influenced the way I paced myself through life. I viewed him mainly as a 'life-maker' rather than a film-maker. His stories reflected authenticity, holding on to moments between scenes and dialogues that usually get cut out. He would bring our attention to a floating stick slowly being washed away from shore or the roads that hold the secrets of many travelers.
2006 was also when he started his filmmaking workshops in Iran. The first one was free, supported by the cultural institute, Karnameh, and managed by Hamideh Razavi, a good friend and daring artist and filmmaker who too recently passed away, in December 2015. Once a week, we would gather for a full day at Saad Abad, one of the Shah's palaces. About 35 of us would sit on the grass by the tall oak trees with crows occasionally joining in. In the morning we would all pitch ideas, the feedback from him and the other students would determine if the film would be made or not. When he didn't like a pitch he would pause, his knees would move around as his hand searched for a position, and then he would ask questions to determine the film's message. For him, a story was always about clarity and detail. Every frame had to speak on its own. Every prop, character and word had to have a valued place in telling the story. He warned us of the overuse of detail in portraying our stories, he called this noise. If a story is clear, not a lot needs to be said and what takes away from clarity is excess noise.
In these workshops we made long-lasting friendships. Hundreds of us gathered at Kiarostami's funeral last July. With tears we reminisced the workshops, our one day a week of complete creative freedom. Besides being an international renowned filmmaker and photographer, Kiarostami tutored about 700 students in Iran alone. Anyone who wanted to speak to him had to call him before or precisely at 9am, which was when he started his work day. He enjoyed being creative with people, dedicating hours and days assisting those who sought his guidance. He took his responsibilities seriously and his promises were always delivered, no matter what, even in his sickness. 'Never offer help or suggestions if it requires your support to fulfill it till the end, you cannot always be there to see it through. Only give as much as you can be responsible for,' he would always say. He was a truly dedicated man who, even in his international reverence, never forgot his students or his home.
The winding road, the picturesque hills with the lone tree and the 9am hour, now hold an empty space. Like his films he had a simple presence, but filled with so much detail, depth and life.
– Gelareh Kiazand