Iranian Filmmaker, Majid Majidi welcomed me
out on his hotel terrace. His wavy reaching hair,
puppy dog eyes, and graying mustache reminded me of
Albert Einstein. I framed and focused, "Smile!" I
shouted, I was in a good mood. But Majid, peered
rather tentatively at the camera. "Smile!" I shouted
again, it didn't occur to me until well into the
interview, that Majid knew a completely different
word for "Smile."
"Could you tie your shoe?" I requested. Then he
smiled. "Shoe" he knew. That's the motif his sweet
film Children of Heaven runs on ... the simple
We moved into the suite; his interpreter, Dr.
Jamsheed Akrami (an accomplished author) and Mr.
Majidi put together some tea and coffee, offering it
to me. We sat in a triangle on the available
furniture. Unsure to whom I ought address my
questions, I began facing Majid, but seeing a blank
expression, I would turn to Jamsheed whose telling
nod gave me the reassurance I needed to continue.
Then, Jamsheed and Majid would converse in a language
as foreign to me as "Smile" must have been to Majid.
Finally, Jamsheed would respond in English:
RA: The bureaucracy and
politics of making films in the States can be quite a
hassle, what is it like making a film in
MM: The government has a monopoly on film
stock and equipment. So every filmmaker has to go to
them to rent these items. The government issues
screening permits for the films, which means they can
ban a film or demand changes in it. They also rate
them on artistic and cultural merits. They reward
A-grade films with rights to advertise on the
government controlled media and screenings at the
best theaters. While C-grade filmmakers can be kept
from making films for a year.
RA: In your film, there are
many scenes in which, the children run through the
narrow streets of a small Iranian village. Were the
passers-by extras? Or did you just shoot these scenes
in unstaged streets?
MM: Actually, we used hidden cameras to
capture the presence of real life. There were some
loose-ends, that is, things that happened that were
like mistakes, but they enhanced the realistic
performance. The cameras were also hidden from the
key actors, again adding to the natural feel. It
actually made filming more difficult and involved,
hiding the camera and crew, but the results were much
more relaxed performances.
RA: How exactly did you get
MM: At the age of twelve, I acted in my
first play. I enjoyed theater and acting, so I
continued. Later, I was given the opportunity to
direct. So I did. From that I wrote and developed my
first film. That, of course, was my most difficult
project. But a filmmaker's first film, is in many
ways his most defining work. Even though there are
many obstacles, there is still no excuse to create a
As we ended the interview, Majid mentioned that I
had the facial features of his countrymen and that I,
in particular, looked much like a friend of his. I
mentioned that he looked like my uncle. By that time,
Majid and I were facing each other as we spoke.
Surprisingly, there was a feeling of family.
Jamsheed's unobtrusive interpretation became like
subtitles to our communication, the sincerity of
The Children of Heaven reflected in it's