A personal tribute to Abbas Kiarostami
Seifollah Samadian, a close friend of the acclaimed Iranian filmmaker, shares his memories of ‘a very special man’
The emotions are still raw when Seifollah Samadian begins to talk about his friend and colleague Abbas Kiarostami. The acclaimed Iranian filmmaker – who died in July – was, Samadian says, a man like no other.
“I don’t think a creation like him can come around more than once in a century,” says Samadian. “He was a giant of cinema and a mixture of so many hidden abilities in art.”
Samadian — like film lovers across the globe — has been in a state of mourning and deep reflection since Kiarostami’s death of gastrointestinal cancer on July 4 at the age of 76. The Iranian auteur was at the forefront of his country’s emergence in the 1980s as a cinematic force, his unique eye for the intimate details of ordinary lives helped the world learn about the concerns and hopes of regular Iranians.
“It was his inner eye,” says the 62-year-old Samadian. “He was not an ordinary man. He was not a man of looking, he was a man of seeing. He could see the almost invisible details of life, and you can see that in his films. He valued work and would often work 20 hours a day – cinema, painting, installations. He could do everything.
“We both truly believed that life itself is the most powerful scriptwriter there is. Cinema is nothing if it is not believable and that is how Abbas worked. That way you respect cinema and you respect life itself.”
Kiarostami first studied painting at the University of Tehran before moving into graphic design. It was while working as part of a creative team producing advertisements for Iranian TV that he found his calling in film. In 1969 he joined an organization called Kanun — the Center for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults — and started making feature films in his spare time.
Kiarostami was lauded by critics and audiences everywhere, winning the Palm d’Or at the Cannes film festival in 1997 for A Taste of Cherry, a minimalist account of a man looking for someone to bury his body after he commits suicide.
His aesthetic has influenced generations of filmmakers and during his lifetime he was a tireless contributor to festivals and films schools, while also expanding his sphere of influence though his work as a poet and painter, illustrator and author.
Samadian, a photographer and filmmaker in his own right, first met Kiarostami about 30 years ago. They became regular collaborators, traveling the world together and often disappearing into the Iranian hinterland on assignments.
On Kiarostami’s death, Samadian was asked by the Venice film festival to help provide a fitting tribute to the man, and his work, and his documentary 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami taps into a series of individual moments that paint an intimate portrait of the man.
Samadian in October brought the film to screen at the 21st Busan International Film Festival’s Asian Auteur: Abbas Kiarostami or the Permanent Present of Iranian Cinema program. As the year that saw the passing of one of filmmaking’s soaring visionaries, Samadian has shared a series of clips with Asia Times to help the world remember a “very special man, with a very special talent.”