Iran’s first family of film on edge

Makhmalbafs vow to move on despite struggles

LONDON — Mohsen Makhmalbaf and his family have had a rough few months.

The March 27 bomb attack on the Afghan set of daughter Samira Makhmalbaf’s “Two-Legged Horse” only narrowly avoided killing any of the filmmaking clan.

Makhmalbaf is blacklisted in his native Iran, while youngest daughter Hana Makhmalbaf’s debut feature, “The Buddhas Collapsed From Shame,” failed to get a berth in any of Cannes’ official selections.

With the family now having seemingly outstayed their welcome in Afghanistan, what the future holds for Iran’s first family of film has become a matter of debate among the Makhmalbafs and the wider film community.

For all father and daughter’s defiant statements at a Cannes press confab that lensing on the 85%-completed “Two-Legged Horse” would resume, most probably in Tajikistan, regardless of the attack, some Iranian film execs are questioning what the Makhmalbafs will do next.

“I’ve spoken to some Afghan filmmakers and they have said they are not that welcome there any more,” says one Iranian producer. “Some of the Afghans are not happy with the image they portray of their country in their films.”

The Makhmalbafs have certainly done more than anyone to put Afghanistan on the map, dating back to Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s “Kandahar” in 2000. Samira Makhmalbaf subsequently made “At Five in the Afternoon” in Afghanistan, with Hana Makhmalbaf making her debut at the age of 14 with “Joy of Madness,” a behind-the-scenes docu looking at the making of her sister’s film.

Mohsen’s wife Marziyeh Meshkini set her 2004 pic “Stray Dogs” in the country, while the family was instrumental in getting the first post-Taliban feature made by investing coin in Siddiq Barmak’s “Osama.” They also provided cameras for Barmak’s just-wrapped follow-up “Opium War.”

In addition to Samira Makhmalbaf’s project, Hana Makhmalbaf’s “Buddhas” was shot on location in Bamyan, where the Taliban destroyed the giant statues of the Buddhas, while Meshkini’s next project was set to be another Afghan-set drama.

“We have the same language and culture as the Afghans. Half the population speaks Persian and there are three million Afghans living in Iran,” says Mohsen Makhmalbaf. “There was no film industry after the Taliban. I wanted to support young filmmakers by giving them cameras and also show audiences the injustice that was, and is still, going on in the country.”

While the Makhmalbaf patriarch’s intentions are honorable enough, the consequences of his decision to defy the Iranian authorities and make his films in Afghanistan has impacted the other family members.

“They told me they thought my script was beautiful but that they had a problem with all the Makhmalbaf family,” says Samira of the Iranian authorities’ decision not to grant her a permit to film “Horse” in the country. “They told me they prefer for us not to make films in Iran.”

With Iran a no-go area for Mohsen Makhmalbaf — he now has a French passport after being warned he would be refused an exit visa on his Iranian passport — the multi-hyphenate is casting his net to Europe for future projects.

Of the 13 scripts he’s written in the past year, three are set in Paris, Rome and Berlin. He has pitched two to execs at Wild Bunch, the Gallic sales agent that finances the Makhmalbafs’ movies.

With Hana Makhmalbaf now submitting “Buddhas” to Venice and other fall film fests, Samira Makhmalbaf off to Tajikistan to complete “Horse” and Mohsen Makhmalbaf scrambling to get his new project off the ground, the family is certainly busy.

Whether they can all stay in the same place at the same time is a different matter.

“My family is angry with me because they get so homesick when they’re away from their home,” says Mohsen Makhmalbaf. “But you can make a film anywhere. Look at ‘The Kite Runner.’ It’s written by an Afghan living in the U.S., with a German director and it was shot in China. I am a citizen of cinema. Without cinema for me and my family, life has no meaning.”

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