Hollywood producer Barry Navidi has returned to his native Tehran after more than 15 years, just as Iran and the U.S. finesse final details of a possible nuclear accord that he and others hope may also help forge closer cinematic ties between the two countries.
Navidi spoke with to Variety in Tehran during the International Urban Cities Film Festival.
You grew up here, then you went to film school in London, and then to Hollywood where you’ve made movies, including “Divine Rapture” with Marlon Brando and, more recently, the Al Pacino films “The Merchant of Venice,” “Salome,” and “Wild Salome.” What brings you back to Tehran after 15 years?
I’d been meaning to come back, but I’ve been so busy. Now I’m on break from touring with Al and his one-man-show “An Evening With Al Pacino.” When Amir Esfandiari, director of international affairs of the Farabi Cinema Foundation, invited me to this festival, I realized this is the perfect time to come back.
Why? Do you think if the economic sanctions are lifted, this could have an impact on the Iranian film industry?
Absolutely. I would say it could happen within the next couple of years. It takes time, but I don’t see why we can’t use a location here in Iran to film a [Hollywood] movie. They have the infrastructure; they have the crew; they have the means to make films. I know that other countries, our neighbors, are trying to lure international productions with rebates. I don’t see why we can’t do that here.
I know that one day, hopefully, I will be able to make a movie here. They have great filmmakers. In time, with the right circumstances, I would like to bring a Western production here. That’s what I can offer. It would be nice to bring the two cultures together and make something international.
On a personal level, how does it feel to be back in Tehran?
I’ve been back for a couple of days now. When I come back here I feel at home, but it takes a while to adjust, of course. Could I drive here? No way; it’s crazy. However I don’t feel lost, I feel like one of their own. I don’t feel like a stranger here.
Back to the film biz, what’s in your pipeline?
With Al, I’m mounting the production of a movie about Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani. The screenplay was written by Jerzy Kromolowski, who wrote “The Pledge,” and Bruce Beresford (“Driving Miss Daisy”) is going to direct the picture. Right now we are casting; we are going to have a couple of big stars. If all goes well we will start shooting early next year in Budapest. There is potential for a cameo role for Al. But he is also creatively involved: He is going to help me cast the movie, and he gave the writer a lot of notes.
Tell me more about the story.
It’s based on a play by Dennis McIntyre which was specifically written for Al Pacino to play Modì on stage 35 years ago. It’s basically a slice of Modigliani’s life, over a two-day span. It’s not a biopic. It’s about an artist who is ahead of his time struggling with recognition and rejection, which is basically all of us. That’s the theme of the story. It’s a comedy and a drama, but of course a tragedy as well, because Modigliani was dying of TB.
What else is Al Pacino up to?
Al is now preparing to do a play on Broadway, David Mamet’s play “China Doll” in the fall.