At the Tuesday press conference for the BIFF Gala Presentation “The President,” Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf explained how he first conceived the idea for a film about a deposed dictator (Georgian actor Misha Gomiashvili) forced go incognito in his own country, accompanied by his five-year-old grandson. “I was in the Darul Aman Palace in Kabul, where (Afghanistan’s) presidents had lived,” Makhmalbaf said. “I wondered how they looked at the city, how they played with their power.” He came up with the idea of a dictator turning off the city lights for fun – but realizing something is wrong when they fail to go on again. Used in the film, this scene signals the start of the coup and the beginning of the end for the once all-mighty hero.
Instead of a simplistic tale of how good (the coup) triumphs over bad (the dictator), Makhmalbaf said he wanted to show how revolutionary violence begets more violence once the revolutionaries are in power, a cycle he argued can be seen in the bloody aftermath of another of the film’s inspirations: the uprisings of Arab Spring. “Revolutions break the thin ice of society and the violence of our animal nature comes up,” the director explained.
Forced to live in exile and faced with attempts on his life for his activism, Makhmalbaf sees cinema as an agent for change. “We need good films to educate people around the world,” he says. “Not everyone can go to the university. Cinema is the university of people in poor countries.” As for his own role as a filmmaker? “When someone dies of political violence, that becomes my busienss. I can’t say ‘I’m an artist’ when people are killing each other.”