Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the Iranian auteur who is a leading voice in art house film, says independent cinema is dying in the era of streaming video.
Makhmalbaf, director of Cannes prize winner “Kandahar,” Sitges and Tokyo winner “Gabbeh” and Venice winner “The Silence,” says that while streaming presents an opportunity to show a film to many people, it also “destroys other kinds of medium.”
“You can eat your food in your room, but why do you go to a restaurant to eat with others?,” asks Makhmalbaf. “If you are religious, you can go and pray in your room, but you go to a church or temple or mosque, because you want to do it with others. You can see the film in your mobile phone alone, but you go to the cinema to see film with others.”
“Cinema is dying in this way. Because except festivals, in many countries, we don’t have cinema,” adds Makhmalbaf. “And, like COVID pushed us into isolation, these kinds of media [have] pushed us into isolation, we sit in our home and watch the film on TV.” Makhmalbaf says that cinema is best experienced on the big screen to appreciate the nuances.
Streamers increasingly fund prestigious independent films or acquire them for distribution, as Amazon Studios did with Makhmalbaf compatriot Asghar Farhadi’s “A Hero,” before its Cannes triumph. Makhmalbaf is skeptical about this model.
“How many filmmakers can receive that amount of money and do you think that Amazon wants to make ‘Gabbeh’ or do they want to make commercial movies? So the art cinema is in danger,” says Makhmalbaf. “Because we were making things with low budget and then we were trying to have diversity of the art, but then Amazon can suggest you ‘Okay a few of you come and make the film which I like’ – so this is the end of art.”
Makhmalbaf says that many great artists have left cinema because they didn’t want to make films for Netflix and Amazon.
Makhmalbaf is also critical of streamers’ distribution practices and cites the example of his film, Tokyo and Chicago winner “The President,” which Netflix acquired for the U.S. The filmmaker queries why it was picked up only for that territory and not others.
The peripatetic filmmaker left his native Iran because of censorship and has made films in Turkey, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, India, Georgia and Italy and is now based in the U.K., which he finds “grey” and uninspiring.
“I love to make films in Iran, but I am not optimistic about the future of Iran, because day by day, the situation is becoming worse,” says Makhmalbaf. “And because of support of China and Russia, this regime will keep continuing and everyday become more aggressive with artists.”
Makhmalbaf spoke to Variety at France’s Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinemas, which opened this year with his “Kandahar” and in 2009 accorded him the Honorary Golden Wheel for lifetime achievement.
Next up for Makhmalbaf is Jerusalem-set anthology film “The Quarters” with him, Todd Solondz, Arsinee Khanjian and Anne Muylaert directing segments set in the Muslim, Jewish, Armenian and Christian districts of the city. Production was delayed by COVID-19 and is likely to resume soon.
The filmmaker also has 30 scripts he has written over the past 16 years, but asks, “How many of them can be accepted by Amazon or Apple TV?”