An interview with Iranian.com.
Parham: Ahmad, first things first, one can’t help but notice your last name when looking at your profile. So are you related to Makhmalbaf? 🙂
Ahmad: Yes we are related. My brother Bahman once attended a film festival where his daughter was present! 🙂
Parham: I knew it! I always said there was a big resemblance between you and Samira. 🙂
Before we get to the subject of the video, how do you know Arash, Babak and the rest of the gang? Do you know them from Iran?
Ahmad: No I didn’t know them personally, but of course, I knew of The rock star from his first album, Adame Mamooli, and I knew about Babak/Bamahang from before.
I was in New York while Zartosht (Soltani) was designing O-Hum’s Aloodeh cover. He was late and Babak called him to follow up (if you know Zartosht you know that he’s ALWAYS late, and needs a lot of back-grabbing — “peygiri”). Zartosht mentioned something about me being there, and Babak said “make sure no one copies the CD!” This is before I met him and his wife Shaghayegh (and became a follower) for the first time here in San Francisco in a chelo-kababi after Bay-to-Breakers 2006.
I met Arash for the first time at Yoshi’s (a famous jazz club here in San Francisco) through a mutual friend, Afshean. This is 5-6 months after I moved to San Francisco. Arash had moved to San Jose just a few weeks before, and was looking for a place here. I recalled I didn’t know many people when I moved here, and out of empathy, gave him my number and told him he can call if he needs help to move his stuff. I was fool enough not to remember that he’s a rock star, that he knows half of the Bay Area, and the other half he doesn’t know, know him! I never helped him to move anything, but later on he helped me with a bookshelf and a BIG couch (and he left me alone in the middle of the move, when it got to the difficult part!).
Do you still want me to tell you about the rest of the gang?!
Parham: Sure, if you want to.
Ahmad: Baba I was kidding when I asked if you want to know more!
I know Ardi (and Shadi) since I moved to San Francisco, he not only plays the keyboard, he is also a great graphic artist (Eshghe Sorat’s cover), and makes the best ghalyoon in Northern California (by the way, they also made “To Kojayee” music video for Kiosk with Afshean) . I met Anoush a few months ago, he’s the sweetest guy! I had a very nice interview/chat with Farzaneh a couple of days before the concert. Ali and Shahrouz, I met here before the concert (in San Francisco), but they were too busy “taking care of the fans”… that’s all!
Did you say you want to publish this interview? Where? Zan-e Rooz?
Parham: Sure, if you want to. 🙂
So how did the idea of you doing the video for Eshghe Sorat come about?
Ahmad: Well, Arash brought up the idea. My job has nothing to do with film and video, but since my brother Bahman has been to a couple of festivals, he thought I should be able to make something. We had a couple of brunches together and talked about ideas, but none of them really made sense, and/or needed a lot of money, which was impossible to do with our tight budget. He also talked to few other friends about this, including Afshean, Adralan, and Shadi (2+1 productions). One night he invited us all there to discuss and make something together. 2+1 got there late, with a very interesting sample of what they wanted to do. But I couldn’t contribute anything to that project. It was a very artistic animation video, and I know nothing about animation. It needed A LOT of time, and I didn’t have that much. And to be honest with you, when it comes to art and/or management, I don’t really believe in democracy! You have to make everyone happy, so each of you compromises something, and in the best case, you end up having something that everyone is “happy” with, but no one “believes” in (unless you are one good solid team, like 2+1). Don’t use this against me, but I always thought a good dictator is the best solution to solve a lot our problems. So, that was the end of the video project for me, but the temptation of doing a something was still there.
Parham: Yes, I love that video, except for the fly that bugs the hell out of me!! My hat’s off to Shadi, Afshean and Ardalan for that.
So what happened next?
Ahmad: I went to Iran for a short two-week visit, and saw Zartosht there. We were back together after several years, a little nostalgic about the days we worked together, and thought about doing something together again. I called Arash and asked him to e-mail me the (still-not-mixed) songs from his new album. After getting the songs (which was a difficult task without a fast connection) I tried to plan something with Zartosht, but he was busy taking care of a little problem. I wish we had done this together though.
I liked the lyrics of both “Eshgh-e Sorat” and “Kolangi Ghabele Sokoonat” very much. The second one was too dark, and I thought it’s not a good song for promoting the album. But “Eshgh e Sorat” was very intelligent and bright, and I thought it has a lot of potential. I also liked “Bitarbiat”, but couldn’t come up with a good idea (without filling the blanks!). So I decided to go with “Eshgh-e Sorat”. But you know that two weeks in Iran – with all the friends and family and parties and everything – is too short, and I didn’t work on the video till the last 3-4 days of my trip. I thought it’s impossible to make something in such a short time, but my father kept telling me that I should start it, even if I don’t finish. I’m a little obsessive-compulsive and leaving things unfinished really bothers me, so I preferred not to start it at all.
The night before I started the video, I made a little change in one of the ideas that I had and made it very simple, so I felt it would be possible to finish it in the remaining time. The next day I called my brother early in the morning (the one who goes to festivals) and asked him to bring his camera and come with me to shoot the video. We shot it in a couple of hours, and went to his office (he has an editing studio). I learned Final Cut Pro, edited the video, we shot a couple of more scenes, and finished the video in 2.5 days.
Back in San Francisco, we had talked about the name of the album with Arash, and he had suggested “Eshgh-e Sorat”, but wasn’t sure about it, I really liked the name though. To encourage him, I took several pictures from some wrecked cars, and Ardi later used the black Peykan for the CD Cover.
Parham: So where did the idea for the video come from?
One can see a lot of similarity between your father’s work (using real-life people) and the Eshghe Sorat video. Also, had you done any videos prior to this one?
Ahmad: You ask me three different questions in three lines. Don’t blame me if this one goes beyond one or two paragraphs here!
The original idea was for “Kolangi Ghabele Sokoonat”. The idea was shooting a single-take video, walking from one side of Bazaar Tajreesh to the other side, shooting real people during their daily life, but having “my” people between them, with different looks, styles, and ages, looking at the camera and singing the lyrics. I wanted the whole thing to be in slow motion, slower than the real daily life.
I don’t know if it makes sense or not, it’s a little difficult to explain the idea in a couple of lines. Something like The Police’s “Wrapped Around Your Finger” video. You can see that everything is synchronized there, but in slow motion. I was 13-14 years old when I first saw the clip, and I was mesmerized but this “trick”. Oh, let me tell you something here. When I started thinking about doing a video for Arash, I tried to remember all of the videos that I liked. This one was one of them. The other one that I loved, was Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues“, because of its simplicity, it somehow feels very honest. I think U2’s “Numb” is hilarious, and one would like to see it over and over again. I wanted to put all of the things that I liked into the video. I also LOVE several of Peter Gabriel’s videos (for example: Sledgehammer), but that type of video needs a lot of resources and we didn’t have any. I also think Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2U” is beautiful, but how can I put this, I wasn’t sure how a video like that would come out with Arash in it!
Anyway, in the clip, I wanted to keep up with Arash’s dark and intelligent sense of humor (and that’s a difficult job!). One day I saw Benetton’s shop in Tehran and I thought it’s missing a big thing, the only thing that I always liked about Benetton, their ads, people’s face. That night, I had a dream. I was in Roger Waters’ concert (I went to his concert a few months before my trip to Tehran), and there was a big video on the screen, with Roger Waters singing. Then the camera started showing the face of people, the audience singing his song with him. But all of them were people close-ups, and they looked like Benetton’s ads. I woke up, and I knew what I wanted to do; just normal people pronouncing Arash’s lyrics in “Eshgh-e Sorat”. I just didn’t know how to fill the gaps between the lyrics. I called my brother, he came to pick me up, and as soon as we were on the street, I saw a BMW with a “Ya Saheb-Azzaman” sign on it, and I thought I don’t need to do much, I can only record these contradictions, and it will do the job. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to get the things that I really wanted to on tape.
To answer your other questions, I have made a couple of one-minute videos, but nothing serious, just for fun. And about the similarity with my father’s works, well, what can I say?! I grew up watching his films, and I (hopefully) have some of his genes, so either through nature or nurture, I should have his style. But, I also think that was a good form for this video/song, and I chose to do it that way. I might be the same for the next one.
By the way, I’m going to use that slow-motion thing from The Police video in the next video I’m making for Kiosk, and I’m going to exactly copy something from my father!
Parham: What? Will you say?
Also, what song will it be for?
Ahmad: Let’s wait and see how it comes out first! I have told Arash and Babak that I’ll release the video ONLY if I’m happy with the result, otherwise I’m going to keep it in my “private collection”!
I can tell you one thing though: It’s not exactly any of the songs you hear on the CD.
Parham: Okay! We’ll have to keep waiting then…
It’s funny you mentioned some of the videos I also “dig” a lot! U2’s “Numb”, made by Kevin Godley (of Godley & Creme/10cc fame) is one of my all time favorites. In fact, I think Kevin Godley is a heck of a music video producer. I don’t know if you remember “Cry” (music also by Godley & Creme), but that was the very first video where they had face metamorphosis, way before the animation techniques that made the procedure easier were invented.
Of course, a lot of people have tried to imitate Godley’s ideas, the most recent one being the video for the song “Rejection” by Martin Solveig, which is a direct imitation of Numb.
One of my favorite videos of all time remains from “anonymous” though, as I never found out who it was made by. It’s an animation and the storyline and the execution is, i.m.o., excellent. The subject is very close to heart as well. If I had made that video, I’d be ready to die and go to my next life already!
It was made for this song by Supermen Lovers called “Starlight“.
Back to you, out of curiosity, what is your favorite movie made by your father — and probably the one question before last as we’ll have to get back to the songs — what did you grow up watching, meaning what has been playing at the Kiarostami home all these years? I’m sure a lot of people would be curious about that.
Ahmad: I had never seen “Cry”, and I loved it! Thanks for sharing. There’s something about people’s face that mesmerizes me (sitting in a café and people-watching is a great fun!). I actually wanted to do another video with peoples face for “Hamme Ragham Mojood Ast”, but Arash vetoed against it, he said we have already done something like that. Maybe he’s right, but I can never get enough of people’s face!
I have a theory that sometimes makes people upset: I think we are getting to the end of many different forms of art. For example, I think painting is finished, is over. Doesn’t matter what you want to do with your paper/pencil/canvas/paint, it’s been done before. You can’t do anything new. Cinema and video are relatively newer forms of art, so there’s still some room left for creativity there, but with the speed we’re moving at, we’re going to pass the finish line soon. That’s why we rarely see good movies these days.
In this type of situation, whatever you do, you will be imitating someone. I shot “Eshgh-e Sorat” in December, and we released it in April. After I released it, I talked to a dear friend of mine, Sam Javanrouh, who lives in Toronto and works for a video production company. After complimenting my video, he said “but have you seen such and such clip? It came out few weeks ago, and it’s got exactly the same idea. They have shot it in Toronto, here on the corner of our office.” Well, since I shot my video a few months before I released it, I’m sure none of us have imitated the other, but we both probably have imitated some other people’s work, maybe unintentionally!
I think these days only exceptional, genius people can make something totally new. The rest of us can only imitate the others. But if we are clever, we can hopefully add something – even a little thing – to the original work.Martin Scorsese was once talking about making “Raging Bull”, and how in the last fighting scene, he has used the famous bath scene from Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (and I think he has added A LOT to that scene!). But sometimes things are so well-done that you don’t dare touch it! U2’s “Numb” is one of those cases, and I think is “Rejection” fails in adding anything to the original idea.
Now after the final two questions, I’m kind of sure you want to publish (at least parts of this interview) in Zan-e Rooz!
I have a dear friend here in San Francisco, Judith Stone. She’s 80 something years old, and used to work for SF Chronicle for a different section, including cinema. She’s still very sharp, and has recently published a new book from her interviews with different directors and actors from around the world. Whenever someone asks her about her favorite film, or favorite director, she just goes out of control says a lot of nasty things. I just wanted to mention that, just in case you interview her some day.
Having said that, my favorite film made by my father changes with time. For now, I guess it is “Close-up”, or maybe it’s “Roads”, I’m not sure. And my father doesn’t really watch films. I remember once I was watching a film (I was probably 13 or so) and he passed by the TV room to go to the bathroom. On his way back, he stopped there for few seconds, and said “why are you watching such a bad film?” I was really upset! I said “but you haven’t seen more than 30 seconds of the film, how do you know it’s bad?” He said “only one shot is enough to show it’s a bad film!” He usually can’t follow the story line, he gets caught up in the “directing” and just sees the shots, camera, acting, and things like that, without following the film itself. But he was right, it was a bad film. “At the Kiarostami home” I saw some good films, and a lot of bad films (I still do). Probably just like your home. And I haven’t been living at “Kiarostami home” for about 18 years now… well, I mean The Kiarostami home, because technically, my home is “Kiarostami home” too!
Parham: About Zane Rooz, as Arash says, don’t let me open my mouth! 🙂
Okay last question(s) — Did you run into any problems shooting the video? I remember getting stopped and interrogated in Teheran every time (or almost) I was out doing street photography.
And if you don’t mind, is “Kia Sohrabi” your artistic name, meaning will you always be shooting and releasing under that name, or was that only for this case?
Ahmad: No, I was expecting to run into problems, but we didn’t. We were very quick. I would go and talk to people on the street, and after getting their agreement, Bahman would take out his camera and shoot. Taking each shot usually didn’t take more than 5 minutes. And we also tried to stay away from crowded places, except for the inserts that was again, very quick.
And no, I’m not going to use “Kia Sohrabi” anymore. When I released this video, I somehow didn’t want it to be associated with the name “Kiarostami”. But after a few days I started getting e-mails from people about the video, and they wrote their emails to “Kia Sohrabi”. I answered a couple of them with my new name, but I felt really guilty! It was like I’m stealing someone else’s identity, and in return he was stealing my work! I also started hearing a couple of philosophical analogies and conspiracy theories about why I changed my name, and why I chose this name, so I decided to stop the silly game. No more Kia Sohrabi!
Parham: That was a good name, I actually liked it, but I see your point. What was funny was that I didn’t find many people who made the connection between Kiarostami and Kiasohrabi.
Anyway, thanks for all the info about the video, Ahmad. I wish I could ask you more, but we’re running long on this conversation already. I think you’ve made a great video there, and let’s remind everyone it became the most linked video in the music section of YouTube for a day– an unaccomplished feat for any Iranian clip yet. Let’s see what the readers of Zane Rooz think about it now! 🙂