Bahar Behbahani Brings Artistry to Film
(from brinkzine.com 4/30/08)
One of the treats of film festivals is that on occasion you get to meet some remarkable people whose path you would never cross otherwise. At a gathering of international filmmakers early this week at the Tribeca Film Festival, I had the opportunity to talk to Iranian artist Bahar Behbahani, whose short "Suspended" is the opening act for Shane Meadows' "Somers Town." The final public screenings are at the Village East Cinemas on Thursday at 4:15 and Saturday at 3:15. Bahar, who lives now in Brooklyn and has a studio there, came across as someone who would be fun to pal around with, so I thought it amusing when with great modesty she revealed to me that she is a famed artist in and out of Iran. In addition to talent and creativity, she has had experiences we can only imagine to inspire her. In a 2003 interview with Termeh Rassi, she explained the life experiences that inform her paintings and short films: "The events that happened in my childhood, which happened in the childhood of every Iranian, were strange events. Growing up in a an environment with red alarms, growing up with the fear of falling bombs and not just fearing for yourself but fearing for your loved ones; I learned the meaning of loss much earlier. I think I learned the meaning at the age of 6 or 7. I learned the real meaning of fear -- not the imaginary fear that most kids that age have but the real fear that comes with having seen a gun, heard a bomb, been witnessed to arrests." Also: "The conflicts existed everywhere - between school and home. Becoming familiar with the concept of Lying. You had to learn to lie because of the conflicts that were going on around you even though at home you were taught not to lie. Sometimes the very people who had told you not to lie; were telling you that you had to lie under the circumstances." As Rassi commented, "To this day loss, fear, and ambiguity, are themes that play a major role in Bahar's works. In our following brief conversation about her film and art, Bahar Behbahani said the same thing.
Danny Peary: Did you go to film school in Iran?
Bahar Behbahani: No. I got my B.A. and M.A. in painting, back in Iran. I do video arts and short films sometimes because it's natural having come from a family with a background in filmmaking. My father was a very popular television writer in Iran for many years, so I am used to it. So I make films sometimes although my main profession is painting. I paint every day.
DP: What kind of paintings?
BB: Kind of abstract. Not pure abstract but expressive abstract.
DP: Is art scrutinized by the government in Iran or is there total freedom, unlike how it is with Iranian filmmakers?
BB: Artists have to get permission to have paintings at exhibitions. I shot my film back in Iran a year ago without any permission, in a private place, my back yard. But unfortunately I can't show it there because of some restrictions. This is because there are little provocative concepts. It's not just about a woman, but about a contemporary human being. It's an expression about uncertainty and the instability of human beings. But it happens to be in Iran and it happens to be a woman.
DP: Would it have been a different film if you'd made it thirty years ago because Iran was different then?
BB: It's not just about Iran, but about the contemporary era. It's about all things happening in the world—all wars, all unjustified things, all abuses of power. It's about everywhere, but I can sense it's more familiar to Iran because of the experiences that I had when I grew up and saw a revolution and war.
DP: What does your title "Suspended" mean?
BB: I love ambiguity and I use very ambiguous scenes and concepts to show instability and uncertainty. So "Suspended" to me means not being stable, as a human being, as a woman and as an Iranian.
DP: Could you make a film or a work of art about stability, or are you incapable of expressing that concept?
BB (laughing): Yeah, I could do something about stability by showing contrasts! I go for instability, I don't know why, maybe because of my background. But I'm leaning to do instability things, in my paintings as well. I have so many layers on top of each other and they put you in an uncertain situation as an audience.
DP: Could somebody who sees this short tell that you're an artist?
BB: I think so. I've heard that a couple of times because of the colors of the film. And I'm very fussy about textures, and forms in my films, too. In fact, the concept usually comes to me after I am inspired by forms, shapes, textures, and shadows.
DP: What about the script? Did you write it long in advance?
BB: I wrote my script in America and had it for a year. When I went back to Iran after staying in America for a year, I saw the backyard behind my studio there and emotionally I touched with that and said this is the place when I have to film my script.
DP: When you're in America is it difficult for you to see people who have no understanding of who Iranians are?
BB: Fortunately somehow I find people like you around me. I have been traveling across the United States for five years with my exhibitions. I've been to Texas, California, Atlanta, and elsewhere and met many sympathetic people. Yes, there are people who don't know about Iran, for example in Dallas, but it's all just experience meeting them.
DP: How well are you known in Iran?
BB: I can say I'm one of the established artists. From the generation after the Islamic revolution, I'm one of the active artists over there.
DP: When you travel through the United States, is it your exhibition alone?
BB: At times there are group exhibitions. For example, I had a group of twenty Iranian artists in the New York Academy of Art. An American curator came to Iran and invited the artists he selected. Condoleezza Rice opened the exhibition.
DP: What were your thoughts seeing her standing there?
BB (laughing): I prefer not say.
DP: What has it been like screening your movie at Tribeca?
BB: My premiere was very, very exciting because Peter Scarlet introduced me in a great way, and that was unexpected.
DP: I'm sure people came up to you afterward and gave you their reaction.
BB: Yes, they did. I think in America taste is a little bit different than in Europe or Iran. They aren't used to films with slow movements.
DP: Is that how your film is?
BB: It is not slow for me. It's only seven minutes, but it's not fast-paced.
DP: Deliberate is the word you can use to describe it. Is that pace for mood?
BB: Yes. It should be slow because I wanted to show time slowly passing. I stretched the time by using visual tricks.
DP: It's about one woman?
BB: And one man.
DP: Who plays the woman?
BB: I knew when I wrote the script that I had to be the actress.
DP: This movie precedes "Somers Town."
BB: It is my good luck because that is made by a good director, Mr. Shane Meadows, and everybody wants to see it. And they see my film first!