Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi (R) on the set of Muhammad: The Messenger of God. Photo: IMBD
Interview by Dler Teli
Majid Majidi, director of Muhammad: The Messenger of God – Iran’s biggest-budget film to date – came to Slemani International Film Festival this October.
Majidi’s 2015 biopic depicting the early life of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, proved so controversial it was banned from cinemas across the Arab world.
In an interview with Rudaw on the fringes of the festival, Majidi discussed the political forces that led to the film’s ban and reflected on the future of Kurdish cinema.
Rudaw: This is your first visit to the Kurdistan Region. What do you think of the city of Sulaimani?
I went downtown during my short stay here and I noted a few things. I was impressed by the security. I didn’t expect that from here. I had a different idea of how it was. I didn’t even see security forces. I was especially impressed by how patient, kind and hospitable the people are.
What do you think of the films screened at Slemani International Film Festival?
I didn’t have enough time, so I just watched a few. I took the chance to tour the city instead. There will be time to watch the films at a later time.
Are you familiar with Kurdish films, actors and actresses?
I think dozens of films should be produced about the disaster of Halabja
I am familiar with some. Many Iranian theatrists are Kurds who have produced films about Iraqi and Iranian Kurds. I am somehow familiar with them. I think they have a long way to go. There are very few films about the Kurdish problem and culture. I hope such festivals pave the way for actors to come to Iran in order to produce different films. It is important that attention is paid to local Kurdish films and such films should be seen in future film festivals in Sulaimani. It is important that at least three such local Kurdish films produced here are seen in such a festival. I think this is more important than the festival itself.
What should Kurdish filmmakers do to build their audience?
I think festivals are only good to introduce films. But these festivals shouldn’t make us happy and make films only to screen them in festivals. Festivals have their own viewers. A film can be a success if it can relate to people from across the world, serve the film industry, its country’s box office and culture. I think Kurdistan has very good conditions for this. There are many subjects in Kurdistan that can be turned into films, namely Halabja. I think dozens of films should be produced about the disaster of Halabja.
Do you have plans to produce any films in Kurdistan?
Many things drove me to do this during my stay here, and I have many more reasons to do so. I have had this intention and feeling before, but visiting Sulaimani strengthened this feeling in me. I hope I can in the coming years produce a film about a Kurdish subject, especially on Halabja. I want to look at Halabja from the perspective of new generations and produce a film about it to be screened worldwide.
Your film Muhammad: The Messenger of God was banned in Arab countries. Why was that?
It is very clear Saudi Arabia was behind that. The problem was Saudi dollars. As you know Saudi Arabia always makes problems. I think Saudi Arabia has made big problems in many areas. We have nothing to do with the politics. The country makes even big cultural mistakes. The film was unfortunately declared haram [forbidden] by Saudi authorities and religious scholars.
Why was it declared haram?
I tried to produce the film in a way the Muslim world would not dispute it and open a window for the west through the film
They said it was haram without seeing the film. I asked al-Azaar scholars several times to see the film and expressed my readiness to act on any observations they had. But they declared the film haram without seeing it. I spent seven years working on the film and consulted Sunni and Shiite scholars during this time. I conducted investigations in every Muslim country and obtained permission for every subject. I tried to produce the film in a way the Muslim world would not dispute it and open a window for the west through the film. I have tried to correctly interpret Islam as a religion of peace and coexistence, equality and justice. But they said the film was haram. But the problem is political otherwise we have done nothing wrong. Saudi Arabia is home to the tomb of the prophet. What has Saudi Arabia done to try and introduce the Prophet of Islam? The country makes billions of dollars from Muslims. How much from this cash has Saudi Arabia dedicated to introduce Islam? I think there is no logic behind what Saudi Arabia does in the Muslim world. They have done nothing useful for the Muslim world. They should know the world can see this. History will rule against Saudi Arabia.
Do you think this film will be screened one day in the Arab world?
I am very certain it will. We and all governments will be gone. None of these governments will stay. One day, Saudi Arabia and all the other countries will be gone, but this film will stay.