"Making this film made me sell my car and my house, but I don't regret it"
Seyed Mojtaba Hosseini is an Iranian filmmaker with a unique approach to storytelling. His first feature film, PANJ 5, is a heart breaking, compassionate docu-drama that was originally written as a narrative film.
After winning Best Picture award at Festigious, we asked Seyed to join us for an interview and met an inspiring filmmaker who has decided to make films in his own way, based on his own experiences, and most importantly- without thinking what others would say.
Seyed Mojtaba Hosseini
Seyed, tell us about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you become interested in films?
I was born in Yazd, an old city in the center of Iran. A city made by adobe, which has recently been known as the world’s heritage by UNESCO. The people are very traditional and religious. My family didn’t believe in art, especially cinema but I found that this is my way of life for being saved in the memories. I myself have personally experienced most of the events in the film because I have lived among these people and respect their beliefs although if I personally don’t believe in most of them.
You graduated from Tehran Rasaneh University with certification of B.S in Cinema. Do you believe academic training is essential to become a good documentary filmmaker?
Sure. Cinema is an art with complicated technics and inclusive meanings. Academic studying makes the mentality of a filmmaker ready to encounter new experiences and find virgin ideas.
Who are some of your role-model filmmakers, ones that influenced your voice as an artist?
I like two independent and creative Iranian famous filmmakers; Sohrab Shahid-Sales and Abbas Kiarostami. Their films are close to reality. You cannot find the border of imaginary and drama in their films. I admire them and try to follow their steps in making my films.
PANJ 5 is your debut feature. Congratulations on this important milestone in your career! It won Best Picture here at Festigious. What were you hoping to achieve with this movie? And where else did the movie screen?
Thank you. I’m so happy to get this precious reward from your great film festival. Honestly I didn’t expect to have these successes with this film in international festivals. Although it was not well-received and accepted in Iran and my small city, Panj has been selected and rewarded in different festivals in India, United States, England, Italy, Canada, Russia, etc.
Tell us about the making of Panj. Why did you decide to tell the story of Master Hossein?
At the beginning I had decided to make a serious film. I thought it was the right time to make a film in my own style, after studying cinema and having some experiences in short films. Panj was an old idea in my mind that I loved and I wanted to make it in a good situation. Suddenly I realized I would never have a good situation if I didn’t start making it.
When I rewrote the screenplay for the fifth time, I sent it for some famous actors. One of them agreed to play in the film. At that time we faced with Master Hossein in his work shop and I said to my cast: “No famous actor; this man should play my film”. When he joined us, I didn’t tell him what the story was about, and I changed my dramatic film to a docudrama. Master Hossein only behaved in front of the camera without knowing what was going on. Even my cast didn’t know what I was doing and some of them became angry at my unknown plan of shooting.
What were the challenges in shooting in Yazd, Iran?
Technology! The biggest problem was the cars that were riding or being parked in the picture frame. Gas valves too. I had decided delete them to keep the traditional atmosphere of the film. Although at the end we were forced to omit some of them by visual effects. Another problem was the governors of my small city that promised to help me for making this film but they didn’t. They only took my time and their pictures on the backstage of Panj.
What part of the production did you enjoy the most?
Making this film made me sell my car and my house. I don't regret it but financial problems hampered my enjoyment. Now my only enjoyment is hoping for future. I love cinema and my old city. I hope this film Paves my way in cinema and keeps the memory of Yazd's special culture alive.
How long did it take to shoot it, from start to finish?
It took me more than two years to make Panj. Its shooting and sound recording were in four or five parts but the main shooting took 20 days long.
How did you recruit your team? The cinematographers Abbas Asgari and Javid Mehrizizadeh, the composer Ali Omidi and the Editor, Vahid Qazimirsaeed? Have you worked with them in the past on your short films?
Yes I knew and had worked with most of them in the past. They worked creatively and friendly with me in this project and I’m grateful to them all.
You previously directed several short films. How is making a feature different than making a short?
A feature film has a wider Scope and is more complicated. When you start making a feature film you should consider different aspects that are not obligatory in short films. Everything must be professional and there is no excuse for any mistakes. So breaking in a feature film is worse than a short film.
Panj 5 is unique in a sense that it is a documentary film that almost films like a realistic drama, a very artsy, edgy choice and we loved it! Obviously, shooting in this style involves some risk. Why did you decide to choose this film-style?
Because I decided to make my own film in my own style and if it was the first and the last film of my life- I wanted to be satisfied with it, even if no one accepted it.
To tell the truth, if my film didn't succeed I would never repeat this style but now I’m planning another film in this method for future
If you were not making films, what would your profession be? What are you passionate about, besides storytelling?
Maybe a novelist or a musician.
What projects are you currently working on?
Because of financial problems I’m doing cheap ads for companies and I’m working with other filmmakers on their project. Although the dream of my new film with no dialogue and full of symbols like Panj is in my mind and I’m thinking about it every day and night. Hopefully, I'll find a way to make it soon.
Is there anything you wish to add?
As an independent filmmaker, I prefer to find the unique and limited audiences and festivals of my films in different countries instead of making a film for box office. Thank you, Festigious' Team for appreciating experimental and art house films, and I hope that I have the chance to participate in this festival with my next feature film.