Press TV has conducted an interview with Majid Majidi, a filmmaker and director from Tehran, to discuss one of his well-known films dubbed Muhammad: The Messenger of God, which was premiered both in Iran and the 39th edition of Montreal World Film Festival in Canada on August 27, 2015.
The following is a rough transcription of the interview.
Press TV: Why did you choose the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as the topic of your movie?
Majidi: That’s a very important question. During the recent years, especially the past decade, we have witnessed many insults aimed at Islam and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the form of caricatures or pictures in Western countries and some other countries, which have no relation to the holy position of the Prophet or even the violence, which the West promotes against the world of Islam. Also we see that even in Islamic countries, Islam is just a motto and in reality some people have taken Islam as a hostage. As an artist and filmmaker, these incidents made me think that we shouldn’t be passive about all this. Our reactions to the Western viewers are sometimes very controversial and arrogant. I thought we should show the gracious sight of Islam and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This movie is trying to show a drop of that vast ocean.
Press TV: You focused on this specific part of Prophet Muhammad’s life, why did you choose his childhood?
Majidi: I insist that this movie should bring consensus among the world of Islam and in this regard, we chose the section of the Prophet’s life, on which there have been less disagreement among Shias and Sunnis. We also chose this section, because it has very important spiritual aspects to it and it would be beneficial for our youngsters, whose lives are deprived of this spirituality these days. There have been many efforts to draw a line between Shias and Sunnis. And with this movie, we have tried to show that we are all united under one flag, which is our Prophet Muhammad, who is a true bearer of the flag of Islam with the right citation of the preaches of Islam.
Press TV: It seems that you have done a lot of research to pick this specific part of Prophet Muhammad’s life. Can you tell us more about the research that you have done in the pre-production of the movie?
Majidi: Regarding the research part, we have made a great effort to search among both Shia and Sunni scholars also the historians of the two sects. Unfortunately, in the Islamic history there were very limited sources about the life of Prophet Muhammad’s childhood till his Be’that, his selection as a prophet from God. One of the blessings of doing this movie was that we could gain many sources in many different areas such as history, geography, ethnographic, sociology, trading etc. We have attempted to gain good sources, but we were not supposed to read the history word by word. As I have mentioned at the beginning of the movie, this movie is based on my research from the Islamic history as well as my perception of the Prophet of Islam. Therefore, it shouldn’t be expected from this movie to be 100 percent the same as history. Mostly it is, but a part of it, the writes of the viewpoint of his Holiness involvement with humanistic situations. For instance, the situation of burying girls alive, which we have pictured in the movie, might not be exactly the same as it was. But how the Prophet encounters it and the holy verses, which were revealed to him, he had reactions which were dramatized.
Press TV: You were very picky in choosing your team and I want to know, what were the elements that you had in mind when you were choosing th members of your team?
Majidi: All the members who have been invited as a crew, either Iranian or a foreigner, have been chosen very meticulously. For example, in choosing Mr. Vittorio Storaro, I have watched many of his works and knew he had worked with many famous filmmakers such as Coppola, Bertolucci, Carlos Ara, … and others. Some of these filmmakers were among the ones that we had an eye on. Whenever I watch the magical pictures of Mr. Storaro in the movies, it has always been admiring to me. I have always envied the incredible design he did for the scenes, using the light and camera. Well, thinking about making the Prophet, I realized that we definitely needed someone who could create such scenes. Mr. Storaro has a book named ‘Writing with Light.’ When I saw this book I knew he was the person I was looking for. Also Mr. Kreka, who was invited to work with us, had many experiences in a movie that was about the city of Venice. If I hadn’t been told that this was a scene setting, I would have thought that it was filmed in the real city. It was made so beautiful and great. For the special effects, I thought of Mr. Scott Anderson, who has been a supervisor in the Oscar-winning ‘Terminator’ series as for the music. We thought of Mr. Rahman, who has composed impressive works and he is a Muslim himself, therefore, he could express the essence of Islam. In employing Iranians for the crew, we made an extensive study and used it from among a great capacity of Iranian actors. I can say, we searched all of Iran and used the best talents of theater and cinema, who did a really good job. For example, Mr. Mohammad Asgari, who is the actor of Abu Lahab, is a young actor who has a very bright future. And many other actors that you’ll see are very good talents of the future.
Press TV: As you actually touched the point that I want to ask you bout, why didn’t you choose any international actors and actresses for your movie?
Majidi: An actor is like the identity of the movie, because the audience first knows the movie with its actors and then the other factors. For general viewers, knowing the cameraman might not be very important. For them what they see in the movie is attractive. Professionals pay attention to the camera, scene setting and other factors. Sometimes people even don’t remember the name of the movie, but they refer to it with its actors. They know the movie by its actors; therefore, this was very important for me that the identity of the movie is Iranian. It was very important to show that this movie was Iranian and to be mentioned that Iran has made this movie. The actors, which are the showcase of the movie are Iranian. I have also mentioned before that the acting capacity in Iran is huge and I believe it hasn’t still been discovered well. In some cases, that it has been able to show itself, our actors have gained great international awards. For instance, about my own film “The Song of Sparrows” Mr. Naji, who was yet an unknown theater actor won the best actors’ award in the Berlin Film Festival. This shows that we have a great capacity in acting. As well as that the identity of the movie was very important for me.
Press TV: In what place do you think this movie will make its mark, in the Iranian cinema or cinema as a whole?
Majidi: Let the movie be seen, because whatever I say would be praising myself. The technical aspects of the movie should be seen and evaluated, but what I can mention about its content is that within its spirit it has the true citation of Islam, which is very close to it. If we could summarize Islam in one word it would be the religion of kindness, of course the religion has its own strict sides as well when it’s necessary according to God’s laws, confronting the infidelity there will be sought, but the religion of Islam is never the attacker, it defends the virtues.
Press TV: But you’ve made a lot of investment, you’ve had whole cities built for this movie. Can you be more specific about the technicalities? How has your film helped improve the cinema industry in Iran?
Majidi: We’ve seen beyond what you have mentioned. The cinema town that we’ve built could belong to the world of Islam, it could flourish the filmmaking of not only Iran but the world of Islam, but it could certainly add to the economic capacity of cinema in Iran. This could be a plateau available to many countries. Right now although there has been no advertisement, many countries are interested in coming and using it. I invite them all to come and use this location after the movie was shown. This could be a huge capacity building for our cinema. Of course when other countries come here, they will use our other capacities as well our cameramen, sound artists, actors, scene setters, costume designers etc. and this could help our cinema flourish both economically and culturally. This is not just a movie but it’s a cultural flow that can begin in the cinema of the world of Islam.
Press TV: As a final question I would like to know how it ended up in the Montreal Film Festival and how come the festival is opening with that?
Majidi: There have been many festivals that were looking for this opportunity to show the movie even some festivals like the Berlin Film Festival that were interested at first refrained due to some lobbies made by the money of some Arab countries. Unfortunately, some festivals are affected by these lobbies, but this was a movie that I was sure many places were firstly to see. As my movies have been very successful in Montreal and North America, they were eager to have may last movie after many years that I was away. You know I have three awards from the Montreal Film Festival as the best film, which is a record itself. Naturally, such a huge movie should have been in the opening and we accepted their invitation and in the next few days we will see it.
Press TV: What kind of reactions are you expecting?
Majidi: I believe good events will occur, either in the field of audience or in the marketing. I know that good news is on the way.
Press TV: So you already have, I think, a line-up of places that want to buy your movie, aren’t they?
Majidi: To say they’ve lined up is a bit exaggerated, but we had many requests from different countries to purchase the movie.
Press TV: Only Muslim countries or non-Muslim countries?
Majidi: Both Muslim and non-Muslim countries, European countries, United States and Far East