An Interview with Abbas Kiarostami on Judging Films at International Festivals
by Ali Nour-Mousavi
Renowned Iranian filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami, was invited by Peter Scarlet, the chairman of the Middle East International Film Festival in Abu Dhabi, to chair the jury for feature films. The invitation created the opportunity for this interview. Kiarostami suggested that the questions be focused on judgment as he had come to Abu Dhabi to judge the films. He had no film entered in the festival. It was fair enough and the maestro’s call should be respected.
Film International: This is not the first time you chair the jury at a festival. What kind of advice do you usually offer to other jury members?
Abbas Kiarostami: Yes, it is not a first time. However, I always wish it were the last. This is a very hard and complicated job. The first time I was a jury member was in Locarno in 1993. I have not agreed to be on any jury during the past two years. This time, I only agreed thanks to my friendship with Peter Scarlet. Generally, I evade passing judgment on works of art. Every time I come to the conclusion that it is a very difficult job. This is particularly difficult for the judges coming from various pats of the world with various cultures, languages and views. Although all of us belong to the family of cinema, we have different views and it is a highly complicated and difficult job to reach to a relatively fair final decision. Every time when the work is done, I have been extremely unhappy. And it is not just me. It is true about every judge. Our favorite choice is not always in the final verdict. Instead, what determines the fate of every film is a kind of collective agreement. If you change the combination of the jury, the fate of films will also change. So, how can we say that a film was the festival’s choice? That is why I have been refusing to be on any jury for a long time. What I told the jury members in our first meeting, and that is what I always say, was that we were taking part in an unreal and unfair job. We have started a job that could involve many mistakes. So, we should not insist on our mistakes. Instead we should seek agreement and understanding. In my second experience as a festival jury member there were a lot of disputes over the first and second best films. We discussed the matter until dawn broke and we still had not reached an agreement. As a result of this struggle among personal egos, a film that was not supposed to be a winner, won the award and the best first and second films were simply ignored! When the verdict was read out, every one of us tried to hide somewhere. This is how sometimes the fate of a film is determined at the competition section. I believe it is not the award, the critics or the box office that determines the quality of a film. It is determined by history. Some thirty years should pass to see if we still like to watch the film as a relevant and lively work of art. But who can wait for thirty years to find out if his or her film has been a good one? However, we have agreed to select some films by mistake!
FI: How does your jury work? Do you discuss every film after watching it?
AK: No. The less we talk about a film the better is the chance of reaching to a final result without imposing our personal views. Every time I was the head of the jury I suggested that we write down the names of the films we liked without any discussions. If we reached an agreement, that would be fair. We will discuss it if there were any disagreements. Discussing the films would not get us to an agreement. In this case, we do not give an award to the value of a film. It is the value of the jury or critic who defends the film better than others. But this does not mean that this film is any better than the others. Here, a film, wins the award for reasons that have nothing to do with its quality and merely because it had a good advocate. So, I try to evade discussion among the jury in order to evade a confrontation between judges with different capabilities. Even a better known jury can overwhelm the others. This should not change a film’s fate. So, it is enough to write down the names of the films we like. At the end of the day, we select the films based on our taste. Discussions introduce a series of new elements including the way you defend a movie. This can question a film’s legitimacy. Every time I was a jury member and the chairman of the jury asked my views, I told him that a film did not comply with my taste. I cannot say that whether it is a good film or not. That is because we have different yardsticks. I liked a film very much. I asked a critic in Paris about his views on the same film. He did not like it. I asked why? And he said “It was made to well!” You see how different is his yardstick with the Iranian criteria? I know what he meant. Everything in that film was so calculated and he did not like it. We would say it was a flawless film and you could not touch a frame of it. What we think is an advantage could be viewed as a disadvantage by others. So, I evade discussions because they could lead to an argument which could change the fate of awards. It is better to look at a work of art from a distance and finally say whether it does comply with our taste. For instance, I need to believe a film. This is my criterion for value judgment. I lose contact with a film I do not believe. Then I cannot continue watching it. Even if I sit down and watch it, my mind will fly away and I cannot follow the film. After I believe a film, I need to see if it is my kind of movie. What is my taste now? I will give the award or privilege to a movie I wish I had made myself. That is how I look at films and I really do not have another criterion. In our choices, we have a problem with films that have a good structure but do not necessarily comply with our views about cinema.
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