BC: It seems difficult for many artists today to treat individual psychological truth, sociopolitical reality, and artistic form with equal seriousness, with equal commitment. Is that a reasonable statement?
AK: I completely agree. As I have implied, moviemakers are always being pushed to focus on the excitation and manipulation of the audience. The question to which I don’t know the answer is whether or not the viewer wants to be manipulated. I don’t know anyone who says, “Instead of letting me see reality, manipulate me. I would prefer it.” This is an illness that comes from somewhere in society—maybe from escapist movies themselves.
BC: You yourself are choosing to make films about ordinary people, poor people. That itself is quite rare today.
AK: I get my material from all around me. When I leave my house in the morning, those ordinary people are the ones I come into contact with. In my entire life I have never met a star—somebody I have seen on the screen. And I believe that any artist finds his material in what’s around him. Human beings and their problems are the most important raw material for any film.
BC: How can film art in general contribute to the lives of ordinary people?
AK: The biggest impact of cinema on the viewer is that it allows his imagination to take flight. There are two possible results of this. Perhaps it will make his ordinary, day-to-day life more bearable. On the other hand, it may result in his day-to-day life seeming so bad to him that, as a result of his newfound awareness, he may decide to change his life.
BC: A related question. Humanity has suffered a great deal in the past and continues to suffer. How do artists treat such a situation honestly without surrendering to fatalism or pessimism?
AK: It’s a difficult question and I cannot answer precisely how artists do that, but the ones who do are the artists, the ones who accomplish the task of turning that painful experience of humanity into art Without becoming cynical. Making it possible for everyone to get some pleasure out of pain, making beauty out of ugliness or desolation. And the painful experience of human-ity, be it in Iran, Africa, or the United States, isn’t going to change any time soon. In my relatively short lifetime, I haven’t experienced a reduction of injustice anywhere, let alone in my own country. And never mind a solution to the problem of injustice. People keep referring to the “global village,” but in Africa, in Uganda, I watched as parents put the corpses of their children in boxes, tied them to the backs of bicycles, and pedaled away—barefoot. I’m quoting an author 1 don’t know who said that, by the twenty-first century, humanity will only be four years old. I think that applies. Humanity today, in 2005, is just about at the stage of a four-year-old. So we’ll have to wait a long time before humanity even reaches the maturity of an adolescent.
BC: Doesn’t the future of cinema also depend on an improvement in the social and political atmosphere?
AK: 1 don’t think so. I actually sometimes think that, at least in my country, art has grown the most when the social situation has been the worst. It seems to me that artists are a compensatory mechanism, a defense mechanism in those kinds of unfavorable circumstances.