An interview with Director of Bab' Aziz, Nasir Khamier

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Nasir Khamier, writer, filmmaker, poet, painter, sculptor, calligrapher is born in Korba, Tunisia in 1948. Since his childhood he lived in the culture of narrations and he never stopped to collect ad write them. In 1982 he was invited by Antoine Vitez to tell the story of One Thousand One Nights in the Theatre Nationale in Chaillot. The short-time character of the oral story doesn’t keep him from changing the story to another life by his graphical and plastic experiences. From 1975 he is publishing a lot of titles, among them ‘Le Soleil emmuré’, ‘Le conte des conteurs’, ‘Le nuage amoureux’, ‘Shéherazade’, ‘L’Alphabet des sables’ and ‘’Le Champ des génies’. At the same way his cinematographic works possess these these qualities, especially in his first film, ‘L’Histoire du Pays du Bon Dieu’, in 1976 and others like ‘L’Ogresse’ (1977), ‘Les Baliseurs du désert’ (1984), ‘Le collier perdu de la Colombe’ (1990) and ‘À la recherche des Mille et une nuits’ (1991). Among several films portraying the desert and Arab-Andalusian cultural life of the past, ‘Les Baliseurs du Desert’ was especially well received. ‘Bab’Aziz’ is his most recent film

In the tradition of 1001 Nights, the ritual reciting of Arabic poetry and the Sufi art of recounting tales, Bab’Aziz layers stories within stories in a magical tale of a dervish’s journey across the desert with his granddaughter. On the way, he tells tales of princes, desert palaces and of searching-and sometimes finding-the unobtainable. Featuring live music from Pakistani Qawaali masters, traditional Persian singers and other folk bands from Azerbayan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Baluchistan and the Ghashgai tribe, Bab’Aziz is a beautifully made portrait of the desert and its mysterious tales, rarely before portrayed so eloquently on film.”From Arab Film Festival site http://www.arabfilmfestival.nl/affr2007/nl/

CWB: I understand that the movie is not really made for making corrections to the image of Islam. But it does that naturally.
Nasir Khamier: I made the film this way and it is in fact a film that automatically does what it has to do for the Islamic imagery. For example, I’m not really a religious person, but for me it was about a culture that I had been missing more than a religion.

Islam before being a religion is a culture within itself .That is why there are no prayers to explain Islam and it’s ideals. It is a kind of ritual trip in a culture.

CWB: I don’t know if you agree with me or not, but I also noticed that you shot your movie in different locations…and it shows that what Islam has done is to take a unified type of culture into different countries and your film shows how different countries interpret it differently.
Nasir: I think you are right and this is why I tried to get some black people from Abadan to play in the film because I wanted to show the diversity; they are a part of Islam.

CWB: The style is also very interesting. There is a unique style of storytelling that I would like you to elaborate on.
Nasir: You can present it in many different ways and one of them is to say these stories are like a whirling dish and every time he turns, there’s a new character that arrives and new story. The main theme of these stories is love. The kinds of love change throughout the stories. It can be the love of a young man who encounters love in the eyes of a woman, the love of a lost man who fell into wealth and a number of girls, and of course the Arabian Nights. One has to tell a story that resembles oneself and can relate to an audience. One has to tell the story, but not always in the same form as stories should be told. Because truth is like a mirror that comes down from the sky and is broken down to thousands of pieces: every person who picks up a piece feels like they are attaining the whole. When I tell a story, I only tell a part of it and not the whole thing.

CWB: That’s very clever because in western dramas they usually only focus on a simple truth because they are afraid of distractions and they don’t have the structure for it.
Nasir: This is why the film is different and it is important to tell the story as I do. There are many truths and a story should not be so simplified.

CWB: One thing that I found is that the whole movie is like a continuous painting. However this film is not painted entirely with the visual stimuli, I think it is also painted by the music. The music is also an important part of the painting.
Nasir: What you’re saying is true because music is very important. It is like prayer, and this is part of their prayers: music, singing, and dancing. Praying is not just going to the mosque; in some cultures it involves music.

CWB: Another interesting thing is that in some beautiful cities that have been destroyed, like Bam, Iran, you have discovered interesting things in the ruins.
Nasir: Something magical happened in Bam. When we were shooting we no longer knew which country we were in. Suddenly, we felt old history coming out of the city of Bam. It took 3 nights of shooting a certain scene and it was very strange because we felt a presence, and we felt like we were not alone in the city of Bam. There were people around us, but who? We did not know.

CWB: How much has being a painter helped you with interpreting certain rituals and how have your paintings helped you?
Nasir: It is very hard for me to talk about my paintings, but I do get some influence from Tunisian art because I am Tunisian. Instead of giving me only a vision of 150 years of our modern era, painting gave me a much older vision that went far beyond certain older periods. It was actually this dimension that gave me my freedom and ability of creation. Our reality stops us from understanding our history and to interpret our history for the future. My whole idea is how to interpret our history and change it into our future. Maybe this world is too old but one can’t forget that in Mesopotamia was where we found the first alphabet. That’s why we know that Ishtar is a Persian name not an Arab name. Our history is not one history but many histories. It is not one memory but many memories. Islam is one of the memories. Globalization should go in both directions, and not just in one direction. So the west sends us teachers and other entities, but we have to have the chance to do the same from our side. We have to aim for this because this is the only way that we can have a future and go on living.

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Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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