No one Knows About Persian Cats is the story of two young musicians that have recently been released from prison and decide to form a band. Together they search the underworld of contemporary Tehran for other players. Forbidden by the authorities to play in Iran, they plan to escape from their clandestine existence, and dream of performing in Europe. But with no money and no passports, it won’t be easy…
Bahman Ghobadi, director of No One Knows About Persian Cats, was born on February 1st, 1969, in Baneh, a city near the Iran-Iraq border, in the province of Kurdistan, Iran. After receiving his high school diploma from Sanandaj, he moved to Tehran in 1992 to further his studies. Ghobadi began his artistic career in the field of industrial photography. Although he earned a B.A. in Film Directing from the Iranian Broadcasting College, he never properly graduated, believing that he learned more by making short films than by formal study. His direct experience with film helped him to expand his individualistic voice and his vision of the world he inhabited. He initially used 8mm film, shooting short documentaries as a starting point. From the mid-1990s on, Ghobadi’s short films began to receive foreign and domestic awards. LIFE IN FOG (“the most famous documentary ever made in the history of Iranian cinema”) in particular was the recipient of a number of international prizes and opened new opportunities in Ghobadi’s career. With the making of his debut feature, A TIME FOR DRUNKEN HORSES in 1999, Ghobadi became fully recognized as an international director. The first full-length Kurdish feature film in the history of Iranian cinema, it firmly established Ghobadi as the leading Kurdish director from Iran.
Bijan Tehrani: How did you first encounter the story of No One Knows About Persian Cats?
Bahman Ghobadi: Three years ago I wanted to shoot a project called Thirty Seconds about Us. I didn’t get the permission for making that film and therefore I was very disappointed and I was looking for a solution for making a project that would help me overcome the disappointment that I had. I am a filmmaker and I had no other way but to make a film and just before saying goodbye to my crew and letting go because my project had failed, I decided that I would go to an underground music studio and record my songs and music and I would try to do some artistic work that way. When I went to record my music, there I met these Iranian underground musicians and I was amazed while learning about their goals; they opened up a new window for me. It showed me a new way of looking at art and a new way of being an artist, they gave me the courage and the bravery to know that I don’t have to wait in order to get permission to make a film, I don’t have to wait to go and get a budget; I could make a project about ideas such as underground Iranian music without a budget or permission. This way of filmmaking would allow me to go after ideas and subjects that we were not even allowed to get close to or even make a film about them. It became bigger than music, because there are so many problems and issues that are forbidden to talk about. I wanted to try an urban movie, making a movie in the city and about the city life.
BT: No One Knows About Persian Cats shows a new picture of Iran, we see a face of Iran that we have not seen before in any Iranian films.
BG: That’s quite true. At the Cannes Film Festival, everyone called this a new wave in Iranian cinema when they saw this film. I was hearing a lot of comments like that in the places that the film was showing, Iranians were coming to me after the film and telling me that they never knew that anything like this existed in Iran. As I mentioned, this whole thing was a gift given to me by underground Iranian musicians that actually let me find a new way of telling a story which was different than the other movies that I had worked on. Also, in this film I showed a whole new face of the capitol of Iran, this was also because of the subject of the film which allowed me to show this face of the city.
BT: I wanted to know, among the characters in the film, if they are real characters or fictional ones.
BG: Every character, every group, every location; everything in the film is real—nothing is fiction in this film. Before we started this film, we had conducted interviews with the characters that you see in the film. We used all of the comments and all of the real stories of the characters and musicians in order to build this screenplay. Every scene of the film that you see with a band is a result of conversations with the real members of that band, their experiences and all of the things that have happened to them. Every single event in the film, everything that happens to every character is based on real stories.
BT: Something that is amazing to me is how brave the characters in the film are; that despite the circumstances in their country, they openly come out to participate in this type of film. Were they not scared of the consequences that could possibly follow?
BG: I just got a little bit of my bravery from these guys: they are really, really brave. The film is limited to the bands who participated, but there are thousands of bands in Tehran only playing music. But my film is an hour and a half and there was no chance of showing all of the bands. Even if I had filmed all of them, it would have been a messy project. When the bands that I shot got in front of the camera, they are just playing music; they are not saying anything that would cause trouble for them. They are protesting through their music in a very calm and polite manner, in a peaceful manner. When we were about to finish the film, the two main characters, Negar and Ashkan, told us that they were about to leave Iran in twenty days, and we based our story on the real struggles of this young girl and young boy who had been in jail because of their music. After they leave the jail, they put a band together and leave the country; their goal was to leave Iran and go to a place where they have more freedom to play and record music without restriction, they would then come back to Iran and educate on their experiences. I was thinking that they might get in trouble, but they are now in London and they are working on their first album.
BT: One of the characters in No One Knows About Persian Cats which I found quite impressive is Hich-Kass, Nobody. How did you first meet this character?
BG: I know Soroush personally and he is a very interesting and nice person, and he had a great influence over my work and this film. He introduced me to a man that had worked on his music videos and he helped me with the video clips in the film. He had a great effect over the structure in my film. He really loves Iran and even though he is currently under close observation and restriction, he still works under these hard conditions and teaches rap music to the underground musicians of our time. He is really a rebel, but at the same time he is a very honest person, like all of the other musicians in the film.
BT: You have a very unique style with this film as opposed to your other films; it’s an entirely new way of making films for you. How did you come up with the new style?
BG: Actually, this came from the music of the artists; I was listening to their music everyday and night. I wanted to make a film that was completely new for Iranian cinema and use unique locations and characters that are based on truth. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do more than what I had done, because we only had seventeen days to do the whole thing. I think everything else came from the music, trying to go and discover Iran and seeing the different layers of life in Iran—all of this came through the music. If this film is very energetic, that energy comes from the music of the bands that are in the film. First we were going to just have the camera in the studio and have the bands play for the camera and that would be the start of the film, but as I was listening to the music, I could see the visual interpretations of the music in my head. I decided that the viewer would want to see the visuals of this music that would give a face to the whole film.
BT: Right now, you are living outside Iran. Some say that an artist that is cutting his roots and living elsewhere can’t match the quality of his previous work. Do you agree with that?
BG: I have not left my country forever; I left my country to do a few projects, especially due to all of the censorship that is preventing the freedom of the artist. But soon I will go back to Iran, as I am not ready to leave that front. I want to go back and make my films there.
BT: Will you please tell us about your future projects?
BG: I am working on a movie that will be filmed in either the U.S. or in Germany. I am also working on a dark-comedy that will be shot mostly in English in Iraq. I hoped that I can make both of these projects happen and I will make the first one in 2010. I hope that these films will pass new messages and ideas to my audience.
BT: Thank you for your time and good luck.