by Roland Elliott Brown, IranWire
Edinburgh-based filmmaker and film historian Mark Cousins is one of Iranian cinema’s most enthusiastic advocates. He drew attention to Iranians’ cinematic achievements in his 2004 book The Story of Film, and his 2011 documentary series The Story of Film: An Odyssey. He first traveled to Iran by road from Scotland in 2001. When he visited again in 2005 to make two documentaries, Cinema Iran and On the Road with Kiarostami, he met artist, actor, and director Mania Akbari, who was best known for her performance in Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten, and for her own film, 20 Fingers. In 2011, Akbari fled to London after Iranian authorities arrested crew members working on her film Women Do Not Have Breasts. Last year, Cousins and Akbari began exchanging “cine-letters” about life, art, and the human body, which comprise their new film, Life May Be.
How did you become acquainted with Iranian cinema, and with Iran?
I saw Abbas Kiarostami's Where is the Friend's House in the late 1980s, and read about the Iranian films that the Locarno film festival was showing. In the early 1990s, when I was director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, I wrote to the Iranian government's film agency, asking if they would send me films. A few months later, a shoebox arrived. It contained videotapes of about 10 films, gems like Mohammad Ali Talebi's The Boot. The films were revelations, paradocumentaries, human, sincere, uncompromised by commerce. I fell in love.
Life May Be draws its title from Forough Farrokhsad’s poem Another Birth. What role has Farrokhsad’s poetry played in your friendship with Mania Akbari?
I first met Mania in Iran, and we went to Forough's grave together. I loved Forough's courage, her sass, her beauty. For me she was like Blondie meets Virginia Woolf. As a non-Iranian, I didn't understand a lot of things about Forough, but Mania's passion for her has helped me understand more. She's the third part of our triangle.