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Jafar Panahi Remembers Abbas Kiarostami: ‘His Vision Will Live Forever’

The Iranian filmmaker salutes his late mentor and friend.

Abbas Kiarostami at Cannes in 2012

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Editor’s note: With the death of renowned Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami over the weekend, IndieWire has been reaching out to some of his friends and collaborators to reflect on his significance. The following thoughts from fellow Iranian director Jafar Panahi — who is currently restricted to traveling within the country and banned from filmmaking by his government — were provided to IndieWire by way of journalist and translator Jamsheed Akrami. Panahi’s most recent film, “Taxi,” was released last year.

Mr. Kiarostami, My Teacher

My most vivid recollection of all the years I spent with Mr. Kiarostami is probably the first one. As an aspiring filmmaker, I desperately wanted to work with him. When I learned he was in preproduction for “Through the Olive Trees,” I just picked up the phone and left him a message saying that I was a film graduate employed by the Iranian Television and was interested in working with him as an assistant.

When I called again the following day, he picked up and asked me to meet with him at the Institute for the Development of Children and Young Adult where he was working at the time. After we met, he quickly asked me to join his crew and head for Roudbar in a minibus.

Upon arriving, Mr. Kiarostami took his DP and me to the first location that happened to be Tahereh’s earthquake-stricken house, which needed some repairs before the shoot. They were planning to work on it for a couple of days, but I told Mr. Kiarostami I could fix the house in one day. I asked him to leave me there and come back at 4 p.m. to shoot. He looked a bit hesitant, but agreed.

The crew came back at 4 p.m. and everybody was surprised that the house was done. They just did a single shot that day, but I think the experience helped me win Mr. Kiarostami’s trust. Later that afternoon, he asked me to ride with him to another location. Along the way, he stopped and gave me a handkerchief to use as a blindfold, which I did. He continued to drive for a while and stopped again. He helped me get off the car, held my hand, and, after walking me for a couple of minutes, asked me to remove the blindfold. I opened my eyes and saw what turned out to be the final shot of “Through the Olive Trees,” that majestic landscape! As I was stunned by the view, Mr. Kiarostmi told me, “That’s my vision. That’s how I see this place.”

The experience taught me a valuable lesson. I realized the importance of having a vision and how each filmmaker needs to develop his or her vision. The spot we were standing on was Mr. Kiarostami’s vision. He didn’t tell me that was the best vantage point. He just said that was his point of view, and I realized I had to have mine. There must be a difference between the way different people look at the same location or the same issue.

Sadly, someone who taught “vision” to other filmmakers has closed his eyes and cannot see anymore. But the impact of his vision will last forever. It’s reflected in every shot in every one of his films. Mr. Kiarostami, my teacher, taught us how to see things in our own uniquely different ways.

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