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Attention, Filmmakers: Here’s Your Chance to Go to Cuba to Make a Movie with Abbas Kiarostami

Attention, Filmmakers: Here's Your Chance to Go to Cuba to Make a Movie with Abbas Kiarostami

READ MORE: Attention, Filmmakers: Here’s Your Chance to Attend Werner Herzog’s Film School

Acclaimed filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (“Taste of Cherry,” “Close-Up,” “Certified Copy”) will be hosting a 10-day workshop for 35 students, each of whom will get the opportunity to make a short film mentored by the Iranian master. The “anti-film school, film school” will be held from January 26th to February 5th.

This will be Kiarostami’s third “Workshop for Auteurs” — the previous two were held in Bogota, Columbia and Barcelona, Spain, while the most recent one in Austria (to be co-taught by Michael Haneke) had to be cancelled due to the fact Kiarostami was shooting his new film in China. Here’s what applicants can expect if they’re expected to the latest one.

Face Time With Abbas

According Cristina Sanchez, who was a student in a Kiarostami-led workshop in Barcelona and is now helping produce the Cuban workshop through her Black Factory Cinema, the 75-year-old legend is a very hands-on mentor. 

When Kiarostami arrives at the workshop’s host city, he spends the day walking around, learning about the nearby community and landscape. He then picks a theme for the workshop — in Barcelona it was the sea, in Bogota it was the university — and students then have 10 days to write, shoot and edit a film based on the chosen theme.  

“He instructs students to spend the day walking around with that theme in mind and to come up with an idea for a film,” Sanchez told Indiewire. “Then in the evening everyone gathers in a circle and starts sharing their ideas. Kiarostami listens one-by-one and gives feedback.”

“[Kiarostami] is tough, but in a good way,” added Sanchez. “If he doesn’t see your idea clearly — he believes if you can’t explain your idea in words, you won’t be able to explain it in images — he won’t give you his blessing to begin shooting.”

Luckily, Sanchez said, she was shooting her film by the second day. But some of her peers didn’t receive the green light from Kiarostami until day four or five. The filmmaker stays very hands-on throughout the 10-day period, giving constant feedback on dailies and rough cuts. 

Why Cuba?

Back in 2014, Kiarostami wrote a letter to author Gabriel García Márquez (“Love in the Time of Cholera”) expressing a deep admiration and desire to collaborate. The Nobel Prize winner for Literature never replied and died three weeks after the letter was sent.  

With January’s workshop, Kiarostami will pay tribute to the Márquez by going the film school the famed author co-founded, The International Film School of San Antonio de los Baños (also know as EICTV), which is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

The filmmaker hopes to pay homage to the Columbian writer’s philosophy of “learning by making.” Kiarostami points to the following Márquez quote as being both a guiding philosophy of his workshop and spirit with which Marquez’s film school was founded: “The workshop is a game in which we study the group’s dynamic applied to the artistic production. It’s a brainstorming operation applied to a story, an idea, and an image, to anything that could eventually become a film…the inventive of reality has no limits; instead, the dramatic situations run out quickly; there are only three great dramatic situations: Life, Love and Death. Everything else fits there.”


The application process is fairly simple. According to Sanchez, applicants will be chosen largely based on their cover letter stating their motivation to participate in the workshop. Ten of the participants will be selected from the EICTV student body, while 25 additional students will come from outside Cuba.

The workshop is not specifically geared toward experienced filmmakers. Participants must be self-sufficient filmmakers, in that they must come with their own computers, editing software and a camera, all of which they need to know how to operate. Sanchez emphasized they won’t be making a distinction between amateurs working with iMovie and a handycam versus professionals coming with an Avid system and an Alexa camera.  

Once production begins, Black Factory Cinema will help filmmakers find actors and basic production needs, though in true Kiarostami spirit, the belief is that the best films will be those that use non-professional actors and are ingrained in surrounding communities. 

Tuition is 2500 euros (roughly $2640), which covers accommodations and food for the ten days.

Applications are due December 7th.  Participants will find out if they got accepted on December 14.

READ MORE: The Films of Abbas Kiarostami: A Retrospective

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