-Why aren't Muslims able to sufficiently reflect their heritage of faith and cultural values on the cinema screen? Western cinema, on the other hand, is quite comfortable with Christianity, the church and even Jesus...
We can say that we are unable to successfully use the cinema not only in the area of religion, but in any area. We are a country that has lived a great rupture in the area of culture. There are important elements supporting the cinema in the Western world. Painting has supported the cinema in the West since the Renaissance with all its visualization. From his childhood on, a Westerner sees the whole tradition of painting from classical paintings to modern paintings. Consequently, when Westerners attempt to make movies they produce new pictures with their esthetic sub-conscious code and give shape to the cinema in this way. Similarly the world of literature supports cinema scripts. The theater with its acting... Thus, all arts support the cinema. We, however, have become like someone who has moved to another geographical place; suddenly we were reduced to ground zero. Calligraphy was pulled out of our lives; marbling, illumination, beautiful Quran recitation, and classical poetry were pulled from our lives. We have become human beings with minds facing a plain, barren wall trying to create something from nothing. For example, in spite of all the upheavals, Iranian cinema, with all its magnificence, is in a position to be compared with the West. For the Iranians were never separated from their roots; they are still Persians. The Persian issue is something they did not reject.
-You mean they carried their entire cultural heritage to the cinema...
Yes. From Zoroastriasm to all variations of Islam and all its different interpretations, they became a unified culture. For you are producing a higher form of art. You produce art from a lower form of art and you brand it a pedicle and it does not change. For that reason, Tarkovski's term "sealed time" is a good description of the cinema. For every director brands time differently. In other words, you see an event and describe it and I see and describe it, but each is different. For everyone sets out from his own emotions and for this reason cinema is a very important thing - something related to acceptance. A Soviet director who makes important films related to the October Revolution made an experiment; he filmed one of the important Russian actors of that time with a straight face. Then he mixed in various pictures every two or three seconds - a crying child, a laughing child, a naked woman...Later after mounting these together and showing them to people, viewers get this kind of feeling: "What wonderful acting; he sees a crying child and feels sad and sees a happy child and his eyes sparkle." But the material is the same. Fantasy... Because the crying child creates sadness in the viewer and the laughing child creates happiness, they reflect the inner emotion to the other side. In other words, the fantasy of cinema makes this effect. It makes a great impact and it is a language. In view of this, when you completely erase a past culture and create a new culture you are at ground zero. For you have forgotten many things, you have not seen many things, and you have not read them. The Germans were destroyed during the Second World War. Not long after - ten years later - they continued where they had left off. Why? Because if you know how you have made something, it is not a big loss if it breaks. But if you have lost the knowledge of how to make a glass, then you have to turn in history to the point when man discovered how to make glass.
-Then you have to work here like an archeologist. In other words, poets, writers and directors have to do this... In your opinion, how deep do you need to go?
I am Asian. All of Asia belongs to me and I can produce many things from Asia. When you look at it this way, for example, today while Chinese cinema is being transferred to Hollywood by directors who are challenging world cinema, they do not do this from where they are today. They do it by being nourished by one thousand, two thousand or three thousand years of Chinese history.
For example, when we look at the way of story-telling in the cinema of Mexican director Iñárritu who has gained a lot of fame with three or four films lately, it is almost the same as Rumi's way of telling stories. In the Alchemist Paolo Coelho similarly gets just one story from Rumi, enlarges it in another form - a more oriental form - and presents it to the whole world.
- Well, while Rumi is a part of our own heritage, why weren't we the ones who turned his form of story-telling into a universal language?
Because our people give shape to cinema story-telling under the influence of the West. They think something is wrong if the story-telling style is not like that in the West. However, I do not think like that. Every people, every country and every community lives a different experience. The East is different from the West. In other words, we might fall into the same group as an Indian or a Chinese person, but falling into the same category as a Frenchman would be very difficult. For their perspective on life is different from our perspective on life. Our windows are very different; our perception is very different. For this reason, I try and break this notion in my films. However, people who have been coded with the story-telling style of the West for almost eighty years turn up their noses when they see something different and begin to criticize it for not measuring up. Unfortunately our writers do the same thing. In order for us to get our work accepted, we have to make Western references. I do not believe in an Aristo style of drama. The best example of this is Chekhov's saying, "If there is a gun on the wall, it will fire." I say, "There is a gun on the wall and it doesn't fire." Life is something like this; it is not like what we fantasize. It proceeds like fate planned and we are only players trying to play our role well. We are the players of a great scenario. Beginning with the affirmation of faith, we need to be able to engrave the whole mathematical code on our spirits. This is not just a line of letters or words or meanings; I think it is a code. And that whole code is a lifestyle lived and taught by our Prophet.
-How is this sub-conscious transformation going to happen and how are we going to transpose our Prophet's example to the cinema?
It is easier to do this in poetry, novels and stories than it is in the cinema. We resemble architects a little. Someone can be a very good architect, but if there is no power behind to finance him, the project will remain on paper and lose its quality as a work. If we remove Sultan Sulaiman's support from behind the Architect Sinan, would he still be Sinan? If you remove the opportunity for me to make films, then I will not write scenarios. If I feel that I could find the financial support, I would write one just in case. Someone has to order it from you, because this is a job that begins at a million dollars. If 1 million dollars is not going to attract 500 thousand viewers, then it is not feasible.
-Then as long as these conditions do not appear, people will continue to only watch "The Message." What do think about that film which has become a classic in its field?
For one thing, "The Message" is a materialist film. It is a film that remained under the influence of socialism in Libya, that only gave priority to Islam's economical aspect, and that did not give precedence to its spiritual aspect. There will be a battle and it shows 3,000 Muslims fighting with 10,000 Bedouins alone in the desert. You cannot get engaged in such a battle. Now no one can explain to me the killing of Hamza. A black man walks around in the middle of the battle like a tourist and no one touches him. Is this possible?
-Well then, what is the reason for its success?
It is successful in Turkey. It was damned every place else in the world. We do not have any alternative. The film does not believe in miracles - neither the spider miracle, nor the adhan miracle, nor the being lost in the desert miracle. It sees them as physical events. The camera diaphragm is almost closed when the sun hits the desert and, consequently, the idolaters do not see the men taking refuge in the shadows. They cannot perceive them from there.
-Well, don't we have any ingredients "to make halvah" in this field - no oil, flour or sugar...?
There is no oil, sugar or flour - and no one to eat the halvah. If you make a pot of halvah here, no one will come and it will spoil. Also the viewer does not have a tradition. The cinema does not have a tradition to watch movies. It's like the Friday prayer. You can make the other prayers when and where you want until it is time for the next prayer, but you have to make the Friday prayer on time - at the right time and the right place. The cinema is like this. You have to take the time to go. You have to go half an hour early. If the film is two hours long, you have to set aside three hours for it. There is no such ting as catching in the next séance what you missed in the first. This is a tradition. You are making a film for a mass of people who do not have this tradition. Consequently, you have to make things that will seduce and excite people. Then you have to make very good advertising. The viewer does not believe any press organ, but if it is not mentioned, they do not believe it either.