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Thursday, 11 May, 2000, 19:10 GMT 20:10 UK
Iranian director makes history
Samira Makhmalbaf
Samira Makhmalbaf learnt film-making from her father
By Pam O' Toole

Iranian film-maker Samira Makhmalbaf is making history at Cannes, becoming the youngest ever director to compete for the prestigious Palme d'Or with her film, Blackboard.

Samira Makhmalbaf adjusts her headphones
The young director is getting a lot of media attention
Although only 20 years of age, Makhmalbaf is no stranger to the glitter of the Cannes circuit - her first film, The Apple, directed when she was only 17, was well received when it was shown out of competition at Cannes two years ago.

Its subject matter was compelling; the true story of two Iranian girls, locked away by their parents until the age of 12 as a means of protecting them, taking their first tentative steps into the outside world. The girls and their family played themselves.

The film itself has received somewhat mixed reviews so far

Her new film follows teachers wandering through remote areas of Iran's Kurdistan province in search of pupils to educate. Using mostly non- professional actors and a hand-held camera it records their encounters with a variety of people in this remote region, ranging from smugglers to Iraqi Kurds fleeing a chemical gas attack by President Saddam Hussein.

It has been described as "an epic tale of three generations of displaced Kurds adrift in the mountains".

Famous father

The film itself has received somewhat mixed reviews so far, with some critics predicting it will not attract the same kind of enthusiasm as The Apple. Nevertheless, the director's youth and her colourful background mean that she is receiving a huge amount of media attention.

When she dropped out of school she badgered her father to begin teaching her about film-making

Samira Makhmalbaf is the daughter of one of Iran's best-known film directors, Mohsen Makhmalbaf. In his youth, her father was an Islamic revolutionary who was jailed for stabbing a policeman. After being released from jail he became a propagandist film-maker for the leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini.

In later years, the director has been quoted as saying that the process of discovering his own artistic voice has mellowed him.

His skills and experience have rubbed off on his family. Samira began visiting film studios in Tehran at an early age. When she dropped out of school she badgered her father to begin teaching her about film-making.

This gradually led to full scale teaching sessions on cinema and the arts, with Mohsen and his artist friends as teachers and Samira and her friends as pupils.

"After a few times" she said "it was like a private art school. We learnt about paintings and books and film"

Since then she has travelled the world as a result of The Apple's popularity - an international success story even by the standards of Iran's globally-acclaimed film makers. Although the young director is credited with being the creative force behind her first two features, she acknowledges that her father has provided practical help and support.

And she may yet face competition from within the family - her younger sister, Hanna, produced her first short film entitled The Day My Aunt was Ill, at the tender age of eight.

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09 Apr 00 | Middle East
Iranian 'King of Hearts' dies
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