In honour of International Women’s Day, which was this past Sunday, we want to commemorate one awesome and groundbreaking female director, Samira Makhmalbaf. Although she is the daughter of the acclaimed film director, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, she has quickly made a name for herself, ultimately becoming one of the most influential directors of the Iranian New Wave.
Makhmalbaf’s career started at a very young age. She left high school at 14 to study cinema in her father’s film school for young filmmakers, the Makhmalbaf Film House. At 17, she directed her very first film, THE APPLE (1998). The film is based on the true story of two twin sisters who were locked up by their parents for twelve years until social workers were called in to investigate the situation. With a brave, feminist message against a largely conservative culture, the film focuses on discrimination against women in Iran. The film went on to screen in many film festivals around the world, even winning a few awards.
Her next film, BLACKBOARDS (2000), was released just two years later. The film centers on a group of Kurdish refugees after the horrendous chemical bombing of the city of Halabja by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War. The film starts off very surreal, but as it progresses, the reality of being a fugitive becomes clear to the viewer. The film went on to win the Jury Prize at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival as well as the Frederico Fellini Honor and Special Cultural Prize from UNESCO.
Another one of her notable films is AT FIVE IN THE AFTERNOON (2003). The film looks at an ambitious young woman trying to gain an education in Afghanistan after the defeat of the Taliban. It was the first film to be shot in Kabul after the NATO invasion. Makhmalbaf wanted to show the gender discrimination that was still deeply entrenched in the society by the Taliban, despite Afghanistan’s freedom from the terrorist group. The film won the Jury Prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.
Being from a culture where a woman cannot be a filmmaker, Makhmalbaf says that in order to prevent other women from being discouraged from pursuing a career in the arts, one needs to challenge the status quo. Slowly, everyone’s opinions will begin to change. She hopes to see many more women directors in the future and for the sake of many more great films, we hope to see more females challenging the status quo as well.