In Iran, cameras and film stock are scarce commodities, usually provided after a lengthy wait, so it was no small amount of fatherly devotion and daughterly charms that went into making The Apple, Samira Makhmalbaf’s deft and moving debut. In the summer of 1997, Makhmalbaf, then 17, became intrigued by a newscast about twin 12-year-old girls who had been confined to their house all their lives. She decided she wanted to make a movie about them and approached her father, the internationally renowned director Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Gabbeh), for a favor.
“He was going to make his film [The Silence] in one month,” Samira recalls. “I couldn’t say, ‘Please give me all the film and cameras.’ So I told him I want to make a short film. He said, ‘Samira, OK.’ I’m sure he knows I’m going to make a feature film of this. He could understand, he’s a director.”
Father and daughter discussed the course the film would take, and the ways in which they could quietly intrude on the unfolding real-life drama. Things moved swiftly. “From the night I saw the report on television until the film was done, it was just two weeks. And when I look back, it was just one day. Because I didn’t have enough time to sleep at night. There were times when I woke up and I’d be on location. But we couldn’t edit it right away because then we went to my father’s project. It took us two, three months. Then we came back and we edited both of them. First he edited my film and then it was his turn.” Asked how she got priority, she quickly replies, “My film was shot first.”
The product of a lively, creative household, Makhmalbaf doesn’t lack for confidence or candor. “It was one of the best things that my father was an independent filmmaker, not at an office or with a company. He did most of his work in our house, so my father’s friends would come over and talk about art. We could listen and ask some things.”
In the nine months of festival hopping since The Apple premiered at Cannes, Makhmalbaf has been asked many things herself and has seemed to enjoy deflecting silly questions. Queried at the NYFF press conference about political issues, she replied that she was only 18 and a half, and couldn’t be expected to have all the answers. Asked later about films that have influenced her, she answered, “I have some favorites, but sometimes I think because I’m at the beginning of the way maybe it’s better not to decide. If I decide, I say, ‘OK, these are my favorites. I want to stop here.’ I don’t want to stop. I would like to continue.” And asked whether she, like her father, would put herself in her own films, she says, “I don’t know what will happen. Art doesn’t let you decide. But I don’t want to be famous like my father. I’d like to walk in the street the same as all the people. An artist needs to look at the people. Sometimes when all the people are looking at you, you can’t look. So you can’t see the world, you can’t see the life.”
Makhmalbaf is taking full advantage of the film-festival circuit. “Some people say, ‘Oh, aren’t you going to make your next film? What are you doing, you’re just traveling.’ I just want to say, ‘The only thing I have is time and the only thing I don’t have is experience. So the time I need is for my experience.’ ” She also took issue with the priorities of other young filmmakers. “Seeing different students from different places, their desire seems to be about going to Cannes. Before making this film, I never thought of festivals. I was just thinking of making films.”
Meanwhile, the family’s artistic tradition continues apace. New Yorker Films, the distributor of The Apple, will be releasing two Mohsen Makhmalbaf features this summer. Samira’s 17-year-old brother had his first photography exhibition last September and her little sister has already shot two shorts with a video camera. She’s 10 years old and will probably soon be borrowing her sister’s film stock.