The Man Who Won Oscars for Iran

A Q&A with Asghar Farhadi

Farhadi during production of “A Separation” (2011)

To celebrate sixty years of the Foreign Language Film Oscar, the Academy and the UK’s Curzon Cinemas are partnering to present a selection of feature films that have won the award. Find out more about the summer series here.

Iran received the Oscar in 2012 for A Separation and in 2017 for The Salesman. Director Asghar Farhadi (who was also nominated for Original Screenplay for A Separation) reflects on what the statuette has meant for his country.

What was your reaction when you found out your film was nominated in 2012?

I was in Paris, working on the script of The Past, the film I shot after A Separation. I was pacing up and down my office, thinking about a scene, when my assistant told me that the Oscar nominees were about to be announced. She was expecting the list on her laptop. The announcement program started. It was very exciting to find out that A Separation was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. But hearing that it was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay was amazing. I was immediately inundated with messages and phone calls. We had a warm celebration that evening at our place in Paris with my family and friends.

Farhadi backstage after accepting the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012.

What are your favorite memories of attending the Oscars that year?

The most beautiful memory I have from that evening is when A Separation was named the Best Foreign Language Film of the year and all the other nominees for the category stood up and expressed their appreciation.

This was an image of closeness and respect among different cultures.

Meeting your fellow nominees from other countries, what did you find you had in common? Differences?

What I really enjoyed before and during the Oscars ceremony was the kind and friendly relationship between the five nominees for the Best Foreign Language Film.

We all seemed to have forgotten we were competitors and felt more like members of a tour group enjoying each other’s company during this exciting trip.

In spite of the long-lasting conflicts between the governments and politicians of some of the countries we represented in this competition, none of us had the slightest animosity towards the others, and we even became friends. We had so much in common that, retrospectively, I can’t think of any difference between us. One of my fellow nominees and I happened to stay in the same hotel and we would have breakfast at the same table with our respective families for the few days we spent there. Two of the nominees for Best Foreign Language Film are good friends I am still in touch with.

What did it feel like when your country’s name was called as the winner for the first time?

I felt extremely proud because I knew how much joy this event would bring to my country. At the time, my people were really down because of the political climate. The former president Ahmadinejad gave a wrong and very negative image of the country through his attitude and speeches. A Separation winning the Oscar was able to change this image a little bit and slightly sweetened that bitter period.

The day after the ceremony, the expression of joy in the streets and the congratulatory messages on social networks were signs of the pride the people felt.

The support messages came from all sorts of people with different views and opinions. The message that touched me the most was one sent by a group of political prisoners who had gathered to write me a letter. Feeling that I had made them happy was a great reward to me.

How did your country react to the win?

The people’s reaction of joy exceeded my expectations. There was a crowd waiting at the airport to welcome me when I flew back to Tehran. The reaction of the State was mostly silence. A few people inside the system were annoyed by this win and they still are, years later. They tend to see any event related to any Iranian outside the country as the result of a plot.

How did your career change after your first Oscar win?

It didn’t change my way of making films, but did change my relationship to the audience. Audience numbers for my films increased in my country and abroad. The films that I had made before A Separation were released in some countries. The attention and the expectations of the viewers towards my films grew. This extra responsibility encouraged me to improve the quality of my work and to be more careful as I go on with my career as a filmmaker.

Iranian-American engineer and CEO Anousheh Ansari accepted Farhadi’s Oscar in 2017.

What do you think is the greatest reward of watching movies by a wide range of international filmmakers? How do you feel about your place among them?

I had often heard the phrase “cinema family” before, but I was really able to feel its meaning when, as a member of the Academy, I was given the opportunity to watch many films every year. This makes me feel as part of a movement and become aware of my position as a member of the cinema family. The members of this family have different cultures and different first names, but their common surname is Cinema.

This interview was conducted before the 89th Academy Awards.

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