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Last week in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to attend the final screening of The Gardener, a film by multi award-winning Iranian film maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf.
Makhmalbaf has a long list of movies and awards under his belt including films such as Kandahar and The Day I Became A Woman, and his latest film/documentary The Gardener, has been getting a lot of attention as well, especially as it was predominantly filmed in the Baha’i gardens in Haifa and Akko, Israel.
Using the beautiful Baha’i gardens in Israel as a backdrop, from the very beginning of the film Makhmalbaf and his son Maysam set out to learn more about the Baha’i Faith and ask why the Baha’is have been persecuted in the the birthplace of their faith, Iran since the Faith’s inception. Primarily however, the film is not so much about the Baha’i Faith, but more about the power of religion in general, and its role in the world both historically and in the present, and its transformative effect on humanity, and whether we need religion at all.
Using very simple cameras in order to convey a very grassroots and simple effect, Makhmalbaf also uses a lot of symbolism throughout his personal journey of discovery. As with all artistic endeavors, the effects of an artists work on the receiver is inevitably varied, but for me personally, the film struck a certain chord. Perhaps because the main character was a Baha’i volunteer working in the Baha’i gardens from Papua New Guinea (the country where I was raised), but also because it was mainly filmed in the gardens surrounding the Baha’i Holy Places in the Holy Land, (where I’ve had the fortune of spending a number of years and which I miss immensely), but most importantly for me was the fact that I really felt that Makhmalbaf was sincere in his quest to question the purpose of religion, and that he had a sincere concern for the plight of the Baha’is of Iran and the persecution they continue to face, even though he is not a Baha’i himself.
In his address to the audience after receiving the Special Maverick Award for the film in Croatia, he said:
I hope this award could be used as a key in unlocking the doors of cultural and political prisons. With this hope in my mind, I dedicate this award to that eighty-year-old Baha’i man who has been sentenced to twenty years of prison and is passing the last years of his life in one cell with his grandson. I dedicate this award to that Baha’i mother from Semnan who is in prison accompanied by her infant child. I dedicate this award to all the 130 Baha’i prisoners who are in Iran’s political prisons only because they have adopted a different religion or because they have taught Baha’i youth at their homes while the government of Iran has deprived these youth from entering Iranian universities.The Sixteenth Motovun Film Festival, Croatia, 27-31 July 2013
The Gardener has created a lot of controversy in Iran and Makhmalbaf continues to face a lot of criticism from many of his fellow Iranian countrymen and the Iranian government is trying to strip him of all his film awards.
One thing is for sure, Mohsen Makhmalbaf and his family deserve a huge round of applause for their courage in making this film.
You can read up more on The Gardener here on IMDB, and you can find out film screening times and locations here: http://www.thegardenerfilm.com/theatrical/
You can also watch the trailer to The Gardener below:
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