Today is Iranian Film Notes day. If we're looking toward the culture set for insight into this moment in world history, I can think of no better group to investigate than the embattled and triumphant Iranian filmmakers of today.
The great Cairo weekly Al-Ahram recently interviewed Abbas Kiarostami (tidbit: he likes Tarantino), but there is disappointingly little delving into his thoughts about Afghanistan. Taste of Cherry, perhaps his greatest film, has a suicidal protagonist holding dialogues with three men who come from Kurdistan, Afghanistan, and Turkish-speaking Azerbaijan.
In 1987, Mohsen Makhmalbaf released a great film allegorically about the plight of Afghanistan: The Cyclist. The plot, which I remember strongly from my only viewing (on VHS) about 6 years ago, circles around an Afghan immigrant who pays for his wife's medical bills by performing a circus-like act of driving his bike in a circle for an entire week. The stark futility had a strong impression on me at the time, and it became even more powerful when I stumbled across this Makhmalbaf article in which he talks about the state of the Afghan people. This line, written pre-WTC, rings provocatively today: "Afghanistan does not have a role in today's world. It is neither a country remembered for a certain commodity nor for its scientific advancement or as a nation that has achieved artistic honors."
Makhmalbaf's other movie about Afghanistan, Kandahar, came out earlier this year. The story is inspired by a personal account from Nelofer Pazira, an Afghan-Canadian journalist who wants to return to Afghanistan. This article does a good job of summarizing the background of the film.
Alan Berliner, Peter Bogdanovich, John Boorman, Catherine Breillat, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Faye Dunaway, Harun Farocki, Philip Kaufman, Ang Lee, Spike Lee, Mike Leigh, Chris Marker, Sean Penn, Ken Russell, Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh and Oliver Stone are among the filmmakers who have come together to protest the recent arrest and impending trial of Iranian filmmaker Tahmineh Milani (The Legend of a Sigh, Two Women). She was arrested for the film Nimeh-ye penhan (Hidden Half), and according to the Guardian, Khatami is on her side. The L.A. Times recently interviewed her.