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In Her Words: Mania Akbari

Ahead of her new film, Life May Be, Iranian filmmaker and artist, Mania Akbari introduces her fascinating collaboration with British filmmaker Mark Cousins which sees the two artists exchanging cine-letters from Iran to Lithuania.

How would you describe your new film, Life May Be? 

The film is a series of cinema letters between Mark Cousins and me. These letters deliver the image of art, emotion, and culture between two people (Mark and I). Each of us positions ourselves as both reader and writer. But the focus is not Mark and I. We are a metaphor, and these letters open up a space just like a triangle. Mark, the audience and I are each corners of this triangle. Our life memories and our body appearances fill up the space inside this triangle.

How did the collaboration with Mark Cousins come about?

He is an artist with a deep and wide point of view. I believe his writing transfers a clear image to the audience, therefore his pen acts just like a camera and the paper that he writes on becomes the silver screen of the cinema. His writing had an influence on me. And these letters shape the concept of the movie.

Did you enjoy the process of collaboration when making this film?

Yes, of course. However it was a process of experiencing enjoyment and pain. Because just like psychotherapy, this conversation brought up many difficult memories.

‘a collection of our awarenesses and unknown parts of our life in one space…’

What was the hardest thing about making the film?

Patience! When you send a response to the letter after that everything was about patience. You have to wait to hear other person’s perspective. And when you get the response you may be faced with things about yourself that you were not aware of. Over all, this communication developed a collection of our awarenesses and unknown parts of our life in one space. I believe this is the start of creating art.

The film features a poem by the Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad, which gives the film its title. Was this a reference you brought into the film? How does her poetry fit with the sensibility of the cine-letters?

Mark has a tattoo of Frough Farokhzad’s name on his arm, on his skin. And the first time I saw the tattoo it reminded me of her poetry as well as all the hardship that Forough went through during her life. Many women in Iran, and in the course of its history, have made efforts towards creating thoughts and questions for future generations by displaying art through their bodies, souls and thoughts. One of them was Forough; she was a victim of identity and character assassination. She was excommunicated and endured huge suffering. Elsewhere, women artists in Europe and America have created new work with their bodies, not in the sense of sexuality and sensuality but in the sense of creating questions from body and taking a deep look at body and soul.

You’ve lived in London since 2011 – does it feel at all like home?

It is a very interesting question. I believe an artist doesn’t have a home and job. The place that an artist can be creative and make an art is his or her home. You have to find your artistic landscapes not your home.

‘My life experience has shaped who I am today and it’s my identity’

You have had an incredible life: leaving Tehran to continue your filmmaking; surviving breast cancer; making films independently; being a mother; to recently meeting your parents in Canada for the first time in five years. How have these experiences helped to forge your sense of identity?

I follow what is inside me, from life experience, the preoccupations of my mind and there is no precise reason for what I make. If you know exactly why you create, then you’re not creating. Art is composed of the known and the unknown. I believe your life experience should lead you to gain phenomenology of your life. Otherwise you will be always lost. My life experience has shaped who I am today and it’s my identity. Maybe as an artist I always tried to add a female poetic voice to the flow of existence, so that I can have a meaningful dialogue with contemporary and future people. May be it will be possible. May be it will not.

What do you hope an audience member will take away from the film?

Everyone will build a different connection with the concept of the movie. Therefore every audience might take a different view after watching it. However I believe there is no art that can change its audience unless the person what to change.

What is your next project?

I want to continue cine-letters with other artists. What happens when two people meet? Sometimes people simply pass each other but sometimes there is a dialogue in the language of art, life, and love, and in the language of body and of soul, of pain and passion. This is my next project. I want to share many secret subjects with people. The things that people normally keep hidden. I don’t have any private life. What is privacy in today’s reality? What is the border between me and the audience? This is my conversation. This is my art.

Listen to our full interview with Mania Akbari on our December podcast

Life May Be is screening on Thursday 11 December.