Mourners carry the coffin of Abbas Kiarostami on July 10 in the Iranian capital ahead of his funeral in the town of Lavasan. Photo: AFP

Iran bids farewell to film director Abbas Kiarostami, darling of world cinema

The filmmaker, whose movies were rarely shown in Iranian cinemas or on television, received posthumous recognition from the Islamic republic for helping introduce Iranian culture to the world

Several thousand cinema-lovers joined top artists in Tehran to bid farewell to renowned Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami following his death last week in Paris.

Kiarostami, who won the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997 for Taste of Cherry, emerged from the Iranian New Wave of the late 1960s to become one of the world’s most revered directors.

“Thank you for paving the tough road of globalisation for Iranian cinema,” director Asghar Farhadi – whose A Separation won the country’s only Academy Award to date in 2012 – told a morning memorial service.
Fans gathered in Iran to pay tribute to the late filmmaker. Photo: EPA

“If there is any enthusiasm or curiosity toward Iranian cinema, it is owed to the steps that you took in those difficult times,” Farhadi said.

“Thank you for not abandoning this land despite all the neglect and lack of gratitude,” he said.

Kiarostami, who died at aged 76, had been making films outside Iran for years due to restrictions and difficulties working in the Islamic republic.

Despite the global attention given to his films, Kiarostami did not enjoy official support and his films were rarely shown in Iranian cinemas or on state television.

Some at the memorial service held posters reading “First Welcome, Last Farewell” – a reference to the lack of official attention Kiarostami received in his homeland.

In a speech at the memorial service, the head of the Iranian culture ministry’s cinema department, Hojatollah Ayubi, thanked Kiarostami “for trumpeting the name of Iran in cinema and the world”.

The event was held at Tehran’s Centre for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, where Kiarostami became head of the film department in 1969.

Many of those in attendance lamented the lack of official acknowledgement for the director’s work.

“We can’t ignore such influential figures,” said Ebrahim Ghavamipour, 36. “To ignore Kiarostami is to ignore ourselves.”
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi speaks about the influence of Kiarostami. Photo: AFP

“We want the world to know how much we value our artists like Kiarostami,” said Helia Pakbaz, a 20-year-old theatre student.

Iranian director Jafar Panahi, an old friend of Kiarostami who is banned from working in the Islamic republic, was present at the service but did not make a statement.

Packed with well-known figures from Iran’s art scene, the service was a serene event, after calls on social media for those in attendance to act respectfully and avoid taking selfies with celebrities.

Kiarostami’s body, which was repatriated to Iran on Friday, was taken to Lavasan, a small town northeast of Tehran, for a private family burial.

Following his death Kiarostami was praised as a “towering figure” in world cinema for his poetic parables of ordinary lives, known for their modest style, dark realism and sly humour.