Rafi Pitts discusses 'The Hunter'

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The director talks politics, protest and censorship with Trevor Johnston

Born in 1967 in Mashhad, Iran, Rafi Pitts, whose powerful ‘The Hunter’ opens this week, left Iran during the height of the Iran-Iraq War, and from 1981 has divided his time between London (where he graduated in film and photography from Harrow College) and Paris (working as an assistant director). In 1996, he returned to Iran to shoot his first feature, ‘Season Five’, and his films since include ‘Abel Ferrara: Not Guilty’, the elegiac ‘It’s Winter’ and his latest, which opens this week.
 
The Hunter’ features an angry man who shoots an innocent policeman on the motorway then goes on the run. How did you manage to film this controversial story in Iran?
‘Censorship in Iran goes through three stages. One, submitting scripts. Two, submitting films for festivals. Three, submitting them for release. We only ever went through the first, because after we shot, the election happened and riots broke out. Getting the script passed took six months, but at that stage I had the feeling that the heads of the censor board thought that something was going to change. None of them are in their jobs any more. They were all thrown out after the elections.’
 
You’ve worked with non-professionals in the past. Was it always the plan for you to take the lead role on this occasion?
‘Far from it. I’d rehearsed with a non-actor who was due to play the part but turned up on set in no condition to perform. We had to make a decision, but since the permit from the censor board listed my name, the performer and the cameraman, there was no prospect of reapplying. So it was either me or the cameraman, and he’s a really good DoP… It was a very hard experience. The only way I could tell that a take was good was if I felt it, and this character is in a dark place. Here’s someone who can’t yell or scream or shout, which is why he ends up pointing his rifle at the highway.’

Should we read that killing as a direct political statement?
‘Well, the guy kills someone just because they’re in a uniform. That’s not right. I try not to dictate to an audience, so that people have the option to take different things from the story. Obviously, though, the central character’s a symbol for a generation in Iran which cannot talk. They have to repress themselves, and they become time-bombs.’
 
The central character drives a green car. Is that a reference to Iran’s liberal Green Movement?
‘It’s just a coincidence; we were shooting before the elections. As a filmmaker I don’t want to be tied to any one political movement, because it’s my job to ask questions. It’s very frustrating for Iranian filmmakers to be accused of being against our country, when we just want to talk about the pain that’s in our country. The authorities don’t understand we’re just trying to have a discussion. They need to wise up because we’re no longer in a time when you can stop people expressing themselves.’

What were your impressions of London when you first came here?
‘Well, I was staying in Brixton during the Brixton riots, so there was a heavy atmosphere. Still, impressive though they were, the Brixton riots didn’t really compare in scale to what we had in Iran during the revolution.’
 
Any plans to go back to Iran?
‘I’m up for it. I’m prepared to face it all, because I don’t feel I’ve done anything wrong. The question is when. If you’ve made a film about something you need to express, you want to show it to somebody who disagrees with you.’

Author: Interview: Trevor Johnston



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