News Release: January 23, 2017

Iranian Filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami to Receive WGAW’s Jean Renoir Award

Photo: Ali Boustan

Iranian screenwriter-director Abbas Kiarostami, whose acclaimed films include Taste of Cherry, The Wind Will Carry Us, Close-Up, and his Koker trilogy, has been named the recipient of the Writers Guild of America West’s 2017 Jean Renoir Award for International Screenwriting Achievement, which recognizes an international writer who has advanced the literature of motion pictures and made outstanding contributions to the profession of screenwriter.

The late filmmaker, who died last July, will be honored at the WGAW’s 2017 Writers Guild Awards ceremony on Sunday, February 19. His son, Ahmad Kiarostami, will accept the Guild’s honorary award on his father’s behalf.

“Abbas Kiarostami was, as Martin Scorsese put it, ‘one of those rare artists with a special knowledge of the world.’ As a founding father of the New Iranian Cinema, Kiarostami navigated tricky political and cultural terrains with courage and grace. Yet the impact of his work – and his life – is felt far outside the borders of his native land. Kiarostami's films were fiction, were documentary, were transcendent. He expanded cinematic narrative for all of us, even as he raised the rhythms of ordinary life to the level of high art,” said WGAW President Howard A. Rodman.

Born in 1940 in Tehran, Iran, Kiarostami carved out an influential, prolific film career as a director, screenwriter, and producer, having been creatively involved in over 40 films, including nearly four dozen screenwriting credits on a distinct yet diverse range of features, shorts, and documentaries. Over the course of five decades, he established himself as one of the most important figures in global cinema.

In addition to honing his craft as a film editor and art director, Kiarostami – who graduated from the University of Tehran with a degree in fine arts before starting work as a graphic designer – was a veritable Renaissance man who also designed film credit titles and publicity materials, as well as expressing himself as a poet, photographer, painter, and illustrator. Beyond his film work, he was also a key figure in the art world with numerous major exhibitions of his photography, short films, and poetry, which has been translated into several languages.

Kiarostami emerged as one of the vital figures among his generation of filmmakers who launched the Iranian New Wave, a Persian cinema movement which began during the late 1960’s and also included pioneering filmmakers Masoud Kimiai, Sohrab Shahid Saless, Dariush Mehrjui, Bahram Beyzai, Nasser Taghvai, and Parviz Kimiavi, all of whom shared similar screen techniques, including the use of poetic dialogue and allegorical storytelling to explore political and philosophical issues.

Kiarostami’s own signature cinematic sensibility can be defined by key creative choices that recur throughout his body of work, creating films that often focus on young protagonists and feature documentary-style “realism” narratives, stories set in rural villages to spotlight Iran’s terrain, and candid conversations which frequently take place in cars, employing automobiles as vehicles to literally and figuratively trek through his keenly observed landscapes.

When the Iranian New Wave emerged in 1969, Kiarostami helped establish a filmmaking department at the Institute for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults in Tehran. Its debut production – and Kiarostami’s first film – was The Bread and Alley (1970), a neo-realistic short film about a school boy’s confrontation with an aggressive dog. Over time, this department became one of Iran’s most noted film studios, not only producing Kiarostami’s own films, but acclaimed Persian films by other filmmakers as well.

Following his films The Experience (1973) and The Traveler (1974), as well as shorts such as So Can I and Two Solutions for One Problem (both 1975) and Colors and A Wedding Suit (both 1976), Kiarostami released his first feature-length film, 1977’s Report – focusing on a tax collector accused of accepting bribes – followed by 1979’s First Case, Second Case.

During the early ’80s, while Kiarostami continued to make and release several short films, such as Toothache (1980), Disorderly (1981), and The Chorus (1982), as well as the 1983 documentary Fellow Citizen, it was not until the release of his 1987 feature film, Where is the Friend’s Home?, that he began to receive critical recognition outside of his native Iran. Told from a child’s point of view, the film conveys the simple tale of an eight-year-old school boy’s journey to return a classmate’s notebook in a neighboring village to avoid his friend being expelled from school. This film, 1992’s And Life Goes On (aka Life, and Nothing More…), and 1994’s Through the Olive Trees have become known as his Koker trilogy, as all three films feature the Koker village located in northern Iran and explore life, death, change, and continuity to thematically connect his trio of films.

Kiarostami’s first film of the 1990s was the challenging, complex Close-Up (1990), which chronicles the story of the real-life trial of Hossein Sabzian, who impersonated filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, conning a family into believing they would be starring in his new film. Part documentary, part staged film, the work examines Sabzian’s moral justification for taking on Makhmalbaf’s identity. Ranked #42 in the British Film Institute’s “Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time,” Close-Up received praise from filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, and Jean-Luc Godard, among others.

His next film in the Koker trilogy, 1992’s Life, and Nothing More…, earned Kiarostami the Prix Roberto Rossellini at the Cannes Film Festival that year. He later penned screenplays for a pair of 1995 films, The Journey and The White Balloon, and in 1996 contributed to the international anthology film, Lumiere & Company, a creative collaboration with 40 filmmakers, each making a short film using the original Cinématographe camera invented by the Lumière brothers.

His third film in the acclaimed Koker trilogy, 1994’s Through the Olive Trees, earned a Silver Hugo for Best Film at the Chicago International Film Festival, as well as being nominated for a Palme d’Or at Cannes that year.

Kiarostami’s next film – the stark, minimalist Taste of Cherry, which centers on a man who drives around a city suburb looking for someone to bury him after he commits suicide, exploring the concept of morality, the act of suicide, and the meaning of compassion – won the Palme d’Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, tying with The Eel.

In 1999, Kiarostami wrote, directed, and produced The Wind Will Carry Us, which both contrasts and critiques rural vs. urban views on “the dignity of labor” via a stranger’s sojourn to a remote Kurdish village, for which he earned the Grand Jury Prize (Silver Lion) at that year’s Venice International Film Festival.

In 2001, he traveled to Kampala, Uganda under the auspices of the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development to lens a documentary about programs to aid Ugandan orphans – the final result was his moving doc film, ABC Africa. The following year, he wrote and directed 2002’s unconventional Ten, which largely abandoned screenwriting conventions to focus on Iran’s socio-political landscape. Seen through the eyes of one woman as she drives through the streets of Tehran over several days, the film is comprised of ten conversations with various passengers and received a Palme d’Or nomination at Cannes that year. He followed this up with another unorthodox work, Five, a poetic film without dialogue or characterization, consisting of five, single-take sequences depicting nature, all shot along the Caspian Sea.

In 2004, he made 10 on Ten, a kind of personal journal-cum-meta-documentary in which he shares ten lessons on filmmaking while driving through locations of his past films. In 2008, he directed the formally challenging Shirin, featuring close-ups of many notable Iranian actresses, as well as French actress Juliette Binoche, as they all watch a film based on the semi-mythological romance tale of Khosrow and Shirin. Two years later he once again collaborated with Binoche, who starred in his next film, 2010’s Certified Copy, his first feature to be shot and produced outside his native Iran. The film earned Binoche the Best Actress Award at Cannes, as well as the “Award of the Youth” for Kiarostami.

The final feature film Kiarostami wrote, directed, and produced, 2012’s Like Someone in Love, took him far from his homeland: Set and shot in Japan, the romantic drama was nominated for a Palme d’Or at Cannes, as well as earned a 2013 Japanese Professional Movie Award. Even late in his life, he wrote several more films, including 2012’s Meeting Leila (co-written by co-star Adel Yaraghi), the 2013 short The Girl in the Lemon Factory (co-written by Chiara Maranon), and two films released just last year, 2016’s illuminating art doc Victor Erice – Abbas Kiarostami: Correspondence (co-written and co-directed by Erice and Kiarostami, based on their own celebrated joint gallery installation), and Iranian drama Emtehan Nahaee (again co-written with Yaraghi).

While Kiarostami passed away in 2016, his last completed film, 24 Frames, is currently in post-production and set to premiere at festivals later this year. He also has two upcoming photo exhibitions, Regardez Moi and Monet and Me, which will be shown in major museums starting in late 2017 and 2018.

Named after the influential French filmmaker, the WGAW’s Jean Renoir Award for Screenwriting Achievement honors international screenwriters working outside the U.S. and in other languages. Previous WGAW Jean Renoir Award honorees include Italian screenwriters Suso D'Amico (2009) and Tonino Guerra (2011), Japanese filmmakers Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Ryûzô Kikushima, and Hideo Oguni (2013), and Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar (2015).