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Mohammad Abedi

Mohammad Abedi is an Iranian artist and child activist. So far, he has won or been nominated in more than 70 international film festivals. His novels have been translated into more than 15 languages. He is the founder of the children’s rights organization “Teachers Against Poverty”, which is a member of the UN SDG campaign.

Why did you choose Kotij as a filming location? What does Kotij mean to you?

As a children’s rights activist, I communicate with different charities in different countries so that I can take actions for children in poor areas. Most of these actions include printing children’s stories and artworks so that we can reflect their voices and let them speak for themselves and narrate their social situation. I contacted a charity called “Khademin Kotij” and decided to go there. I went by plane from Mashhad to Chabahar and from there, I went to three different cities to reach Kotij (Iranshahr, Fanuj and Kotij). When I got there, as I narrated in the film, I realized that there is one thing that prevents me from just collecting these children’s paintings, So I decided to make this film even with these limited facilities.

Kotij, for me, means the kindness of people who are very hospitable and kind at the height of suffering caused by poverty. Kotij reeks of needless suffering caused by politicians’ indifference. Suffering that sprinkles acid on human life and dreams.


How was filming with children in the documentary? What was the process of selecting characters that were going to appear in the film?

The children were very bright and full of talent. The first day I saw them together, it was the day they were painting. I became friends with them very soon. They liked to talk in front of the camera and I was willing to hear and reflect their words.

There were limitations to the selection of characters. Some people did not want to talk and were afraid that something bad might happen to them. The teachers treated me very well on the first day. After a while, their behavior towards me changed a lot. Later, we found out that they had been threatened with suspension by educational institutions or higher authorities, that if they cooperated with me, their permission to teach would be taken away from them. Regarding the children, due to my relationship with the head of that charity, Abdul Ghafoor Barani, I was able to understand the stories of these children and, considering their conditions, I was able to interact with those children through friends such as Mohammad Amin Barani, who himself was a Baloch from the people of Kotij. We sought to depict the suffering of these underprivileged children.


What instructions did you give to the cinematographer Mohammad Amin Barani? How was the planning of the sequences with the drone?

Mohammad Amin Barani, whom I met the day after I came to Katij, was a very pleasant boy with good ideas. I wanted the filming to be pristine, intimate and far from selfish. I wanted the camera as a companion.

The drone sequences had two main purposes. Look from part to whole. From man to society, and representing the state of this city. For example, in the opening sequence, we see a city that is naturally beautiful; But when we penetrate deep into the city, we see dilapidated houses as if there was a war; But there is no war. It is negligence that has caused this situation. Or another example, when we talk about the limitations of these girls or poverty, we have a part-to-whole look from the camera that indicates that this suffering is perhaps a shared suffering. Not only for Iran. For many countries that have a very terrible situation in terms of poverty and lack of justice.

How was the selection of the questions in the interviews with the children, what were you looking for? Was there a difference depending on whether it was a boy or a girl?

The children’s questions were designed with the mindset to reflect the mental world of these children. What they fear, what they love and what they dream, who they miss, informs the audience about the state of a society. Perhaps we can say that children are brilliant options for understanding a society. The clean slates that the society has are slowly drawing lines on them. I wanted the questions to be in such a way as to reflect the lines that the society cast on their minds.

Sometimes the questions were changed for boys and girls. We asked girls questions that we didn’t ask boys. The question about being a girl, girls’ entertainment, restrictions that we knew some of them are for girls. When we wanted to penetrate deeply into a person, we wrote specific questions for him/her. For example, a girl named Mahsa.


What was it like filming at Kotji nursery school?

I have to tell a truth that might make you laugh bitterly. I don’t know which part of the movie you are talking about, but Kotij does not have a nursery school at all. The number of schools in this city and its surrounding villages is not the same as the fingers of one hand. You probably thought that the charity, where a birthday party was held for a child, was a nursery school; but no. It is not so. This happened in the charity institution to make a good day for the children. Let them draw, play, and celebrate the birthday of one of their friends.


How important is football, school and religion in Kotji?

Kotij boys all dream of becoming footballers. They play football with bare feet on the fields filled with stones and clods. Their healthy pastime is football. Until the puberty monster embraces them. After that, they are condemned to work.

The only suitable job after school, if someone wants to live in Kotij, is to become a teacher. There is no university in Kotij. Most of the people are at the level of elementary and high school literacy. Because they need money to go to another city to study. Studying in a place with little job potential is useless. That too when you are in poverty. In Kotij, you cannot study to become a great artist because you love art. Because you have to work to have food.

Regarding religion, I should also say that religion is very important in this region. As you can see in the movie, when we ask children “what do you fear more than anything else” they say “God”. Fear of God and hope in God, and the existence of a concept called “God” play a big role in the lives of Kotij people. The society is very religious and women naturally cannot have a prominent presence in the society because of this issue. It is very rare to find a woman who has a job. There are only female teachers in girls’ schools, which is again due to the fact that the religious society does not want female children to be educated by male teachers.

What was the film editing process like? How much material did you have collected, how long were you filming?

We shot almost several times of the film and tried to edit the important parts that are suitable for the film and put them in the film. The whole process of filming, editing, and planning took three weeks.


The most emotional part of the film is a young girl explaining her marriage by talking to herself with a mirror. How was the filming of this sequence?

Mahsa’s father was a very honorable man that we went to his house and interviewed his daughter. First, we interviewed Mahsa. When she left, her father said that Mahsa has a story that might be worth hearing. Mahsa returned again. I asked her to stand facing the mirror and narrate her life story. A story told by a wife’s child, which may be a culture in such societies. A culture that says that a woman should get married as soon as possible in order to achieve happiness. Mahsa had a lot of courage to tell this story in this strict religious society.

A documentary like All the Eyes that is independent and has a progressive, social and defense of children’s rights character, what type of reception and distribution does it have in Iran?

Actually, I did not take any action to broadcast in Iran. I am now 24 years old and I have been working in the art space since I was 17 years old. In literature, theater and cinema. I can easily know what is allowed and what is prohibited. The bold narrative of the suffering of Balochistan, and in general the Sunni societies of Iran, is one of the limitations. This movie has not been shown in Iran. The film was made with minimal facilities and without a film production license. I knew that permission to make this film would not be given by Iran’s political order; But I wanted to make this film anyway. A film that does not have permission to be made in Iran will not be allowed to be shown. This is part of the rules. Independent filmmakers (independent in the real sense) can never show their films in Iranian cinemas.


Did you have any movie as a reference at the time of making the documentary? What Iranian filmmakers would you recommend?

I really didn’t have a movie as a reference; But among Iranian filmmakers who are alive, I can say that a strong example of this independent filmmaking style is Jafar Panahi. The director of the film “This is not a film”, which was one of the 15 original nominees for the best documentary Oscar, was never allowed to be screened in Iran. The director of other works such as “Taxi” and “3 Faces”.

Another great filmmaker I can suggest is a dear filmmaker named Abbas Kiarostami. His films are literally “Iran”. The look of this filmmaker is very humane and genuine.

What film projects do you have planned to film in the future?

I have many plans for this year. Continuing my activities for children’s rights in different countries, and writing a new novel.

For this year, I probably have a movie and a series. A psychological documentary series in which I try to get very close to mental patients and try to establish a new form of communication with them. A friendly relationship without looking full of selfishness.

I also have a documentary film in mind that I don’t want to explain too much about yet. Good art, in my opinion, is associated with taking risks, and before taking risks, you should not talk about the risks you want to take.