From Tarzan Without Jane To Cinema Without Borders: Q&A With Bijan Tehrani

By Mahasti Afshar

November 11, 2010, Los Angeles – If you are a movie lover, the odds are you’ve already discovered Cinema Without Borders.  The website offers such a rich coverage of international cinema—both feature films and documentaries—that it is probably many movie buffs’ favorite homepage. We interviewed the Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Bijan Tehrani, to find out more about the man behind the scenes. An award-winning producer, writer, and director, he lives with his wife, ‘the love of his life,’ in Burbank, CA. They have four children.

   Bijan Tehrani

What role did movies play in your early life?When I was a kid, we used to trade 35mm film frames the way American kids trade baseball cards, and our greatest pastime was to reenact scenes from the movies up and down the alley ways. It was a lot of fun, although every one of us felt incomplete, like a Tarzan without Jane, for girls were not allowed to play. In my teens, I discovered Hitchcock and Ford. Later, Farrokh Ghaffari established Kanoon-e Film and introduced new Italian and French Cinema to my generation. It was then that I literally fell under the spell of the silver screen; the rest is another story…

Ali Kuchulu 1981

Tell us about your movie career.
I was among the first twelve employees of National Iranian Radio and Television (NIRT) where for almost seventeen years, I produced documentaries. After leaving NIRT when it changed to IRB, I produced a TV series called Ali Kuchuloo that was all the rage, as well as music videos and animation. I won three awards for my short animated films in international film festivals. The Jaleh Kids won the Special Jury Prize at Prix Danube International Children Film Festival, Bratislava, and at the Non-Aligned Movement International Film Festival at Herceg Novi, Montenegro, and Children of the Olympics won an award at the Leipzig International Film Festival. 

I was also a film critic and a syndicated columnist and wrote children’s books too. One of them, The Tale of the Yellow Leaf (published in the US by Mage Publishers) won a Best Book of the Year award. Another, Beshno az Ney, won an award in a book fair in Italy and was translated into a few other languages.   

What made you decide to launch Cinema Without Borders?
I’ve been living in the U.S. since 1988, and doing everything except cinema! For unknown reasons—to survive, I suppose—I become a hi-tech expert, wrote tech reviews, made lousy 3D commercials at one point, and did some teaching. Others took this side of me seriously and wrote articles about me in the Financial Times and LA Times (Cutting Edge section). Then one day in 2006, I felt I couldn’t stand it anymore: I wanted to go back to my ex-love, cinema. Years back, I’d been in festival juries and taught college classes on the history of film, and I loved international cinema. I had retained that passion and couldn’t contain it—that’s the fuel that ignited CWB. 

James Woods & Bijan Tehrani

Are there any people who have particularly influenced your work?
I have a very long list for this one, but to me, it starts with a couple of books One Thousand and One Nights and Amir Arsalan-e Roomi. Then, there are a few film critics, Parviz Davaii, Shamim Bahar and Farrokh Ghaffari. I should add Hitchock, Ford and Georges Franju to this list. Let’s not forget about Charles Chaplin and Obeid Zakani, and—of course—Woody Allen.  I should also make a special mention of a character that influenced me as a filmmaker, an old beggar who frequented our neighborhood on Friday evenings. I was five years old and fascinated by the fact that every week he created a new story to convince people to help him. He gave completely conflicting accounts and had 41 different versions of his mother’s passing away! But who cared? He made us cry and he made us laugh and he squeezed every penny we had out of our pockets!

You seem very fond of your childhood memories, which include an uncommon film patron, Mashdi Mammad; do you cover Iranian Cinema in CWB?

Film shoot, Molla Nasreddin Tomb, Turkey 1974

We cover Iranian films that are released in the U.S. or screened in a film festival, and publish interviews with Iranian filmmakers.

We are currently developing a permanent section on Iranian cinema that will cover festivals, retrospectives, and other events that feature Iranian cinema. The section will also include film reviews and interviews with Iranian directors and producers, actors, cinematographers, scriptwriters, editors and musicians. We’re now accepting sponsorships for this section, which I’m pleased to say will be launched with an award for the Best Iranian Filmmaker of the Year. Movie lovers who wish to be involved in either the Iranian Cinema section or the Award are welcome to apply! My contact information is on the CWB website.

What have been your greatest challenges and surprises at Cinema Without Borders?

Tehrani and the Finnish recipients of the Bridging the Borders Award, Palm Springs

The real challenge was starting Cinema Without Borders single-handedly. I had my job as a professor but also had to spend 6 to 10 hours a day to develop the site and write content. CWB would not have survived the first few years without the support of Mehdi Hatamian, a well-known Iranian American high-tech inventor; he has my eternal gratitude.

I’ve had some pleasant surprises. One that comes to mind was when I interviewed Guieseppe Tornatore, the director of Cinema Paradiso, and learned that he knew of CWB and was very fond of the site.

But one of the most satisfying developments was when the Palm Springs International Film Festival recognized CWB’s Bridging the Borders Award as one of the festival’s official awards. Given the festival’s prestige, this acknowledgment sealed CWB’s status in the film industry.

I have been humbled with emails from all over the planet from filmmakers and fans who read CWB, and their kind words have uplifted my spirit and encouraged my work.

Here is the main cast and crew of Cinema Without Borders:

Lead Editors
International Editor: James Ulmer
Industry Consultant: Vera Mijojlic
Animation and TV Industry Consultant: Sarah Bailey
Digital Cinema Consultant: Matt Ferro
Blog Editor & UK Representative: Alan Dunn
German Cinema Editor: Shohreh Jandaghian
German Office: J. Dermani
Czech Republic Office: Kristina Cerni
Paris Representative: Masseood Zelli
Iran Editor, Hassan Ghlizade
Reviewer & East Coast Editor: Tobe A. Roberts IV
New York Editor: Tanja Meding
Copy Editor and Film Critic: Renee Leck
Copy Editor and Film Critic: Mischa Geracoulis
Film Financing Analyst: Vince Trankina
Digital Cinema Editor: Richard Bluth
Events Editor: Maya Hooshivar
Sound Review Editor: Gary Miraz
Events Reporter: Francesca Castro

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