Iranian film-maker Makhmalbaf calls for peace from Jerusalem

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Acclaimed Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf on Wednesday (July 10) called for peace in the Middle East as his recent film, "The Gardener" was screened at the Jerusalem Film Festival.

It was the first time that Makhmalbaf, director of films including "Kandahar" and "Boycott" presented a film at an Israeli film festival.

The film, a documentary, investigates faith and religion and was filmed mainly in Israel.

"In Middle East, young generation think that religion destroyed Middle East. And I try to put from angle of my age, my generation, why some of them believe to a religion. I try to put light on one of the religions that is more peaceful religion," Makhmalbaf said in an interview.

He also referred to the current situation in his homeland, "we believe that after 33 years of bad regime that we've had, we are really for democracy. The problem of Iran is America, European countries are not ready for our democracy. They are thinking only about control atomic bomb. But we think if we could have democratic government, they don't make atomic bomb, you know," he said.

Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East's only atomic power, has signaled it could take military action against Iran if sanctions and diplomacy fail to bring about a change in its nuclear program.

Iran says it is enriching uranium only to fuel nuclear power stations, and for medical purposes

"I'm example of the all nation. I'm not a person for myself. You can see in my biography how Iran changed. You can see in my film how Iranian people changed. And it is very good example and you can have hope for future of Iran" he added.

Moderate cleric Hassan Rohani won Iran's presidential election last month with a resounding defeat of conservative hardliners, calling it a victory of moderation over extremism and pledging a new tone of respect in international affairs.

Makhmalbaf has used his celebrity status to support a campaign by Iran's opposition to urge the international community not to recognize the previous President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

He was also one of the most vocal supporters abroad of last elections' challenger Mirhossein Mousavi's, ever since authorities said Ahmadinejad won the disputed June 12 vote in 2009.

In a panel session after the screening in Jerusalem, Makhmalbaf said, "Hatred of the religion and peace for religion is very important for Israel, for Iran, for Middle East. We shouldn't forget that. That's why I make this, maybe next time about Zarthosh, why not, or about Jainism that I love that, one of the very great religion in India."

Makhmalbaf went on to tell a local anecdote, "I came here twice. First time, two weeks I was here and we filming but a soldier took our tape and then later we came again and we shoot again some of our footage."

Israeli / Iranian singer, Rita, who attended the screening and met Makhmalbaf, shared her thoughts.

"We need to have more people like him. More artists that really try to explain how we are one. It's an amazing movie, very important movie," she said.

Israeli members of the audience also praised the film with one woman expressing it's worth in peacemaking terms.

"It's one of the more exquisite films that I have seen in a long time and I think it reflects the spirit of the filmmaker, which is peacemaking in every way but also expands your ideas about religion and about human beings in contact with one another," said Elisiya Weston.

Another Israeli expressed how brave Makhmalbaf had been to make the film.

"The film itself is wonderful, very poetic, very observing but I think the meaning of him being here is far beyond just the screening of this specific film. I think that he is an incredibly brave person , he's incredibly brave in his political activism," Orly Noy said.

Fifty-two year old Makhmalbaf was brought up in a run-down area of Tehran and left school at the age of 15 to form a religious activist group opposing the Shah. He was later arrested in a street clash with the police and spent more than four years in jail as a political prisoner.

Released in the early days of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, he said that between 1985 and 1990 he was given a free rein to say more or less what he wanted on social issues.

Currently Makhmalbaf lives outside Iran. He filmed "The Gardener" mostly in Haifa and in Jerusalem's Old City.

According to the "Makhmalbaf Film House", the film illustrates the clash between two Iranian generations regarding their perspectives on the positive and negative effects of religion on society.