Amir Naderi (born 15 August 1946, Abadan) is an Iranian photographer, filmmaker and producer. Naderi made a few short and feature films in Iran, before he emigrated to the United States in 1990. His filmmaking experiences have taken him many places, from Iranian cities like Abadan and Tehran to countries like Japan, Italy and the U.S. The characters of his cinema are resilient, lonely and dreamers. In that sense, they are similar to Naderi himself; a self-made filmmaker who never stopped filmmaking despite all the limitations and unsavory circumstances.
As opposed to most other film directors, Amir Naderi has never had any academic education, in cinema or any other subject. In fact, he never even finished high-school. This makes Naderi a self-taught filmmaker in the truest sense of the word. He began his career as an artist by taking on the most mundane and rudimentary jobs on a film-set, and gradually, thanks to his passion for images, they led him to sit behind the camera. His love for cinema blossomed in childhood; when he frequented the Sherkat-e Naft cinema in Abadan to see the latest international films on the big screen. Naderi didn’t speak English, but he was still drowning in the faces, expressions and camera movements despite him not understanding the dialogue. His school was cinema itself. This passion for novel images grew in him at a young age and was later manifested in his films.
Naderi’s first film is “Goodbye Friend”: A low-budget, but ambitious film. Naderi had spent countless days and nights waiting for this moment, so he wanted to express all his love and passion for cinema in his first film. Despite some flaws, the film is a major step-up from the “Film-Farsi” genre of the time and heralds the brilliance of Naderi’s later films. The story of “Goodbye Friend” is one the oldest tales in the book: a criminal, on the verge of one last job. One of the defining attributes of the film is repeated long scenes of people wandering in the streets. Naderi, with the help of his cinematographer Alireza Zarindast, succeeded in bringing a type of “street cinema” to Film-farsi with these exterior shots. Raw, rough and documentary- esque scenes that resembled the independent American cinema of the time.
Naderi’s films probably have the highest energy level in all of Iranian cinema. The evident energy in his films comes from his energetic personality and fills his characters with energy. The heat-level of his cinema is high like the southern locations of his films, so people and things have a great urge to move. Running is one solution the people in his films seem to choose to counter that high energy. We often see many of Naderi’s characters running. Undoubtably, the most striking example, and Naderi’s most important work, is in “The Runner”. Amiroo, the film’s protagonist, uses any excuse to start running and scale different locations with his feet. His energy is so high that even running does not suffice. Amirro screams, jumps up and down, bangs on barrels and loudly recites the alphabet over and over again.
The time and space of Naderi’s films are limited. The characters are stuck in a place and unable to exit. He has a film called “Dead-end” which might as well could have been the title of any other of his films. Naderi’s characters are stuck in a dead-end, wherever that dead-end might be, from Tehran and Abadan to Vegas or New York. Time is also limited in Naderi’s cinema and characters usually only have one “chance”. Amiroo needs to deliver the ice to the competition before it melts; the protagonist in “Manhattan by the numbers” only has a day to borrow money from his friend and pay his over-due rent. In “Marathon” a New Yorker woman tries to solve 77 crossword puzzles in 24 hours. The concept of running is also present in the last two films, but the characters are running and competing in a different way. They need to journey through something in a specified amount of time. They, like all the characters of Naderi’s cinema, are contestants of a marathon.
In Naderi’s later films, characters run, fight, and compete. But they rarely have an adversary. Their opponent and enemy is usually themselves. In “Monte”, Naderi’s most recent film, the main adversary of the protagonist is a mountain that he needs to scale in order to reach the sun. In “Marathon” also, the woman’s adversary is nobody but herself and her myriad of crosswords. They are lonely people, and seldom bother anybody else or start a fight. Even in Naderi’s earlier films, no character imposes their power over others. Their only interaction with others is through running and evasion. As opposed to the trend in Film-farsi, they always take on the beating and never inflict it. In “Impasse”, the film’s main character, Ali Khoshdast, constantly gets beaten-up throughout the entire film. He’s beaten up, he runs, he’s caught, and gets beaten up again.
Quests are also a recurring theme in Naderi’s films. In his films, the nature of the search is more important than what the characters actually seek. In “Manhattan by the Numbers”, the protagonist is searching for his friend to borrow money, though it isn’t clear if he actually has such a friend. The little boy in “Waiting” enters the old-lady’s house out of curiosity, where he encounters a frighting and stunning ritual. Naderi also has two documentaries titled “The Search” which were made right after the revolution. In those instances also, the process of seeking is more important to Naderi than the outcome. He begins with notices of the missing on walls and depicts the post-revolution atmosphere through his own search.
Amir Naderi’s cinema is the spirit of a historical era. He is directly influenced by a specific historical period which is manifested in his films in various ways. That’s why almost all of his protagonists are similar. Naderi’s Amiroo is just as similar to the protagonist in “Monte”, as Ali Khoshdast in “Impasse” is to his American characters. Naderi is captivated by the classic era of cinema and fantasizes about recreating that golden-age. His fascination with the past eras of cinema is most evident in “Cut”. The protagonist in “Cut”, much like Naderi himself, loves classic films and wants to make a masterpiece like the great filmmakers of the past, but fails because according to Naderi, today’s cinema is infested with money, power and corruption. Such is Amir Naderi’s fundamental melancholy.