TEHRAN (FNA) – From playing in provincial theatres in northwestern Iran for more than four decades to winning the coveted Silver Bear Award for best actor at the Berlin Film festival, a fairly tale has come true for Iranian actor Reza Naji.
“This Bear is not mine but belongs to Iran, Iranians and the Iranian cinema,” M and G quoted an overwhelmed Naji as saying at the premiere of Majid Majidi’s The Song of Sparrows (Avaze Gonjeshk-Ha) in Tehran.
The Berlin prize was the first-ever prestigious international award for a home-based actor in Iranian cinema history.
After the 1979 Islamic revolution and implementation of Islamic rules in society, the cinema industry, too, had to change its criteria.
Film experts say that the quality of Iranian films has drastically improved since the Islamic revolution, reflected in the success that filmmakers like Majidi, Abbas Kiarostami, Tahmineh Milani or Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and his two daughters, have gained in international film festivals worldwide.
“Success in international film festivals is definitely a positive thing for Iranian cinema, but still these films are primarily made for Iranians,” said Majidi, one of the most successful Iranian filmmakers, whose film Children of Heaven was even nominated for an Academy Award in 1998 but lost to by Italian filmmaker Roberto Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful.
At the premier of The Song of Sparrows in Tehran, Naji was in seventh heaven, stealing the show as he proudly displayed his Silver Bear to guests and press.
Naji was born in 1942 in Tabriz, capital of the northwestern Iranian province of East Azerbaijan, adjacent to borders with Turkey.
“Very soon I realized my love for acting and joined theatre groups in Tabriz,’ said Naji.
He was discovered by Majidi in 1997 and since then has played in four of the filmmaker’s projects, including Children of Heaven, and eventually became one of the surprise winners at this year’s Berlin film festival.
The moderator at the premiere of The Song of Sparrows pointed out that Irish actor Daniel Day-Lewis won the Oscar this week in Hollywood for his role in the film There will be Blood. “But the same Daniel Day-Lewis was also at the Berlin festival but lost to our Reza Naji,” the moderator proudly added, sparking enthusiastic applause by the more than 500 guests at the premiere.
Asked whether he would really consider himself better than the double-Oscar winner, Naji replied, “At least the jury in Berlin, a mixture of film experts’ elite, found me better. And if I had been nominated in Hollywood?”
He smiled, “Then I would have robbed him the Oscar as well.”