The films of Sohrab Shahid Saless were created between 1974-1991. A director between countries, between worlds, between languages, between categories. Once he said in an interview: »An airport or a train station restaurant, those are good places to meet me.« His life was always in between, as his films are today. Born and raised in Iran he spend time in Vienna and Paris to study film. Shahid Saless shot 1974 his two first feature films in Bandar-e Torkaman at the Caspian Sea, presenting them both that same year at the Berlinale. He decided to move to Germany, where he struggled to receive funding for his film projects. With the support of some commission editors of television, it was possible to realize 14 films. He also shot a film in Kabul and his beloved Anton Chekhov provided the motivation for coproductions shot in Czechoslovakia. Sometimes he would spend time at the Baltic Sea, in Munich or Bremen – and time and again coming back to Berlin.
Berlin – at that time a city with bullet holes still visible in the façades of the buildings, thrusting strikingly into the streetscape, right in front of heads that longed to forget about that time. Unbuttoning the shirt of this society – as one of his protagonists would scream years later in one of his films. Saless wanted to get inside these heads, to understand how the country, that he now decided to live in, could have allowed something like National Socialism to happen. How could it be possible that ideologies and racisms seemed to trickle away, only to come back again in another garb? How could it be that he, as a filmmaker who left Iran to work more freely, had to overcome similar hurdles in a democratic society?
1975 is also the year when DAR GHORBAT/FAR FROM HOME was produced, Saless’s first film shot in Germany. A film that – as Saless himself described it – views and shows the human side of the problem of isolation in a foreign country. It is also a film of precise observations, and not only of his own protagonist, but also of the society around him. The film centers on a group of people living in a Kreuzberg apartment. In community and solidarity, they live in between work and a time of longing, which is structured by letters from their home country Turkey, individual needs and attempts to open up to a country that has no place for them. Through Husseyin’s eyes we travel, unsure but curious, through Berlin, looking for encounters, which are often limited to everyday racisms and rejection. The only thing that remains is work, melting into rhythms of repetition – machines that interconnect with Husseyin’s body, blocking it. Except for the famous Iranian actor Parviz Sayyad, the roles are almost entirely played by amateurs, who Saless found in bars.
Among the press materials on the film, Saless had a quote from Bertolt Brecht framed, which can be read as a programmatic model for more than one of his films:
Do not become too remote
However much you perfect your art
From that theatre of daily life
Whose setting is the street.
For Shahid Saless, the streets are the architectures of society that inscribe in themselves the time that the inhabitants want to suppress in the present. In this way, the film becomes a historical documentation of a dysfunctional FRG-reality, but also brings out the people on the margins of society, whom we often do not dignify with a glance on the street. With Shahid Saless, they become subjects whose power lies in looking at the world as if it were one in which humanity reigns.
Perhaps the legacy of Saless’ films is that today we are able to understand through them what it means to make a change in viewpoint, towards society and towards people that bring us closer to what we ourselves sometimes can’t see. Something that can only be seen FAR FROM HOME.
Vivien Buchhorn is a film historian and curator. She has been working for many years to make the films of Sohrab Shahid Saless accessible and visible. Since some of the films were difficult to license and materials were locked in archives, where they weren’t accessible the SHAHID SALESS ARCHIVE was created on Vivien Buchhorn’s initiative. With the support of the Goethe-Institut, the new archive project has set itself the task of digitally restoring the entire output of Sohrab Shahid Saless. In addition to a book publication, it will continuously ensure that the films are given a new film-historical mediation.
 Benedikt Erenz, »Uhr ohne Zeiger. Sohrab Shahid Saless und seine Filme«. In: DIE ZEIT, Nr. 3, 11.01.1985
Screenplay Sohrab Shahid Saless, Helga Houzer
Cinematography Ramin Reza Molai
Editor Rouhollah Emami
Production Provobis-Film, Germany/New Film Group, Iran
Sound Frank Schreiner, Max Galinsky
Cast Parviz Sayyad, Anasal Cihan, Muhammet Temizkan, Hüsamettin Kaya, Sakibe Kaya, Imran Kaya, Ursula Kessler, Ute Bokelmann
Rightholder: PROVOBIS Gesellschaft für Film und Fernsehen mbH with support of the SHAHID SALESS ARCHIVE
Restoration by Provobis Gesellschaft für Film und Fernsehen mbH in cooperation with Goethe-Institut and Shahid Saless Archive, funded by FFA.
Husseyin comes to West Berlin from Turkey, climbs the stairs of the subway stations, looks uncertainly and yet curiously at the facades of the buildings. But the new environment despises him, gives him no home between monotonous work at a punch press, stairwell nosiness and everyday racisms. The only moments of solidarity he finds are in the midst of his Kreuzberg apartment community. Sohrab Shahid Saless’ first film shot in Germany gives insight into the condition of a person who leaves his home and is condemned to remain a seeker. The film allows us to sense a social climate in Germany whose after-effects are still visible today.