Ramin Bahrani is the director behind Man Push Cart, 99 Homes, and the Netflix movie The White Tiger. Below are five movies that influenced how Ramin came to see himself as a filmmaker.
My parents are from Iran, and I was raised in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. My family wasn’t really a movie-watching family. They were more into books, and I grew up reading and painting. I didn’t start getting into movies until high school. Iranian cinema was just starting to become an international sensation, which I was quickly drawn to. I was deeply impacted by many films and filmmakers, Mean Streets and Where Is the Friend’s House?, or Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Vagabond. These were among many films that influenced me as a filmmaker.
I came to New York to study film theory at Columbia University as an undergraduate. There weren’t undergraduate filmmaking classes at that time so really I learned filmmaking from professors like Annette Insdorf and James Schamus, who were teaching film theory and film history. Hamid Dabashi, who was teaching Middle Eastern cinema and Iranian literature, ended up becoming, to this day, a mentor and a friend.
Then, I just made really terrible short films—I mean unwatchably bad, at least five of them. The fifth or sixth one wasn’t good, but I could see that it finally made sense at least. You could watch it without being confused.
I started like that and tried to get better. I was young enough to just be excited that I had picked up a 16-millimeter camera and spliced it together and projected it on a wall in my dorm room. That was already a lot. You’d have to sneak the equipment somehow, pretend to be a graduate student at Columbia to con your way into an editing room. That part of it was fun; I was reading Herzog interviews and he advised, “Do whatever it takes.”
Abbas Kiarostami left an indelible mark on me. His enigmatic simplicity and poetry inspired me.
Martin Scorsese’s personal cinema was a guide to me as an Iranian-American. I felt if one day I could combine Kiarostami with Scorsese, it might be the type of cinema I would make.
I am always inspired by Werner Herzog’s singularity of vision, the boldness of his filmmaking, the depth of thought behind the artist. Also, the courage that an outsider can make a film by hook or by crook.
One of the greatest portraits put on celluloid. I am in awe of Agnès Varda’s endlessly inventive and playful ways of telling stories.
A monumental achievement. Mysterious, spiritual, psychological. Krzysztof Kieślowski’s sublime cinema is a well of humanity.