Having trained as a commercial artist, Abbas Kiarostami shot some 150 adverts for Iranian television between 1962-66. In 1970, he was placed in charge of the film unit at the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, where he directed 20 shorts, including Bread And Alley (1970), which he also scripted, edited and produced. Following his first long film, The Experience (1973), he attracted a degree of international attention with The Traveller (1974), the story of a young lad's trip to Teheran for a football match that established Kiarostami's reputation for realism, diegetic simplicity and stylistic complexity, as well as a fascination with physical and spiritual journeys that would recur throughout his career.
Kiarostami was one of the few film-makers to prosper either side of the Islamic Revolution and the National Film Theatre's magnificent retrospective includes such little seen titles from this pivotal period as The Report (1977) and Fellow Citizen (1983).
However, it was the "Earthquake" or "Koker" trilogy of Where Is The Friend's House? (1988), And Life Goes On... (1992) and Through The Olive Trees (1994) that confirmed Kiarostami as a worldwide arthouse favourite. But what was also becoming apparent was his genius for blurring the line between life and art. The second film, here, saw Farhad Kheradmand playing a director returning to the villages of Rudbar and Rostamabad, who had participated in the first, while the concluding episode debunks the entire filmic process, as a proposed cinéma vérité project descends into a full-blown off-screen melodrama.
Kiarostami continued to reinvent the documentary in Homework (1984) - in which he challenges the conventions of parental, educational and spiritual control through a series of deceptively innocent interviews with some camera-smart schoolkids - and Close-Up (1990), which dexterously cross-cuts cross-cutting between Hossain Sabzian's trial for impersonating celebrated director Mohsen Makhmalbaf and reconstructions of the way in which he duped a family into believing their son was to star in one of his films.
In 1997, Kiarostami won the Palme d'Or at Cannes for The Taste Of Cherry, which explored Iranian attitudes to civic and spiritual authority through world-weary Homayoon Irshadi's car cruise around the suburbs of Tehran searching for someone willing to transgress Islamic law by burying him after his suicide. He then took the Golden Lion at Venice with his follow-up, The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), which contrasted rural and urban views on the dignity of labour, the status of women and the benefits of progress by means of a stranger's frustrating sojourn in a remote Kurdish village.
Having returned to actuality for the UN-commissioned ABC Africa (2001), Kiarostami next demonstrated a mastery of digital cinema with 10 (2002, pictured), in which he filmed Mania Akbari's encounters with a prostitute, a widow, a discarded bride and her own petulant son from a single camera fixed above a car windscreen. He stripped down the mechanics of feature making still further with his latest offering, Five (2004), which rethinks the notions of screen action and filmic truth through a quintet of mischievous vignettes.
There are several events accompanying the NFT's season, including a fortnight-long insight into Iranian cinema on Channel Four. The Victoria& Albert Museum is also hosting two of Kiarostami's installations - Forest Without Leaves and Ta'ziyeh - as well as the photographic exhibition, Trees in Snow. The director will also participate in a number of workshops and discussions at the NFT, V&A and the Ciné Lumière, which is also screening three features that Kiarostami was instrumental in green lighting - Jafar Panahi's The White Balloon (1995) and Crimson Gold (2003), and Alireza Raissian's The Deserted Station (2002).
Abbas Kiarostami has been hailed as the most important film-maker of the 1990s. Now's your chance to see why he's likely to retain that title throughout the 2000s, too.