Iranian Jewish Culure
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Manouchehr Tabari
Prominent Artists

Manouchehr Tabari


Manouchehr “Menashe” Nassabi-Tabari was born in the summer of 1941 C.E., the month of Tir, 1320 of the Persian Calendar, henceforth P.C., to a religious Jewish family of the city of Babol, in the northern Province of Mazandaran, Iran.

His ancestor and his family had emigrated from the city of Bukhara, Uzbekistan, to Iran, where they settled in the city of Babol.

His father Assadollah Tabari first tried his hand in trading agricultural products, before he moved on to make a living from the art-craft of candle-making. Since the income from the job couldn’t cover their expenses, Manouchehr’s mother worked too as a tailor to bring in an extra income for the family.

Manouchehr was no older than 5 when he was sent to school. He graduated from the Ettehad “Alliance” Elementary and High School, and at 17, he left his homeland and set on a long and adventurous journey through the West. He traveled on ground to Germany, visited several German cities, sailed on ship to France, and finally, with $17 in his pocket, arrived in the American State of New Jersey.

His enthusiasm to fly led him to study air navigation, but parental disapproval soon discouraged him on the pilot’s path. To support himself in the United States during his school years, he passed a course in hair-dressing. He then attended Jeremiah’s College* to study Photography. And two and a half years later, in 1964 C.E., he graduated with a Degree in Experimental Photography and Cinematography. He then enrolled himself in July’s University* to pursue his art at the professional level. [* The school names have been transcribed based on the available Persian text. The original names could not be located at the time of this translation.]

After six years in the United States, Manouchehr Tabari returned to Iran for a short visit to his family, intent on coming back to the States and completing his studies. However, his father’s untimely death compelled him to stay in Iran for many years to come.

In 1967 C.E., 1346 P.C., Manouchehr Tabari was employed by the newly founded National Television of Iran. He joined the cinematography unit, acting as an assistant in the production of the Tehran Oil Refinery documentary. Soon enough, his remarkable efforts made him known as the expert authority in     the filmmaking unit. He further displayed his gifts and genius in directing, as he created news and sports documentaries.

In 1972 C.E., 1351 P.C., Manouchehr Tabari was sent to film the weight-lifting competitions held in the city of Sanandaj, in the western Iran. During a meeting with the renowned poet Ahmad Shamlou, Tabari received a commission to make a film about the Ghaderi Dervishes. Initially, he was denied permission to film, but his persistence paid off, and finally, in 1974 C.E., 1353 P.C., he succeeded to film short segments of the lives of the Ghaderi Dervishes, in the form of a 10-minute black-and-white film.

Many documentary critics regarded the film as a near perfect and no doubt invaluable example of the news and research genres. The film became a turning point in Manouchehr Tabari’s filmmaking career. It also inspired this young Jewish man to create a more thorough version of the film in color: hence, Motreb-e Eshgh, i.e.“The Entertainer of Love,”was born. Although the SAVAK — that is, the Iranian National Intelligence and Security Organization — prevented the completion of the film, later on, following the 1979 C.E. Islamic Revolution, 1358 P.C., the negatives were found, and the final version of the film edited by Davoud Yousefian was completed. Subsequently, the film was submitted to the School of Dramatic Arts, Tehran University, as Manouchehr Tabari’s Thesis, which allowed the artist to graduate summa cum laude.

As such, beginning in 1978 C.E., 1357 P.C., Manouchehr Tabari directed his films, and for the following years, he presented his works as the cinematographer, producer, writer, director and editor. For the eight years following the onset of the imposed Iraq-Iran war, he was deployed many times to the warfront to film and produce reports. Among them, he managed to make several documentary films of the oil towers erected in the Persian Gulf. It’s certain that during these assignments, he suffered a wound from the enemy shrapnel.

According to his portfolio, Manouchehr Tabari once made a film about the many stages involved in the production of a theatrical puppet show, through which he also displayed an educational experience in the puppet arts in Iran. Besides, he loved to record the Jewish religious customs and beliefs, and he was after securing a camera to produce outstanding works in this area by himself. However, for long, his limited financial means did not allow him to realize his plans independently.

Nevertheless, alongside his artistic activities, by his advice and effort, he produced several documentary films for the IRIB or “the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting” organization, about the folkloric culture and religious beliefs of the Jewish people. This showed this artist’s deep connection to the Jewish history and culture within the Persian civilization.

The film Pessah (1987 C.E.) depicts the seder tradition observed on the first two nights of the Passover, as a Jewish family recounts the suffering of the Israelites and the Exodus from Egypt around the ceremonial table.

His other film, A Look at the Oil Seeds (1991 C.E.) was filmed at the Dangee Three-way of the Oudlajan Jewish neighborhood of Tehran. The film shows a flour mill owned by a Muslim, whose customers, mostly Jewish, obtained their sesame oil from his mill. The film further surveys the oil seeds in Iran, as well as a hitherto history of grist mills ever since the Achamenid era.

Another of his films, The Travelogue of Natanz, consists of the memories of an actual and an imaginary visit to the historic city of Natanz. The film also covers the making of old locks and the technique of opening them.

Occasionally, Manouchehr Tabari traveled abroad to produce reports. During these trips, he earned much experience particularly in Lebanon and Vietnam. He also traveled once more to the United States.

In the winter of 1979 C.E., on the 12th of Bahman, 1357 P.C., that is, on the day the Leader of the Revolution arrived in the country, Manouchehr Tabari was serving as a member of the Foreign Correspondence cinematographers. In 2001 C.E., he became a member of the Documentary Filmmakers Association of Iran.

 

In 1985 C.E., Manouchehr Tabari married his future wife Jacqueline Mehrzadi. The couple brought two sons and a daughter to the world.

 

Manouchehr Tabari was a kind and most affectionate man, endowed with a strong sense of humor. He was realistic, shy and modest. He cared for those who were left alone in the world; he helped who was deprived of their share in life; and he valued opportunities. And besides all that, he made movies. He led a prolific life, and he managed to record his times and to preserve them in his documentaries. And he did so beyond his powers.

 

Manouchehr Tabari began his social activities in 1979 C.E., 1358 P.C., when he joined the Board of Directors of the Tehran Jewish Association. He went on to serve the Association for a short but highly productive period.

For awhile, he served as the kashrut supervisor. Once in a while, he would help out the Disputes Resolution Committee. And he took every chance to handle the bureaucratic aspects of the Beheshtieh “Eden” Jewish Cemetery of Tehran. He was also in charge of the Aid and Assistance Affairs of the Association.

Later in life, he was diagnosed with cancer, and he left for treatments in the United States.

Manouchehr Tabari passed away on December the 8th, 2010 C.E., 1389 P.C., at the age of 69, away from his homeland. And thus, the Wandering Jew of the Iranian documentary films found his final solace in the eternity.