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Travel to Yazd in the summer of 1974 + Interview
\ Interview with film-maker
My name is Günter Weiland, and I was born in a small village in the western part of Germany. I graduated at high school, and after military service I began my university studies, which I concluded as a high school teacher for biology and geography. Now I am retired and live in Spain.
Our goal was not only to visit interesting and exciting destinations, but also the way there was of great importance. We never used airplanes to reach distant places, which by the way would have been far too expensive for us. Our way of traveling was by car and making camping, and later more comfortably with an old Volkswagen camper van. That means we experienced the large distances, and saw how landscapes and climate zones changed, interesting for me also especially being a student of geography. It was a mixture of curiosity and adventure.
Very attractive to us was also, that on tour we were independent to a large extent, within the limits of time and budget. The plan was to have a good and interesting time, a combination of recreation and exploring foreign places and cultures. So we enjoyed lovely beaches under the southern sun, and felt happy and deeply impressed having the opportunity to see emblematic places, such as Persepolis for instance. And we learned a lot about people living in regions and cultures, quite different from what we knew living in Central Europe.
The films I made and the photos we took gave us the opportunity to share our experiences with our families and friends. Being now of advanced age, the films remind me of the "good old times", though not everything was good then neither, and bring back pleasant memories.
We didn’t have much money, but as in most countries living costs were far cheaper than in Germany, these travels were affordable also with a low budget. In the years up to 1975 I had a Ford Escort station wagon, big enough for our equipment and luggage, but not spacious enough for sleeping comfortably in it.
I owned a complete camping equipment, so normally we looked out for camping sites, and if there was none, we even slept in quite uncomfortable positions on the front seats of our car, as we did for instance on our way through the desert to the city of Yazd. In very rare occasions we stayed overnight in cheap low-class pensions or hotels.
Then I found an old Volkswagen van on a junkyard, bought it for the value of some $40 of that time, repaired it and equipped it as a camper van. So from 1976 on we had a small apartment on wheels, better suitable also for off-road tracks, and making us more independent from camping sites.
Of course we always tried local food in restaurants, like the chelow kebab in Iran, but being some 3 months on tour we couldn’t afford that every day. That means we had a complete kitchen equipment on board, and large supplies of non-perishable food like noodles, rice and tinned food. So mostly we prepared our own meals, complemented by fresh vegetable and fruits we bought on local markets.
In the beginning I had a regular 8 mm film camera Nizo Electric, but then in 1973 I switched to a super8 camera Nizo S56. I used to buy the film material in Germany, as abroad it was quite more expensive. I stuck to Kodak material, as in my opinion it gave the best results. The films I made on our long-distance trips also are very long, some have a duration of more than 3 hours. They supposed a major investment, but were also the best souvenirs we brought back home.
The films do not only show famous places and buildings like classical documentary films do, but include also a lot of personal snapshots of ourselves, conveying also a bit of our every day life on tour. So they are documents which allow us to relive places and situations beyond simple still photos. I showed some of the films to an interested public audience, but mainly they were made to show them to friends and family.
For sound recording I used to carry with me a Philips cassette recorder. In the beginning I only recorded typical sound atmospheres of a location, but when I later improved my technical equipment and made it suitable for exact synchronization of film and sound, I recorded additionally always the original sound to each scene.
Back home, the exposed films were processed by the Kodak laboratory and then edited by me. Editing consisted mainly in cutting out bad scenes, and in changing the order of scenes if necessary, but always preserving the main chronological course. And I added titles and maps that were showing our itinerary.
After editing the film, I composed the soundtrack by means of a Philips stereo tape recorder. An additional recording head for the lower track of the tape allowed the recording of electronic pulses, 1 pulse for each frame, i.e. 18 pulses per second, which kept the running speed of my projector ELMO SP deluxe synchronized to the sound.
For compiling the soundtrack, I bought appropriate LP records with typical music, according to the countries we had visited. So for the Iranian part of the film from 1974, I bought two records with traditional Persian music. The challenge was that I didn’t have much to choose from, but to find anyway a piece of music that would match the content of the image.
Of course I also used the original sound recorded with the cassette recorder on location, and sometimes I used sound effects from records with sound collections, which were offered especially for the purpose of sound editing by amateurs. At the end, I wrote and recorded a commentary, which would explain backgrounds and facts the pictures didn’t show.
More than 10 years ago I made first experiments of digitizing all the analog footage. I began with the simplest method, that is filming the movie off a projection screen with a video camera. Doing this you normally will get a very flickering video image, which however can be easily avoided by reducing the projector speed down to exactly 16.666 frames per second in PAL TV systems.
At that time, I used a Sony Hi8 Handycam for the purpose, and to have an idea about the achievable image quality you should know, that all my video clips on YouTube have been made this way.
Later I tried a better method, which is filming the movie directly from the projector’s film gate with a modern HD camcorder, aiming the camcorder’s objective through a 85mm close-up lens to the film gate. Film speed must also be 16.666 frames per second. Hereby the projection lamp has to be replaced by a small LED lamp of 12 Volts 1 Watt. This method results in images of much higher resolution, much more luminosity, and more vivid colors.
But at the end I repeated the whole process of digitizing with a third method, which brings the very best results, which can be compared to the best professional digitizing techniques, that is the frame by frame method. The optical setup is the same as described before, camcorder looking to the film gate through a close-up lens, but the modified projector is running as slow as 1 to 1.5 frames per second, while a light barrier triggers a computer software to save each single frame of the footage as a JPEG image.
The camcorder doesn’t record anything. It’s just providing the image signal through a HDMI cable to the computer’s HDMI capture card. A video editing software then renders the thousands of JPEG images to a HD video, which then can be edited to get the final product.
Some years ago I put a website online titled Naso’s travels (1) where I present all my traveling activities from the years 1967 until 1983. It is in German language, and I used images taken out of my movies to illustrate the text. Also in a few occasions some of my footage has been requested for use in professional documentary projects.
In the beginning I was accompanied by two good friends, but later I went on tour together with my at that time girl friend and later wife, with whom I also visited Iran in 1974. Driving was my job, as she had no driver’s license, and while I was making movies, she took a lot of color slides. Building up the tent and packing was a common task, and cooking also was a common affair, we complemented one another.
As life isn’t always straight, we separated in course of time. I am living in Spain now, and she is in the north of Germany, but we still maintain friendly contacts with each other.
In 1974, our goal was to reach the Persian Gulf, and of course we wanted to see as much as we could on the way there. The Cyprus conflict (2) between Greece and Turkey made it necessary to stay longer in Yugoslavia and Greece, as the border between Greece and Turkey was closed. Then borders were open again, and we could continue the trip all the way through Turkey to Iran.
Although we didn’t have that much time left as we had planned, we could visit in three weeks many of the numerous worth seeing places in Iran, and we could spend some hours in Bushehr, at the Persian Gulf.
Our travel route was: Bazargan, Tabriz, Tehran, Amol, Nowshahr, Chalus, Karaj, Tehran, Qom, Isfahan, Pasargadae, Persepolis, Naqsh-e Rustam, Shiraz, Bushehr, Shiraz, Abarqu (3), Yazd, Nain, Isfahan, Qom, Tehran, Qazvin, Tabriz and Bazargan. After that we had some 10 days left for the long way back home.
In 1975 we planned a four-month trip to India and Nepal, but due to political and meteorological difficulties in India at that time, we decided in Afghanistan to turn around, leaving India and Nepal for a later occasion, which never came.
On the way there, we came from Erzurum in Turkey, and crossed then the north of Iran: Tabriz, Tehran, Babolsar, Babol, Sari, Gorgan, Mashhad, Sangbast, Fariman, Taybad and Afghan border. So we got an impression of the provinces Mazandaran, Golestan and Khorasan, and of course we visited the city of Mashhad with the famous Imam Reza shrine.
After a round trip of 25 days through Afghanistan we entered Iran again, taking then the following route: Mashhad, Sari, Tehran, Isfahan, Dorud, Malayer, Hamadan, Kermanshah, Sanandaj and Rezaiyeh (4). Back in Turkey we crossed the lake Van on a ferry and visited again the interesting region of Cappadocia, and in Greece we headed to the island of Crete.
I am aware that we missed a lot of things and places in Yazd, which are absolutely worthwhile seeing, but we were a bit in a hurry. We were accompanied by a German couple, which we had known on the way to Bushehr, and they were on tour with a rented car and had to be back in Tehran soon, to catch the plane home.
So in Yazd we focused our interest more on the relicts of the Zoroastrian culture, especially on the unique dakhmas, and left other points of interest aside. And I had to be economical with my film material, as I hadn’t much left.
We felt very safe, there were absolutely no safety issues at all. Everyone was very friendly to us, and we felt accepted and welcome, with the only exception during our brief stay in the city of Qom. There they denied serving us in a restaurant, and we felt a bit like unwanted intruders. But that didn’t change our overall very positive experience with the Iranian people.
Before reaching the town of Yazd, we stayed overnight in the desert, sleeping in our cars on the front seats. Next morning, preparing scrambled eggs for breakfast, a young man on a bicycle came straight along to welcome us. He was very kind and interested about us, and presented himself as Hossein Sharifi, student at Arman High School in Yazd. That was a very likeable encounter.
Then there are to mention the dakhmas, of course, we climbed on top of one of the hills, conscious that we were at a very special place.
And finally, after leaving Yazd we were looking for a suitable sleeping place in a very sandy area. We stayed at the entrance track to a small village, which turned out to be deserted. The only people living there were two old men and an old woman. They also were kind and friendly, and we helped them with some bread, we fortunately had with us. Many of the houses were swallowed and covered by sand, and we never found out the name of this abandoned village. (5)
12- Final word
Right now we are living in difficult times, with bloody conflicts especially in the so-called Near East and Middle East. It is a pity and a shame what is happening there, in these regions of so rich and ancient cultures, and I hope the bloodshed can be ended soon.
To the Iranian people, and especially to the people of Yazd, I want to express my best wishes! I still preserve pleasant memories of your beautiful and interesting country and the people living there.