But the five kids lucky enough to be cast – one of whom accompanied Majidi to the prestigious Venice Film Festival on the Lido – are just a handful of the world’s 152 million street children who face a grim future without society’s intervention, the director said, according to AFP.
“The whole world has this problem – kids who have to work to be able to live and let their families live,” Majidi said.
“Many of these kids are selling items on the streets, or underground. They have the worst conditions but it’s not limited to Iran, it’s everywhere, unfortunately.”
Despite the heavy subject matter, an adventure story plot and Majidi’s ability to find humanity and humor in the face of adversity help highlight the spirit, intelligence and potential of Majidi’s young subjects.
In the film, 12-year-old Ali (Rouhollah Zamani) and his three friends help support their families through odd jobs, even stealing a tire or two. One day, they are told a hidden treasure is buried underneath a school for street children. To dig for it, they must enroll.
Majidi said he deliberately sought a light touch, even including unexpected moments of humor that had the audience cheering at a press screening.
“The topics are already very sad, very heavy. So in order to be able to keep the viewers engaged, you don’t need to force them into a heavy, sad situation,” Majidi told AFP, speaking through an interpreter.
“I wanted to do a mixture of light and heavy and play between those, so people can stand to watch this misery.”
The film is one of 18 in competition for the festival’s top prize, the Golden Lion.
Just before departing for the festival, lead actor Zamani tested positive for coronavirus and could not travel, Majidi said, adding that the youngster was fine, though disappointed.
Actress Shamila Shirzad, 13, made the trip, however. In the film, Shirzad and her younger brother played roles that differed little from their actual lives. As Afghans without papers in Tehran, they worked selling items in the subway while living under the constant threat of their family being sent to a refugee camp.
“I was born in Iran and started working when I was five and went to school,” where Majidi found her, she said at a press conference.
Some three to four million Afghans are currently living in Iran, their situation worsened by their illegal status and the prejudice they face, said the director, whose 2001 film, ‘Baran’ focused on Afghan refugees in Iran.
Majidi warned that the plight of street children was not limited to one country or region, saying the world could not afford to ignore these kids' potentials.
“These [children] are supposed to be the future of humanity, and what is happening to the future of humanity is disastrous,” Majidi said.
Responsibility goes “beyond the state,” he said.
“The responsibility is to understand and be aware of the children’s situation, and that concerns us all, not just those who govern us.”