- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 23, 2001

Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf says it's none of his business whether the co-star of his new film, "Kandahar," killed someone in this country 21 years ago.
Articles last week in The Washington Times noted the striking similarities in physical appearance and background between Hassan Tantai, identified in the credits as the actor who plays a doctor in "Kandahar," and Daoud Salahuddin, a fugitive wanted for the 1980 assassination in Bethesda of Iranian dissident Ali Akbar Tabatabai.
In his first direct response to the question of whether Mr. Tantai and Salahuddin are the same person, Mr. Makhmalbaf said Friday he does not know and believes "such a conclusion should be reached in a court of law."
"I have made more than 20 feature films. I have always chosen my actors from crowded streets and barren deserts," the screenwriter/director of "Kandahar" said in a statement.
"I never ask those who act in my films what they have done before, nor do I follow what they do after I finish shooting my films," Mr. Makhmalbaf added.
This statement marked the first time he responded in his own words to media questions about what he described as "press speculation" that Mr. Tantai has a criminal background.
When The Times first posed those questions last week, Mr. Makhmalbaf responded through Robin Lim, president of Avatar Films, distributor of "Kandahar."
The director said then he first met Mr. Tantai in a village in Iran near the Afghanistan border, where much of "Kandahar" was shot. He said Mr. Tantai was working as a doctor, giving out pills, food and vitamins to the poor.
Mr. Makhmalbaf recognized "this guy obviously had a past" but "felt that delving into his past would serve no purpose for the film," Mr. Lim told The Times then.
Both Mr. Tantai and Salahuddin are black American Muslims who escaped from the United States and entered Iran in 1980. Both have worked as journalists in Tehran.
Mr. Tantai was working as a physician when he was "discovered" by Mr. Makhmalbaf. Salahuddin, in a 1996 interview with an American newspaper, said Iranian officials had promised him a medical education in China for assassinating Mr. Tabatabai, a vocal opponent of the Islamic revolution of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But Iranian authorities reneged, he said.
U.S. public interest in "Kandahar" already unusually high for a foreign film has surged in the wake of the questions about Mr. Tantai's past.
The movie, which opened in one New York theater a week ago Friday, expanded to three more sites this past weekend. It will open in a fifth cinema in New York on Christmas Day, according to Mr. Lim. It opens in Washington on Jan. 11.
"Kandahar," which examines the oppression suffered by the Afghan people under the Taliban regime, also recently received the National Board of Review's Freedom of Expression award.


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