The art of making Art of Persia

It was 2016 when I was first approached about the possibility of going to Iran to make a major series about the history and art of Persia.

Teahouse in Isfahan, where we filmed the Arabian Nights vizier story (copyright BBC/Craig Hastings)

It took 3 years to get the visas and we filmed exactly a year ago. I’d last visited in 2002 for a Channel 4 Series Islam Unveiled that focussed on Islam and feminism around the world and always wanted to go back. It seems to me exactly what the BBC should be doing: informing, educating and entertaining.

Fixers Naser Safarzadeh, Meisam Jebelli while filming at the frieze of Shapur’s victory over 3 Roman emperors in the Chogan Gorge (copyright Meisam Jebelli)

Going beneath the news headlines to help us meet the Iranian people and get an insight into how they see themselves and their place in the world. I cannot thank the ordinary people of Iran who welcomed us enough, and hope these films do their rich heritage and resilience justice. Thanks to the UK based-academics you’ll see in the programmes who helped provide context and insight and spoke with passion and expert knowledge about how to interpret these sites and objects.

Not quite sure what producer
Richard Downes and I are looking at in Shiraz, but it was clearly hilarious (copyright Meisam Jebelli)

And there is obviously a real poignancy in seeing the films shot before the Covid 19 pandemic. Some of these photos capture ideas we filmed, like the roses sequence below, but sadly couldn’t fit into the final programmes. 7000 years in just 3 hours!

Piece to camera in the city bazaar from a lost sequence about the importance of roses to the legend of Shiraz
l-r Doug Dreger, Richard Downes (copyright Meisam Jebelli)

You’ll see amazing imagery (including some remarkable drone shots) thanks to cameraman Craig Hastings and hear memorable sounds and insights thanks to Doug Dreger our BAFTA nominated soundman.

Ray Harryhausen moment at the Cave of Shapur (copyright Meisam Jebelli)

I am hugely grateful to producer Richard Downes for his stamina, patience and care, who brought the benefit of his experience on his earlier Silk Road documentary series to work so hard on this and is the shaping force behind it all.

In the desert by the fire temple of Chak Chak. That’s my English
translation of the Shahnameh on my lap (copyright Meisam Jebelli)

Special thanks to Mark Hedgecoe for recommending me for this. And to everyone at BBC Studios and BBC Arts and in post production and publicity for editing and the gorgeous graphics and the promotional work with a trailer and interviews to raise awareness of the series..

Art of Persia: on tour at Pasargarde (left Naser Safarzadeh, Meisam Jebelli, Craig Hastings behind me, driver Ali, Richard Downes to my right) (copyright Meisam Jebelli)

The series wouldn’t have happened without the longterm work and daily support of our colleagues in Iran. Meisam Jebelli and Naser Safarzadeh were on the road with us every day; Meisam translating as well as organising filming access and interviews. Senior Producer Reza Ganji got the whole show off the ground. It was an honour to work with them.

All photographs are copyright of Meisam Jebelli and Craig Hastings.

Further Reading/viewing

Art of Persia starts on BBC4 on Monday Jun 15th 9pm and iplayer

The Art of Being Persian (Financial Times Jun 13th) – my feature on the making of Art of Persia

About samiraahmed

Journalist. Writer. Broadcaster.
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11 Responses to The art of making Art of Persia

  1. Meisam Jebelli says:

    It was such a great privilege to be a member of your team. Thank you for mentioning that.

  2. Rana Siadati says:

    Dear Samira,
    Just a quick note to say that how much I enjoyed watching the 3 episodes of The Art of Persia.
    It was absolutely a piece art itself!
    I recommended it to everyone I knew.
    Thank you so much for making us proud of our past
    Kind regards

  3. alina healey says:

    is there any way of buying a DVD on this remarkable series?

    • samiraahmed says:

      Hi Alina, not at the moment I’m afraid. But it is still on iplayer for those who can access that till at least June 2021. You’re not the first person to ask and I have raised it with BBC Studios. Sincerely, Samira

  4. Olivier Doustens says:

    Wonderful series ! Music is splendid too. Is there a way to find the track listing or any information about it ? Kind regards. Olivier

  5. “The art of making Art of Persia” has just been broadcasted on the French cultural channel Arte and it’s been a privilege to watch it and learn so much about Persia. Thanks for this beautiful travel throughout art and history ! May I ask you what is the music we hear at the end of the final episode ? I would love to find the record.
    Thanks and regards

  6. Steve Peet says:

    Hi Samira. I thought The Art of Persia series was stunning.
    Has any thought been given to the publication of a book to accompany the series?

  7. Richard Reynolds says:

    I love this series and am sure that my Iranian friends now living in Canada would too if only they could access BBC IPlayer too. Tell me, are there plans to produce this amazing series on CDs as I am not sure if they are able to view BBC TV in New Brunswick? Thank you for such a brilliant insight into Persian Arts!

  8. Jakob Mill says:

    I watched this amazingly wonderful series a while ago. Was going to watch it again with a friend – alas in its wisdom the BBC has now removed it from iplayer and there is no indication of how one may rent / buy the series.

    As a licence payer I am not impressed at all that a treasure of a series that most likely was paid for out of licence fees is locked up in one of BBCs silos. What a shame and what a waste.

    Can you please help?

  9. Lara says:

    Hiya. Absolutely loves watching this when it came out. Is there anywhere I can watch it again please?

    • samiraahmed says:

      Thank you so much, Lara. I know it’s been put on BBC Select – the paid for streaming service, and is shown on various international broadcasters such as Arte, but afraid I don’t know when it’s next back on the BBC in the UK and iplayer here. Sorry I can’t help more.

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