Pursuing your dreams is never easy, especially when it comes to the film industry, as it fluctuates continuously. However, one man used perseverance and passion to become not only a filmmaker, but a professor in the art of filmmaking as well. This is the story of Roozbeh Ali Kafi.
Born and raised in Tehran, Iran, on August 29, 1984, Kafi was a city boy surrounded by an intellectual and cultured family. He initially studied engineering but found himself entering into the realm of poetry as he slowly discovered the world of films.
Inspired by his older brother, and left to choose between either film school or military service, Kafi found his passion for cinema along the way. “Two years into studying film, I felt like ‘Oh, I love this,’ because it’s such a strong media. You create a parallel world with a full experience for your audience. A parallel world to what it is out there. So when you go to the cinema, this magical experience of cinema, you go sit there, lights turn off, and for those two, three hours that you’re there, your real life is at pause, and then what is playing for you is the new world that you’re living in,” he says.
However, the road was not easy. Kafi struggled as a rising filmmaker, with his parents’ disapproval of his career choice. He then met the filmmaker who was to become his mentor, Mohammad Reza Aslani, who helped Kafi in his journey. Aslani changed him into the person he is now, supporting him along the way.
Kafi moved on to achieve much more over the years to follow, creating films in 5 different countries, including “Faces,” which landed a spot in the Cannes Film Festival, among multiple other successful projects. “You gain a lot of respect from people when they see that you persevere when you have a goal and you go for it,” he says.
As a fresh MA graduate, Kafi also launched the first Master of Fine Arts documentary film program in the Middle East and North Africa region at The Red Sea Institute of Cinematic Arts (RSICA) in Jordan in 2013 after a long summer of research and preparation, initiating his start as a film professor.
He dreamt of becoming a professor ever since he was a child, looking up to his father who was a university professor as well. Kafi was also nicknamed “professor’s son” by his grandfather at the age of six. “That’s a very weird dream maybe, but I always imagined my ideal man to be a very intellectual person and a university professor,” he says.
Professor Kafi had only planned to stay in the United Arab Emirates for a year, but he found himself enjoying his job as an Assistant Professor of Digital Production and Storytelling at the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Communication (MBRSC) in the American University in Dubai. Professor Kafi loves working there. He has found friends, not just colleagues, and has built trust and understanding amongst his peers.
Professor Kafi believes in using his own experience to help his students face their own challenges and better shape their future. He was once in their position, and would like to teach them in a fun and practical manner. He also loves to discover the media industry’s new trends by learning from his young students.
“There is a Chinese saying that goes, ‘the best way of learning is teaching,’ and what’s better than talking about what I enjoy? Like I’m blessed by my job, as a filmmaker, and as a film teacher, because I do what I love,” says Kafi. He then states jokingly, “That’s why I’m a great teacher.”
He also hopes to help develop the skills of young filmmakers and help produce interesting film content in the UAE by both supporting his students’ projects and creating his own. “My number one priority in life is to make people’s lives better through collective creativity and telling the story of this region,” he says.
Professor Kafi owes his success to his own curiosity. “If there’s one word that I’d like to say about myself is that I’m a very curious person, so whatever I do in my life is just to feed that curiosity, that sometimes is very easy to satisfy and sometimes very difficult to satisfy. This curiosity has taken me to many places,” he states.
Professor Kafi is now focusing on both his career as a teacher and as a filmmaker. He is working on a series of short documentaries to be filmed in the near future, along with researching transmedia storytelling to better develop his understanding of the industry. He finds motivation through reading and watching films and gaining inspiration from role models such as famous filmmaker Martin Scorsese.
He recognizes the difficulties of working on big productions because of the current pandemic, yet he encourages those who are passionate about filmmaking to pursue their dreams whatever it takes.
“Just live the life that you think you love and then dive into it, just dive, boom, head down, go for it, there is no shortcut.”