One of the most popular and influential Iranian filmmakers of his era, Mohsen Makhmalbaf was born in Teheran on May 29, 1957. As a working-class teen, he became involved with a militant terrorist group battling against the Shah's regime, and at the age of 17, he was sentenced to die after stabbing a policeman. Ultimately, his youth allowed him to escape the fate of a firing squad, and after serving only five years of his sentence, he was freed in the wake of the country's 1979 Islamic revolution. After his release, Makhmalbaf helped establish an artists' group known as the Islamic Propagation Organization, and he became a prolific writer of plays, essays, short stories, and finally screenplays.
His first filmed script was 1981's The Explanation, and he directed his first feature, Nassouh's Repentance, the following year. Throughout the remainder of the decade, he wrote and directed roughly one film a year, each wildly different in style and content. Among his other early works were 1983's Two Sightless Eyes, 1984's Fleeing From Evil to God, and 1985's Boycott, a fictionalized account of his time in prison. With 1986's The Peddler, an autobiographical collection of vignettes exploring the plight of Iran's urban poor, Makhmalbaf first began attracting international film festival attention. With 1990's Time of Love and its immediate follow-up, The Nights of Zayandeh Roud, he also came under the scrutiny of the Iranian government, which promptly banned both features.
Again switching gears, in 1992 he released Once Upon a Time, Cinema, a comic fantasy about the evolution of Iranian filmmaking. While making 1993's The Actor, a satire of the media in contemporary Iran, his first wife burned to death in a domestic accident (he later married her sister). The power of the film remained his focus for 1994's Salaam Cinema, and with 1996's Gabbeh, he even found U.S. distribution for his work. Makhmalbaf was also the subject of several documentaries, among them Abbas Kiarostami's Close-Up and Houshang Golmakani's Stardust-Stricken, Mohsen Makhmalbaf: A Portrait.