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U.S. Audience Applauds Latest Film from Iranian Director Panahi

By Judy Aita, USINFO Staff Writer

Offside seen as celebration of "indomitable spirit of Iranian women"

New York -- The box-office line waiting for cancellations confirmed it.  The Film Society of Lincoln Center's March 12 screening of famed Iranian director Jafar Panahi's film Offside was a sellout.

Inside the 268-seat Walter Reade Theater, the audience's response to the film and the questions to Columbia University professor Hamid Dabashi were further proof of the audience's interest in film, Iranian films and Iran in general.

Richard Pena, the Film Society's program director, said that one reason he chose the film was to give Americans an opportunity "to perhaps understand these people with whom we seem to have so many dealings and yet know so little about."

Offside debuted in the fall of 2006 at the society's prestigious New York Film Festival. Each year, the 17-day festival showcases the newest and most important works by directors from around the world.

Dabashi said film is "a singularly important" means of exposing Americans to a different vision of Iran.

Offside, A Film by Jafar Panahi

follows several young women disguised as boys as they try to sneak into a very important international football match for Iran. If Iran wins its match against Bahrain, it will go to the 2006 World Cup -- a feat that has eluded Iran's team for several years. Panahi filmed much of the movie with the actual Iran-Bahrain match ongoing in the background.

The girls' knowledge of the game and its star players as well as their need to be part of the cheering crowd is equal to that of the men and boys overwhelming the stadium. Religious declarations that make such matches off-limits to women fade in the spirit of the moment.

Panahi -- who has said the film was inspired by his experiences in trying to gain admittance for himself and his daughter to a match in 2004 -- focuses on five young women who were caught and spent the game in a holding pen tantalizingly close to the action but dependent on a soldier giving them an unsatisfactory play-by-play of the match.  Through their pleadings and exchanges with the soldiers, the filmmaker reveals the dichotomy of their lives in 21st century Tehran -- football matches for men only; movie theaters for both sexes; the cosmopolitan interests of the Iranian women that are foreign to the provincial soldiers, who cling to old traditions and their farm lives.

As in the football penalty for which the film is named, the girls -- as well as some of their guards -- are out of place.

Girls play football, too, on school playing fields and with women coaches, one of the characters in the film tells a soldier.  When her school had a match against a team from another country, the opposing team's male coach had to phone in plays from outside the stadium.

Offside is, Dabashi said, "very much dedicated to the cause of liberty and the struggle of people."

"It is a celebration of the indomitable spirit of Iranian women in particular to defy tyranny, stand for their rights, and be at the forefront of the struggle of their nation for freedom and democracy," he said.

The script, by Panahi, is "in the great tradition we have in Iran of men who have joined their women colleagues throughout modern Iran in speaking on behalf of women's issues," Dabashi said.

"The privilege of Iranian men is not in the way of 'how wonderful is it that they are speaking on behalf of Iranian women,' but because the cause of Iranian women is the cause of Iranians.  And the success and failure of the revolutions and uprising and so forth is only determined to the degree woman's rights are ascertained," he said.

Dabashi called Offside "the crowning achievement of Iranian cinema over the last two decades" that has become part and parcel of a body of spectacular presentations of Iranian social and political concerns by Iranian filmmakers. (See related article.)

He also discussed his new book, Iran: A People Interrupted, which analyzes key events, cultural trends and political development.  He called it "a love letter to two countries that are very, very dear to me -- my homeland, Iran, and also to the United States where I live and where my children were born."

Dabashi comes from Ahvaz, Iran.  He was educated in Iran before moving to the United States for post-graduate studies, eventually receiving a dual doctorate in sociology of culture and Islamic studies from the University of Pennsylvania. He is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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