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Expanding Film Ties in The Middle East



Iranian American Director/Producer Kayvan Mashayekh noticed at The First Middle East International Film Festival in Abu Dhabi


Mashayekh participated to a 3 day Workshop with Oscar Awardee screenwriter/director Paul Haggis and Miramax's Golden Boy Harvey Weinstein  . Mashayekh is in pre-production phase on his next film project with the working title Batting For Palestine ©Kayvan Mashayekh & imdb & photocomposition DK


It is no secret that in recent years Hollywood has set its eyes on the Middle East both as a potential market but also as a source of inspiration and a pool of talent and creativity. Hollywood Films like Syriana, Munich, The Kingdom, Lions for Lambs have been either blockbuster success' or critically acclaimed films highlighting the contemporary issues related to the War on Terror that have been alas inflicting the Middle East at large at different levels. Fortunately War and Terror are certainly not the only issues that interest movie goers. As one of the cradles of civilization, the Middle East has always been a source of inspiration for some of the most cinematic experiences in the history of Motion Pictures. David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia partly shot on location in Jordan remains one of the most spectacular epic films to date along with Cecile B. DeMille's Biblical Technicolor masterpiece The Ten Commandments Shot in Nasser's Egypt at the height of the Suez Canal Crisis. Egyptian Cinema has been spearheading Arab Cinema for decades with the works of Youssef Chahine who launched the career of Omar Sharif to international stardom. Lebanese Films have been extremely prolific in recent years and have been highlighting social and cultural taboos in such films as Caramel or Terra Incognita. The new generation Israeli filmmakers are also breaking ground in trying to deal with half century long Palestinian Israeli conflict through new lens and particularly humor. This is the case of Eran Kolirin's The Band's Visit which won the Un Certain Regard Award in 2007 at Cannes. Muslim nations in North Africa as Tunisia and Morocco have also become the new Mecca for Hollywood post productions outside the United States: The Settings for the Star Wars and Indiana Jones vehicles were shot in Tunisia while Morocco was the setting for such blockbusters as Ridley Scott's Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven. Iranian Cinema has also imposed itself with such acclaimed directors as Abbas Kiarostami and the Makhmalbaf family who are now even working with European Stars as Juliette Binoche while its Diaspora film community has been working with such greats as Catherine Deneuve or Vanessa Redgrave thanks to filmmakers like Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) or Kayvan Mashayekh (The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam). Ethnic minorities as the Kurds and Armenians ( also in their Diaspora's) are also spearheading ground making motion pictures with little means but powerful messages thanks to directors like the late Yilmaz Güney Palme D'Or Awardee for Yol or more recently Bahman Ghobadi ( A Time for Drunken Horses), Jay Jonroy (David & Layla) or Atom Egoyan ( Ararat). Turkish Cinema has flourished over the years although not without its share of censorship burdens leading some to exile or thriving in the Diaspora as Fatih Akin highly acclaimed recently at Cannes and The European Oscars (The European Academy Awards) for his screenplay The Edge of Heaven.  If there is little doubt as to existence of a pool of talents in nearly every field of the movie Industry in the Middle East, it should nevertheless be noted that, albeit recently, international cooperation and co-productions between the various film communities in the Middle East has not been as prolific as the national productions themselves. This was due partly to religious, political or ethnic differences, political censorship (still very rampant today for the very same reasons) in a region that has always been at crossroads due to Western or Ottoman colonization, war, revolutions or civil wars throughout the 20th century. This is one of the reasons why Dialogue and close encounters between Professionals from the Middle East with their colleagues in the region but also worldwide is so important and inspiring. Much still needs to be done in the field to allow not only dialogue but even debate in an open minded and tolerant environment, where taboos on film can be discussed professionally and without fear of censorship or even physical threats as has often been the case for Middle East directors in recent years regardless of nationality, religion or political views.


Mashayekh and fellow colleague from Abu Dhabi

received film grants for their respective film projects
Coverage By by John Parnell Digital Studio, copyright of ITP Publishing


Kayvan Mashayekh is one of the Iranian-American director's of the Diaspora who is trying to bridge cultures through his work as both director and producer. In a market that is ruthless and highly competitive it is interesting to notice that the commercial success of his first feature Film The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam has secured Mashayekh's reputation as a reliable first time director with a promising future as an

independent director, producer and/or both. Probably what is the most significant lesson for anyone who wishes to make movies and eventually have a career in movies, is stamina. Nothing destined the former lawyer to enter movies except a strong urge to pay tribute to his late father, a lover of Persian Poetry and Arts and in the course to his own Persian heritage. Little did he know that he would have to overcome huge challenges that nothing, including his background as a lawyer, could have predicted. To shoot a film with an international cast, a major Star and film Legend ( Vanessa Redgrave) and on three continents and particularly in a former Soviet Republic (Uzbekistan) would have certainly intimidated any film novice and discourage shrewd financing partners. However   daunting a challenge and often painful for Mashayekh both financially and emotionally ( given the personal theme of his film) has proved nevertheless a blessing in terms of human and cinematic experience. It certainly opened an entire avenue of opportunities which he wishes to explore both as a filmmaker and world citizen concerned by the issues in his native country, Iran, but also the Middle East at Large.


Small World : Singer/actress Shani Rigsbee's
work inspired by Middle East influences
can be noticed in the Music Score of Mashayekh's

The Keeper : The Legend of Omar Khayyam as well

as that of Paul Haggis in Crash. ©



His upcoming film which is in preparation has nothing to do with Iran but does connect with the theme of his previous film that of exile and quest for one's cultural identity. Mashayekh's new screenplay entitled Batting For Palestine, still in the process of development, is a drama about a Palestinian boy recruited by a struggling Jewish minor league baseball manager in Texas. It will be shot partly in the "Occupied Territories" in Jordan and partly in Houston Texas, Mashayekh's hometown since he and his family left Iran shortly after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. This has been a lucky opportunity for Mashayekh to participate and compete (along with other young directors from different nationalities)  last October in the inaugural of the Middle East International Film Festival's Film Financing Circle (FFC) and participate in a 3 day Workshop benefiting from the directorial and screenwriting experience of one of Hollywood's most wanted talent today and Oscar Awardee : Paul Haggis ( Bond 22, Crash, In The Valley of Elah). 

Audience favourite Soman Chainani's Love Marriage, a comedy about two weddings that threaten to tear apart an Indian family in London, and Sofie Damian and Rusudan Chkonia's Keep Smiling, the story of seven mothers battling it out in a beauty contest in Georgia, shared the first prize of $100,000. The latter $800,000 project is due to shoot in Tbilisi in the spring. As for Mashayekh, he was the lucky recipient of a runner-up award of $25,000, for his film Batting for Palestine donated by FFC delegate Ryan Kavanaugh of financing and production company Relativity Media.

"The projects were all strong, and it seemed unfair that only one would win," Kavanaugh told Mashayekh has brought on board a Texan baseball team owner as executive producer, and has support from Jordan's Royal Film Commission, where the young Iranian-American filmmaker will shoot scenes based in Palestine.

FFC director Adrienne Briggs had received more than 100 submissions from filmmakers in 27 countries in the lead-up to the festival. Over the three days of the FFC, teams of international executives coached six short listed filmmakers through their pitches, who then presented to the jury members -- former BBC Films head
David Thompson, Hyde Park Entertainment chairman and CEO Ashok Amritraj, and Nansun Shi of Hong Kong's Film Workshop -- and the FFC's gathering of mainly Hollywood executives.

Paul Haggis, was at the festival to present In the Valley of Elah, which closed the film Festival and addressed a masterclass for a selected few young local filmmakers, and has agreed to act as a consultant for an international screenwriting lab that the festival plans to hold in 2008.

MEIFF festival organizers drew in an impressive line-up of speakers and delegates to the inaugural event. "We've all appreciated the opportunity to meet colleagues in a relaxed, non-competitive atmosphere, and the panel discussions have been generous and open," said Ingenious World Cinema's Parminder Vir.

David Thompson expressed enthusiasm for the "anything's possible" atmosphere in the Emirates. "I'm here partly given my interest in Arab cinema and the region, and to share the BBC's experiences in an informal way. But we're also interested in co-productions -- in the current climate, new sources of investment are crucial."

But Thompson, Vir and other delegates expressed frustration at the lack of opportunity to meet locals -- both potential investors and aspiring filmmakers -- and regional industry executives. Only one of the pitching filmmakers was from the
Middle East, and few UAE-based directors attended the panel discussions. Bar Frontrow Entertainment's Gianluca Chacra, the region's distributors, mostly based in Dubai, also failed to make the 90-minute trip to the UAE federal capital.

"It's been worthwhile but a bit of an LA talkshop at times," said one visiting executive. "If
Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the other emirates can coordinate events and also production issues such as permissions and so on, then that would make it easier for us to do business here."



Paul Haggis Oscar® Recipient 2006 for Crash & Kayvan Mashayekh
Persian Golden Lioness Award® 2006 for Best Independent Epic



"Both sides are getting to know each other, and the foundations are now there," said Kavanaugh. "We can't ignore the international marketplace and events like this open up interaction, but it's very early days."



Freedom to imagine, to think and invent are ultimately the only rules in creative Arts that should be defended by anyone who claims to respect and love the arts and artists particularly anyone in charge of a film festival or institution. The First Middle East International Film Festival tried to respond to this need. Lets hope this initiative will continue and expand to other film festivals in one of the most troubled yet cinematically promising regions today.


Good Luck to The Keeper,




Authors Notes :


Official Website : The Middle East International Film Festival
Official Website of Singer Shani Rigsbee :


Recommended Readings:


Lesson's from the Keeper by Darius KADIVAR

My first  interview with director Kayvan Mashayekh for payvand in 2005

Khayyam Mania!!!: Hollywood's depiction of the great Persian Poet's life by Darius KADIVAR (2003).

Syriana Breaks Iranian Stereotypes by Darius KADIVAR

Persepolis To Represent France at the 2008 Oscars by Darius KADIVAR


In Relation to The Middle East Movie Industry:


Deneuve Wants to See by Darius KADIVAR

Hollywood and Oil by Darius KADIVAR

BBC report on The Rise of a New Wave Lebanese and Arab Cinema in recent years   



About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant. He is also contributes to OCPC Magazine in LA/US and to the London Based IC Publications The Middle East Magazine and Persian Heritage Magazine.

... Payvand News - 05/14/08 ... --

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