By Michael Gallant, Special Correspondent, IIP Digital (Managed by the U.S. Department of State)
An Iranian film event attracted
overflow crowds to a venue at
New York University.
New York - On a recent February evening, movie enthusiasts gathered in a theater in lower Manhattan, New York, not to take in the latest Hollywood blockbuster but to get a rare glimpse into the world of Iranian cinema.
The event, entitled “Iran on Film: A Forum on Culture, Politics, and Daily Life in Iranian Documentary Cinema,” was hosted by New York University (NYU) in partnership with Link TV, an American nonprofit satellite television network that focuses on international issues. “Iran on Film” attracted such a crowd that many attendees had to watch the film excerpts and panel discussion from a nearby art gallery via closed-circuit TV.
Ali Mirsepassi, a Middle Eastern studies and sociology professor at NYU and director of the university’s Iranian Studies Initiative, welcomed the audience. In contrast with political friction on the international level, he explained, the event’s message was one of understanding. “These films and documentaries have been made possible by many, many people working very hard. ... The message is full of love, friendship and cultural empowerment,” he said.
Link TV helped create the event in conjunction with its Bridge to Iran television series, in which host Parisa Soultani discusses documentary films with their directors - several of whom were on hand.
In his opening remarks, Link TV president Paul Mason elaborated on themes of community between cultures. “Unfortunately, we are seeing too much of a discourse in the media right now that I think is really divorced from much of the reality,” he said. He said Bridge to Iran, started in 2007, has acquired independent films to help audiences see the “diversity of social, political and cultural life inside Iran.”
While the event shared previously unseen elements of Iranian life, it also celebrated a recent surge in international attention to Iranian film. Some discussion centered on the movie A Separation by Asghar Farhadi, named Best Film at the Berlin International Film Festival. It has been nominated for the Best Foreign Picture and Best Original Screenplay awards at the 84th Academy Awards - better known as the Oscars - which will be announced February 26.
Attendees in New York also watched excerpts from several documentaries that are featured in Link TV’s Bridge to Iran series - available to the general public via satellite TV and streaming over the Internet.
Following the excerpts, panelists spoke about Iran’s culture and relationship to cinema.
Negar Mottahedeh, professor of literature and women’s studies at Duke University, spoke about the relationship between human bodies and film technology in Iran, as well as what she describes as “thematics of unlivability” under the Islamic Republic, especially for women. She discussed how audiotapes, mobile phones, YouTube and other technologies have played roles in protests during decades of change in Iran.
Filmmaker Maryam Khakipour discussed the roots of her documentary Siah Bazi. It tells the story of the last existing “joy makers,” improvisational Iranian street performers who included biting criticism of government in their shows. Khakipour, speaking through a translator, said, “It was theater that connected with lower classes of society, and if it generated laughter, it wasn’t only laughter of humor. It was laughter that generated thought.”
Khakipour also spoke about her experience making Siah Bazi. “I sent the film to many foreign critics ... and the actors got invited to [perform for] two months in Paris and then two years, during which we had beautiful adventures,” she said.
One audience member asked how Americans could support filmmakers within Iran.
“When we open up a space for exchange of ideas, that’s a big plus,” answered filmmaker and Bridge to Iran co-producer Persheng Vaziri. “Just that an Iranian film was invited to the Oscars this year, that supports the cinema and opens up space ... for us to push government to step back from repressive policies towards the arts.”
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