Daily Bruin Magazine

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February 10-16, 2005
DAILY BRUIN MAGAZINE

Iranian filmmakers gain prestige

By Julianne Fylstra
dB MAGAZINE CONTRIBUTOR
jfylstra@ucla.edu

For most American filmmakers, freedom of subject matter isn’t a problem. But for the growing genre of Iranian cinema, whose films are beginning to receive greater international acclaim, filmmakers deal with challenges in this area all the time.

“(The biggest obstacle facing Iranian filmmakers today is) censorship by various groups, political and religious conservative groups,” said Iranian-American filmmaker Bahman Maghsoudlou, author of the first book on the history of Iranian cinema. “Also, Iran faces a very harsh economy for the cinema. Eighty percent of Iranian films are financed by the government. Only a few films have been purchased – less than 5 percent – for distribution abroad. The rest are losing money.”

Maghsoudlou is one of 10 Iranian or Iranian-American filmmakers honored as part of this year’s 15th Annual Celebration of Iranian Cinema, running from Feb. 11 until March 11 at the James Bridges Theater. The series, put on each year by the UCLA Film and Television Archive, has grown in popularity, mainly due to the large Iranian community surrounding UCLA.

“As a public institution, we’re interested in serving all sectors of the public, and the fact is that the largest Iranian population outside of Tehran is based right here in Westwood and Beverly Hills,” said David Pendleton, programmer for the Archive. “The Iranian program we do every year is one of our best attended events because of that.”

Despite setbacks, the film industry in Iran is now beginning to flourish thanks to the invention of digital technology. Iranian-American filmmaker Maryam Keshavarz, a graduate student in film at New York University, used digital technology to create her film “The Color of Love,” which will be screened at the festival on Feb. 26.
“Digital technology allowed me to go into different spaces oftentimes unnoticed because it looks like a home movie camera. The new cameras are pretty small,” Keshavarz said.

Both Pendleton and Keshavarz agree that because of the emergence of digital technology over the past 15 years, a wider variety of films is now coming out of Iran.
“With digital technology, you can make films on your own, you can make films about general people,” said Keshavarz. “I think in the next five years, with digital technology, it’s so much more accessible that a lot of different stories are going to come out from women or from minority cultures.”
With or without the new technology, however, Iranian filmmakers are finding ways to circumvent government censorship of their movies. Maghsoudlou explains that in order to get around the censorship of political and religious groups, filmmakers in Iran must be more creative than usual.

“The Iranian filmmakers have created and work hard to create devices to bypass those restrictions,” Maghsoudlou said. “The cinema becomes more symbolic, more philosophic, more metaphoric, to handle the core storyline and the message.”
Amita Firouzi, a fourth-year psychology student and cultural chair of the Iranian Student Group at UCLA, agrees.
“The film-censoring bureau of Iran has become a lot more lenient on which films are allowed to be shown on screen, and most producers try to take as much advantage of that as possible,” Firouzi said. “Persians are opinionated and smart. They need free speech to express themselves, so if they don’t have it, they’ll find other ways to show it, or push their limits.”

According to Maghsoudlou, since the Iranian revolution in 1979, the population has doubled, but the number of movie theaters has decreased by half. Currently, 72 percent of Iran’s expanding population is under age 30, and they look to the cinema for inspiration.
Scores of these young people are now coming to the movies because of Iranian cinema’s growing success abroad and are subsequently inspired to create their own pieces of art. Filmmakers like Keshavarz eagerly await these new cinematic voices from Iran.
“Iranian cinema has created such a niche for itself. Fifteen years ago, who really knew internationally about Iranian cinema?” said Keshavarz. “(Filmmakers in Iran), through censorship and restrictions, have created an art form that’s amazing and beautiful and striking, and yet even that form itself will be changing.”

also see
 
Ahmad Mahmoud; A Nobel Novelist
Ahmad Mahmoud Bibliography
 
Reviews:
 
BBC Review by Shahrokh Golestan, [in Persian]
Keyhan (London) [in Persian, pdf, 1,471kb]
UCLA Film & Television Archive, Feb 2005
BBC Review by Mehdi Jami [in Persian]
Iranian.com by Azam Nemati
Nimrouz [in Persian]
Los Angeles Times
 

 

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