Facing constraints, finding freedom
The 15th Celebration of Iranian Cinema reflects the increasing diversity of work made by the country’s resident and expatriate filmmakers.
By SUSAN KING
Time Staff Writer
In the 15 years since its inception, the annual Celebration of Iranian Cinema has become one of UCLA Film and Television Archive’s most anticipated and well-attended festivals.
“The one thing we are proud of building is a crossover audience for Iranian cinema,” says programmer David Pendleton. “Iranian cinema is recognized as important national cinema.”
The rise of digital video, Pendleton says, has expanded the booming filmmaking scene. “I would say the program this year is our most diverse program in terms of the kinds of films we are showing and the filmmakers themselves. We are including filmmakers who work on video, filmmakers who work on film, filmmakers who work independently and filmmakers who work in more traditional ways, documentary as well as fiction and most importantly, Iranian filmmakers who are living and working abroad.”
The festival opens Friday with “Turtles Can Fly,” the latest film from Bahman Ghobadi of “A Time for Drunken Horses” fame. It’s a heartbreaking drama set along the Turkey-Iraq border just days before the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq and revolves around a group of Kurdish orphans who dig up land mines to earn money. The leader of the group is a 13-year-old boy named Satellite, who falls in love with one of the other orphans.
Like Italian neo-realist directors of post-World War II Italy, such as Roberto Rossellini or Vittorio De Sica, Ghobadi generally casts his films with nonprofessionals and shoots on real locations.
“Ghobadi is very close to Italian neorealism in many ways,” says Pendleton, “this blend of melodrama and realism and naturalism. There is also a certain amount of humor. It is a full-blooded melodrama, but it doesn’t have sentimentality that we associate with melodrama.”
Mani Haghighi’s “Abadan,” to be shown next Sunday, was banned in Iran and then snubbed by a European festival for not being “Iranian enough.”
“There is a lot of foul language in the film,” says Pendleton. “One of the leads is a hothead. The thing about censorship [in Iran] is that there are many different film boards that review the films for different reasons. That is why it sometimes takes awhile [for the films to be released in Iran].
“In the past we have shown films that had not been released in Iran and had been censored, and you come to find out a year or so later they eventually get released.”
Three Iranian filmmakers will be attending the festival with their movies. Bahman Kiarostami will appear Saturday with his two documentaries, “Infidels” and “Two Bows.” Maryam Keshavarz, who works outside of Iran, will discuss her latest film, “The Color of Love,” on Feb. 26.
Producer-director Bahman Maghsoudlou, who has lived in New York for the past 30 years, will be present at the screening of the drama “Silence of the Sea,” which he produced, and his documentary, “Ahmad Mahmoud: A Noble Novelist,” on Feb. 18.
“Silence of the Sea,” which was directed by Vahid Mousaian, is a stark tone poem about a middle-aged Iranian who fled the country years before and emigrated to Sweden, where he lives with his wife and two children. Heartbroken with guilt over abandoning his parents when he left Iraq, he decides to return. But because he left the country illegally, he is forced to stay in a free port in an isolated island off the coast.
“It is a film without any sentimentality,” says Maghsoudlou, who can’t go back to his homeland after being nearly arrested in 2002. “It goes deep to your country. It is about identity, displacement.”
Maghsoudlou says there are three kinds of directors working today in Iran. “One group is commercial filmmakers; one group makes films for themselves – they are not afraid of censorship – and the third group is in the middle. They make propaganda films. It is getting more difficult for independent artists who are looking for free expression. The government won’t let them. Ninety percent of the film industry is controlled and financed by the government.”
Celebration of Iranian Cinema
Where: James Bridges Theatre, Meinitz Hall, UCLA
When: Friday through March 11 at 7:30 unless otherwise noted
Price: $7 general; $5 for seniors, students and UCLA Alumni Assn. members
Contact: (310) 296-FILM or go to www.cinema.ucla.edu
Friday: “Turtles Can Fly”
Saturday: “Infidels” and “Two Bows”
Feb. 13: “Abadan,” 7 p.m.
Feb. 18: “The River’s End”
Feb. 19: “Silence of the Sea” and “Ahmad Mahmoud: A Noble Novelist”
Feb. 26: “The Color of Love” and “Zohre & Manochehr”
March 5: “Beautiful City”
March 11: “Tiny Snowflakes”