Bahman Maghsoudlou’s new production company, the International Film and Video Center, epitomizes the tenacity and ingenuity of independent filmmaking in New York. International Film and Video originated and still exists at Maghsoudlou’s video store, which specializes in selling and renting foreign films, art/historical classics, documentaries and other rare titles as well as mainstream films.
Maghsoudlou, an Iranian expatriate and scholar whose books include Iranian Cinema and Subjective Cinema in Alfred Hitchcock’s Films, opened the Center 11 years ago. Today, with over 14,000 titles and a clientele around the world, Maghsoudlou has branched into film production. His first project, Manhattan By Numbers, directed by fellow Iranian Amir Naderi, and shot by first-time feature director of photography James Callanan, has already won critical acclaim.
“It is always difficult to make a film,” Maghsoudlou observes, “but especially on location in a major city. Especially if that city is New York in winter.” Manhattan By Numbers follows George Murphy (John Wojda), a recently laid-off newspaperman who will lose his small Washington Heights apartment at the end of the day if he doesn’t come up with $1,200 in back rent. His wife and daughter have moved out. He has already borrowed from his friends and family. He seeks a last resort in another unemployed journalist, Tom Ryan, but his hopes dim when it turns out Ryan has mysteriously disappeared. In a last-ditch, all-day effort, Murphy takes to the streets, moving diagonally from Washington Heights to the Lower East Side, in search of someone who will help him.
Maghsoudlou knew Naderi’s work from their native Iran, where the director had made 11 films, seven of which went to international festivals. Both The Runner and Water, Wind, Sand (the latter was shown at MoMA’s New Directors-New Films series in 1990) reflect the director’s concern with man’s struggle to survive overwhelming poverty. Manhattan By Numbers, recently released in New York, is Naderi’s first English-language feature. Manhattan By Numbers came in on budget for half a million dollars, encouraging Maghsoudlou to produce more art films of similar budget and quality at the rate of one or two per year. “I want to select a good story, work with a good director, and keep the budget down,” he explains. His own titles will fit right in with his video stock. “The video business is down overall,” he explains, “but we’re surviving so well because we specialize and provide a service.” While chain video rental stores may carry 10,000 tapes and offer 2,000 titles, International Film and Video Center has more than 14,000 tapes and 13,000 titles.
Original format prints are also available at International Film and Video Center. While restoration of original masters is expensive and time-consuming, it is proving to be worthwhile considering the demand from buyers and renters. Restored videocassettes such as The Wild Bunch, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Napoleon and A Star is Born are appreciated by Maghsoudlou’s discerning clientele. “More and more people, from film students to film lovers to historians, are asking for uncut original-format films, even if the version they want hasn’t been available in years.” Studios may have to spend more to get the product back out and restore it to its full glory, “but they’re finding out it’s worthwhile,” he says, “because while yesterday’s audience didn’t know the difference between an uncut original and the videocassette of the same name, today’s audience is much more sophisticated.”
American Cinematographer, January 1995