Saturday, August 30, 2014

Great Iranian Directors

For the past two months at Hibbleton Gallery, we have been screening films from Iran, curated by my friend, the filmmaker Steve Elkins.   I have been so inspired by the the films that I'm putting together a zine entitled "An Introduction to Iranian Cinema."  The zine will be released at BOOKMACHINE books + zines on Friday, September 5th during the Downtown Fullerton Art Walk.  There will be a corresponding art show and screenings of excerpts from films we've watched.  Part of the zine will be a "shout out" to extraordinary Iranian directors, most of whom are not well-known in the United States.  Here are a few of them...

Forough Farrokhzad (1935-1967) Farrokhzad is arguably one of Iran's most influential female poets of the twentieth century.  Her controversial poetry and strong feminine voice, made her the focus of much negative attention and open disapproval. In 1962 she made a film called “The House is Black” (about Iranians affected by leprosy) which won several international awards. During the twelve days of shooting, she became attached to Hossein Mansouri, the child of two lepers, whom she adopted.  In 1967, she died in a car accident at age thirty-two. Her poem “Let us believe in the beginning of the cold season” was published posthumously, and is considered by some to be one of the best-structured modern poems in Persian.   Farrokhzad's poetry was banned for more than a decade after the Islamic Revolution. 

Forough Farrokhzad (1935-1967)

Dariush Mehrjui (born 1939) was a founding member of the Iranian New Wave Movement of the early 1970s. His film “The Cow” (1969) is considered to be the first film of this movement, which introduced realism, symbolism, and the sensibilities of art cinema.  Most of his films are inspired by literature and adapted from Iranian and foreign novels and plays.   His most acclaimed film is “The Cycle” (1978), which is about the black market and illicit blood traffic in Iran.   In 1995, Mehrjui made “Pari”, an unauthorized loose film adaptation of J.D. Salinger’s book Franny and Zooey.   

Dariush Mehrjui (born 1939)

Moshen Makmalbaf (born 1957) has made more than 20 feature films and won some 50 awards.  Time magazine selected his film “Kandahar” as one of the top 100 films of all time. His films have explored the relationship between the individual and a larger social and political environment. As a result, his work serves as an extended commentary on the historical progression of the Iranian state and its people. Makhmalbaf took time off from directing in 1996 to form the Makhmalbaf Film House, a school for young filmmakers. It quickly became a private production house for the increasing number of filmmakers in his family, like his daughter Samira, who became a famous director as well.   

Moshen Makmalbaf (born 1957)

Mania Akbari (born 1974) is an internationally acclaimed Iranian filmmaker, actress, artist and writer whose works mostly deal with themes of sexual identity and women’s rights.  Her style is rooted in modern visual arts and the avant-garde.  After starring in Abbas Kiarostami's film “Ten” in 2002, she directed her debut film, a documentary called “Crystal”. In 2004, she wrote, acted in and directed her first feature length film “20 Fingers,” which won the best film prize at the Venice Film Festival.  In 2007, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.   Her struggle with cancer, as well as illness and body, became one of the key themes of her films and art works.  In 2011, during production of her latest film, members of her crew were arrested by Iranian authorities for filming without official permission. Scared she too might be imprisoned, Akbari fled Tehran for London.

Mania Akbari (born 1974)

Abbas Kiarostami (born 1940) was one of the few directors who remained in Iran after the 1979 Revolution when many of his peers fled the country. He believes that it was one of the most important decisions of his career, saying: “When you take a tree that is rooted in the ground, and transfer it from one place to another, the tree will no longer bear fruit. And if it does, the fruit will not be as good as it was in its original place. This is a rule of nature. I think if I had left my country, I would be the same as the tree."   Kiarostami's film “Close-Up” (1990) is consistently ranked among the greatest films of all time.   He won the Palme d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival for “Taste of Cherry”, a drama about a man who is determined to commit suicide.   His film “The Wind Will Carry Us” (1999), won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.  Kiarostami's films often mix of fictional and documentary elements. 

Abbas Kiarostami (born 1940)

Jafar Panahi (born 1960) achieved international recognition with his feature film debut, The White Balloon (1995). The film won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and was the first major award won by an Iranian film at Cannes.  Although his films were often banned in his own country, he continued to receive international acclaim for his films The Mirror  (1997), The Circle (2000), and Offside (2006 ). His films are known for their humanistic perspective on life in Iran, often focusing on the hardships of children, the impoverished, and women.   After several years of conflict with the Iranian government over the content of his films, Panahi was arrested in March 2010, charged with propaganda against the Iranian government, and sentenced to a six-year jail sentence and a 20-year ban on directing any movies.  Whilst under house arrest he made This is Not a Film (2011). It was smuggled out of Iran in a flash-drive hidden inside a cake and shown at the Cannes Film Festival.

Jafar Panahi (born 1960)

Bahman Ghobadi (born on 1969) was born in Baneh, a Kurdish small town in Kurdistan province in Iran.  Ghobadi was assistant director on Abbas Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us.  He founded Mij Film in 2000, a company with the aim of production of films in Iran about its different ethnic groups. His first feature film was A Time for Drunken Horses (2000), the first Kurdish film produced in Iran.  The film won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. His other feature films have been internationally praised: Marooned in Iraq (2002), Turtles Can Fly (2004), Half Moon (2006).  His films often deal with the lives and hardships of the Kurdish people.

Bahman Ghobadi (born 1969)

Majid Majidi (born 1959) began his career as an actor in various films after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, most notably Moshen Makmalbaf’s Boycott (1985).  In 1998, Majidi directed the film Children of Heaven, which was nominated to receive the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Children of Heaven is the first Iranian film to have been nominated by the Academy.  Majidi has directed several other feature films since Children of Heaven: The Color of Paradise (2000), Baran (2001), and The Willow Tree (2005), and The Song of Sparrows (2008).  His films deal with themes of children, poverty, and spirituality.  He also recently directed a feature-length documentary titled Barefoot to Herat which chronicles life in refugee camps and the city of Herat during and after the anti-Taliban offensive of 2001.  

Majid Majidi (born 1959)

Samira Makhmalbaf (born 1980) is the daughter of director Moshen Makmalbaf.  She left high school when she was 14 to study cinema in the Makhmalbaf Film House for five years. At the age of 17, after directing two video productions, she went on to direct the movie The Apple (1998), which won the Sutherland Trophy at the London Film Festival.  She was nominated for the Palm d’Or at Cannes for Blackboards (2001), which follows teachers among rural Kurdish tribes. In an interview with BBC she said this about the difficulties that women directors face in Iran: “Traditionally, it is in the minds of everybody that a woman cannot be a film maker. It is therefore very much harder for a woman. Also, when you live in this kind of situation there is a danger that you can start to develop a similar mind-set and so the thing is to challenge this situation, and then slowly the situation will change also in the minds of others. I very much hope that in the advent of freedom and democracy Iran can produce many more women directors."

Samira Makmalbaf (born 1980)

Check out the Facebook event page HERE.  Hope to see you at the zine release/art show/screening event!

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