Monday, May 27

Bridges Theater offers 12th annual Iranian film screening

Recent releases use less allegory, address social concerns

  UCLA Film and Television Archives The 12th annual series
of Iranian cinema continues strongly with numerous films showing at
the James Bridges theater until Feb. 10.

By Azadeh Farahmand

Daily Bruin Contributor

So close to the heart of the Hollywood commercial machine and in
spite of the fast-paced, extravagant and English-speaking cinema
dominating the American movie theaters, the UCLA James Bridges
Theater continues to offer alternative screenings with the 12th
annual series of Iranian cinema.

The series, which is organized by the UCLA Film and Television
Archive in collaboration with the UCLA Center for the Near Eastern
Studies, began last Thursday with a screening of Mohsen
Makhmalbaf’s “Kandahar.” Screenings will continue
today with a screening of Reza Mir-Karimi’s “Under the
Moonlight” and will end on Feb. 10 with Iraj Karimi’s
“Going By.”

The annual Iranian film series was launched back in 1990, when
Hamid Naficy, then a UCLA Ph.D. student and now a Rice University
professor of film and media studies, curated the first program. The
1990 UCLA festival marked the first showcase of the recent Iranian
films in the United States.

“It was a huge success and it was controversial,”
said Jonathan Freidlander, outreach director of the UCLA Center for
the Near Eastern Studies. “It was the first window to Iran
for many people, Americans, and especially the (Iranian) immigrant
and the exile community here, who came in great numbers to this

The notable attendance and the increasing availability of films
from Iran kept the annual series alive and going. “Year after
year, Iranian film programs are among the Archive’s
best-attended screenings,” said Cheng-Sim Lim, programmer at
the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

The ongoing collaboration of CNES and the Archive in holding the
Iranian film series have marked the infusion of cinema with
cultural education and academic scholarship. Friedlander stressed
the need for more inclusive programming to present, on a regular
and cohesive basis, such showcases as Arab, Turkish or Middle
Eastern diaspora films. He also linked the emerging scholarship on
the Middle Eastern cinemas and cultures to the increased
availability of films through academic institutions.

“When we started these programs (12) years ago there were
just a handful of people “¦ in graduate school finishing up
their MFA or Ph.Ds,” Friedlander said. “But now we have
a (group) of very fine film scholars … who are looking at Middle
Eastern cinema and are writing in mainstream journals.”

UCLA associate professor of English, Ali Behdad incorporates the
current series in his course, “Western Representations of the
Middle East.” He underscores the use of allegories and
subversive techniques in Iranian films that address complex social
and cultural issues. For Behdad, the sustained reliance on certain
themes and stylistic choices in Iranian films pose a problem.

“I find the exoticist approach to the countryside, the
poor and the child in Iranian cinema quite problematic,”
Behdad said. “In many of these films “¦ what we
encounter is a new mode of “˜indigenous orientalism’
that packages the exotic other for Western intellectual

The current Iranian film series at UCLA include themes and
genres that actually thrive to move away from some of the
clichéd exoticism that have become the trademarks of Iranian
cinema in the West.

While children are still visible in these films, they play a
less central role. “Under the Moonlight” follows a
cleric-in-training in a crisis of faith, who, mediated by a
homeless child-thief, comes to learn about a community of outcasts
that live under a bridge in the urban outskirts of Tehran.

Dispensing with the slow pace and exotic landscapes that typify
exported Iranian films, Rakhshan Bani-Etemad creates an intense
drama of an urban working-class family in her “Under the Skin
of the City.” The series also includes documentaries such as
Bahman Kisrostami’s “Tabaki,” a 27-minute look
into professional mourners in Iran. Bahman Moshar’s “My
Name is Rocky” places a camera into a Tehran courtroom to
record testimonials of run-away girls and young women about abuse,
forced marriages and halted schooling.

“I think Iranian cinema is witnessing another infusion of
new and exciting directorial talent,” Lim said. “I also
see a greater willingness in Iranian films of the past two years to
address social concerns directly, with less resorting to allegory
or the casting of children.”

FILM: The 12th Annual Celebration of Iranian
Cinema takes place in UCLA James Bridges Theater from
Jan. 10 to Feb. 10. For the program schedule call 310-206-FILM or

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