Thursday, June 22

Honoring Iranian cinema at UCLA


Festival will screen films that may not be exhibited anywhere else, including Iran

From the trials and tribulations of a dysfunctional middle-class
family to a portrait of late-night theater and performance arts in
Tehran, Iranian cinema captures a wide variety of themes.

Many of these can be seen at the 16th annual Celebration of
Iranian Cinema, which begins at the James Bridges Theater tonight
and is presented by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. The
film series consists of seven narrative features and one short and
runs through Feb. 11. This year, the diversity of themes provides
audiences with an eclectic taste of Iranian film.

“Our series is always based on what is happening in
Iranian cinema that year,” said series programmer Mimi Brody.
“In the past, it has focused on youth, urban living, or
showcased female directors, but this year there is not necessarily
a concurrent theme. The films are very diverse in style and subject
matter this year. There is something for everyone.”

The film to open the series tonight is “Iron
Island,” which centers on impoverished families living
together on an abandoned ship in the Persian Gulf. The film
illustrates how a society can be created even within such a
confined environment, and still makes time for a love story to
evolve as well.

“”˜Iron Island’ is one of the strongest films
to come out of Iran this year,” Brody said. “It is
beautifully crafted and acted with excellent cinematography. This
particular film will get a wide release and has a U.S. distributor.
One of the stand-out films from Iran this year in my
opinion.”

The Iranian government has recently made news with its stance
against Western popular culture, which has placed the
country’s filmmakers in a unique position between two spheres
of influence. Niki Karimi, one of Iran’s most famous
actresses, makes her directorial debut with “One
Night.” The film will screen Feb. 3 and Feb. 5 at the James
Bridges Theater, but may not screen at all in Iran. The film
follows the journey of a young girl through Tehran, and exposes
“a crisis of Iranian sexual mores” in the nightlife of
this major city, according to the movie’s Web site.

“Because the president banned Western films late last year
and recently banned Western music, “˜One Night’ probably
won’t be released theatrically in Iran because of its
controversial subject matter,” Brody said. “It has been
screened internationally at a variety of film festivals, but I
doubt it will receive wide release in Iran.”

Even with the bans passed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
directors can continue to make films currently without severe
censorship, though the future remains uncertain.

“I think the bans will impact Iranian filmmaking and what
films are actually released, but it is too early to say,”
Brody said. “I hope that it doesn’t, but we’ll
have to see what happens. It is a possibility that he may shut down
production entirely if the subject matter of a particular film is
too controversial, especially because this new president
specifically objects to films that promote secularism and feminism,
so it is troubling.”

The series does expect a large Iranian audience in attendance,
but its fan base has expanded over the years, creating a diverse
group of film-watchers.

“There is such a large community of Iranians in Los
Angeles, especially in Westwood, and the festival is popular with
them because it allows them to see so many films that will not be
released theatrically,” Brody said. “But we are proud
of the fact that we have built a crossover audience with
movie-lovers that are not Iranian but want to see movies they
won’t normally get to see. We have an eager audience for this
festival, so we want to serve them.”

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