Tuesday, February 19

Picturing Iran

Event presents films and speakers to connect audience with broad range of Iranian subjects and viewpoints

Stepping foot in a movie theater, an audience can be taken anywhere ““ across time and around the world.

For the UCLA Film and Television Archive, the next stop across the globe is Iran, as the 17th Annual Celebration of Iranian Cinema kicks off at the Billy Wilder Theater, copresented by the Bijan and Soraya Amin Foundation. The series begins on Saturday with a screening of “When Fish Fall in Love” and continues over a five-week span with 10 feature films and two shorts.

While the destination may be new territory for many, Iran is a familiar face to the Archive, which has been hosting the film series for the past 16 years.

“We’re really pleased with the large selection (of films),” said archive programmer Mimi Brody, who has curated the Iranian film series for the past three years. “The size and scope of this year’s festival is larger than ever before.”

The films cover both the past and present of Iranian history and culture, and come from both veteran Iranian filmmakers whose work has been featured in past years as well as up-and-coming Iranian directors such as Maryam Kashani.

Kashani is one of three guest speakers the series will welcome this year, and will answer questions from the audience after the screening of her documentary “Best of the West,” on April 25.

“I think the film series is a great way to see what’s new (in Iran),” said Kashani. “There is a huge Iranian community in Los Angeles; it really provides a service. I know especially with my family, they are very nostalgic for their homeland.”

The Iranian community Kashani speaks of is a large part of what has kept the series going since 1990. Outside of Iran, Southern California is the largest Iranian community in the world, which explains how Iranians make up more than 80 percent of the series’ audience year after year.

“It’s such an incredibly important event,” said Brody. “The Iranian community comes out and supports the festival in full force every year. It’s one of our most popular ongoing series annually.”

Besides the nostalgia factor, finding these films anywhere else has proved increasingly difficult as relations between Iran and the U.S. have soured. As Brody explains, most of the films shown through the series will never find a theatrical or home video distributor.

“People are desperate to see these films from their country,” she said.

The films this year also offer a large spectrum of topics and viewpoints, ranging from films covering the specific history of Iran and its people to everyday tales portrayed from an Iranian perspective.

Kashani’s documentary follows her father and his friends’ move to San Francisco from Iran during the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s, while the 2006 film “Mainline,” to be shown on April 29, follows a bride-to-be’s sudden relapse into drugs.

While the archive has had consistent success finding Iranian features and documentaries through film festivals and contacts all over the world, procuring guests each year has been a much different story, which makes this year’s event so special.

“It’s not always easy to bring people in,” said Brody. “It’s not every year that we are able to have guests.”

Besides rising Iranian filmmaker Kashani, “Men at Work” director Mani Haghighi and Persian female vocalist and cast member of the short “Sounds of Silence” Mamak Khadem will both make appearances throughout the series.

These guests and films are not only important to older generations originating from Iran, but also to the growing number of first-generation Iranian-Americans, who were raised both physically and emotionally far from their families’ homeland.

Kashani is among this crop of first-generation Iranian-Americans, a trend that is growing thanks to the number of Iranian immigrants around the time of the country’s Islamic revolution in 1979.

“I haven’t even been to Iran, but I do feel a part of the culture, so it’s an honor for me to be a part of this series with films that come from there,” Kashani said. “As the next generation is growing up in the States and in Europe, we have a sense of nostalgia for a place we’ve never been to. It’s interesting to see what kind of stories we’re telling being a generation removed.”

This year, a common thread between many of the films is surprisingly the theme of male bonding.

“(It’s) a very interesting subject because of a lot of films in the past have dealt directly with Iranian women,” Brody said.

Kashani notes that Iranian films rarely portray the strong bond of male friendships.

“It’s very rare, particularly with Middle Eastern men who are usually portrayed with a lot of political baggage.”

The impact of the media on the American view of Iran is often disheartening, and Iranian filmmakers have the opportunity to convey the truths of Iranian culture.

In a society resistant to Middle Eastern culture, Iranian filmmakers and audiences alike are thankful for the opportunity to experience the works from their native country.

“The more images we have of Iran, the better,” Kashani said.

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