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Made in Iran

By Laurie Lo

January 14, 2004 9:00 pm

The idealistic bubble of Iranian filmmaking has burst.

A crop of movies that comprises the 14th Annual Celebration of
Iranian Cinema at the UCLA Film and Television Archive’s
festival flaunts the unique ability of seven Iranian filmmakers.
While some of the films, most of them making their Los Angeles
premiere, stay true to the Iranian cinematic tradition of
neo-realism, other filmmakers embraced the aspirations of

“One thing I have definitely noticed is that the
filmmakers are more explicitly engaged in social problems,”
said head programmer David Pendleton. “Instead of using
allegories to subtly get their points across, they are addressing
the problems more head-on.”

Picked largely for their artistic quality, the films span myriad
issues ranging from urban alienation to unsatisfied love. The films
chosen stand apart from other Iranian films for their abilities to
remain artistically compelling while also carrying a message.

Though some of the films touch on political controversies, such
as the issue of the dispossessed Kurdish population in “Black
Tape,” most deal with ordinary social problems. The
filmmakers simply wanted to show the imperturbable rhythms of
everyday life minus civil or political strife.

“Most outsiders have this misconception that life in Iran
is grim,” Pendleton said. “But Iranians, more or less,
live life much like us, and we wanted to show those

Coming from an historical tradition of governmental and
religiously sponsored censorship, the festival’s programmers
were surprised by the amount of progressive films they saw. What
once used to be a market heavily controlled by government
subsidies, and therefore more vulnerable to restrictions, is

Due largely to advances in digital media, filmmakers are finding
it easier to circumvent criticizing governmental eyes. In some
cases, the result of this liberation has made for more
sensationalistic filmmaking.

While some films received praise in Iran, such as “Dancing
in the Dust,” a melodrama about a disgruntled married couple,
others, such as “Crimson Gold,” have been banned from
release in Iranian theaters.

In the film “Black Tape ““ A Tehran Diary,”
first-time director Fariborz Kamkari adopted a hand-held camera
effect much in the same fashion that “The Blair Witch
Project” was shot. The widespread use of non-traditional
equipment and the Internet has made it harder for the government to
control the kind of movies that are made, allowing filmmakers to
become more experimental and daring in their content and style. The
film’s realistic depiction of violence and sexuality pushes
the limit of what is usually typical in Iranian cinema.

“There would have been no way (“Black Tape”)
could have been released if it went through Iranian governmental
channels,” Pendleton said. “The sex would have
definitely been toned down or deleted all together.”

But getting a film like “Black Tape” into the United
States is no easy task either.

Due to economic embargoes between Iran and the United States,
the festival’s organizers were not able to obtain prints
directly from the country and therefore had to turn to
“middle-men” countries, making it easier to attain
films that were boycotted in Iran. Many films traveled through
informal circuits or festivals in other countries and were then
picked up by U.S. companies.

Though Iranian cinema currently stands at a crossroads between
tradition and modernity, the festival hopes this uncertainty and
struggle is shown through the chosen films, and in a way the
audience can experience Iranian life as Iranians live and see

The UCLA Film and Television Archive’s 14th Annual
Celebration of Iranian Cinema begins Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the
James Bridges Theater with a screening of “Crimson
Gold.” The festival will continue into early February.
Tickets and more information are available at
or at the James Bridges Theater box office.

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