Unity through Film

Iranian movies in Rotterdam festival so different, balanced and fresh


Unity through Film
by Tina Ehrami

In a small theater in Rotterdam, there is Iranian music humming in the hall, people are either anxiously waiting in line to pick up their tickets or chatting in groups, while drinking a cup of tea around small round tables. The volunteers walk around the hall upbeat and excited, wearing their white t-shirts with a beautiful print of a phantasy bird on the front. It is the opening evening of the Iranian Film Festival, at last.

I’m one of the last people who gets into the movie theatre before the lights are dimmed. Looking around I notice that every single seat is filled. Parwin Mirrahimy takes the microphone and welcomes the audience. Then Farah Karimi holds a speech expressing the one thought that was just running through my mind: This festival is one of the very few occasions that brings us individualistic Iranians together in The Netherlands!

A warm applause follows. After seeing the movie “Three Women” by Manijeh Hekmat it is time for some looking around in the theater. In a corner an I-Mac shows a compilation of short movies by young Iranian film makers in Iran. There is a DJ booth, behind which DJ Ishtar is mixing Persian songs with Arabic and Western beats. There is a warm and friendly atmosphere and I almost feel like I’m visiting someone’s birthday party.

I get to know Katayoun and Sara. Katayoun, an art and history student has arranged the movie compilation on the I-Mac. She is enthusiastic as she tells me about her trips to Iran and meeting the film makers. Sara is one of the volunteers and her sparkling eyes show how excited she is that all the hard work she and the group invested during the last months is showing results. Parwin is talking to writer and poet Nafiss Nia in the hall, while eccentric film maker Mostafa Heravi take a look at the work on the I-Mac. Sam Ali Kashani, who will be presenting his first movie on Sunday has just arrived from Los Angeles and is absorbing the atmosphere with his companion sitting at one of the reading tables in the middle of the hall.

This buzz remained for the next two days. Movies were scheduled in two separate theaters and the program was tight, leaving just a few minutes to inhale and exhale between the films. Saturday must have been a blast, but unfortunately, I wasn’t there to see Kiarostami’s “Ten” or Naghi Nematie’s “Those Three”. I’m sure DJ Tupic and Miss Dee got our “gher-addicted-Iranians” on the dance floor.

The Sunday program started with Eefje Blankevoort presenting a compilation of what she defined as “Iranian humor”. To show that Iranians too have some sense of humor she arranged some short clips from the movie “Marmoolak”, “Khabgahe Dokhtaran” and some Youtube clips, what she called “mollah-humor”. After seeing a mollah running his “company” of clerical telemarketeers and on-demand Quran mumbojumbo, I really enjoyed an animation film called “Faleh Ghahveh”.

This short cartoon showed the experience of a little Iranian boy seeing his mother and another woman sitting at the kitchen table doing a little fortune telling by what is known as coffee-seeing. The funniest thing was that the audio was recorded from back to front, making the people talk an unexisting language. At first I thought something had gone wrong in the moderating room, but it was actually meant to sound that way because the little boy, from whose perspective it was shown, couldn’t yet speak! I thought that was brilliant!

I had bought tickets for four movies in a row, forgetting that I also had to eat in between movies, so I ended up munching half a plate of “salade olovie” in 2 minutes.

The next movie was “Tehran:Another Side”. People had high expectations for this movie, since there wasn’t a single seat left empty in the theatre! The young movie maker himself, including his parents had come over from Los Angeles to see his movie being shown in public for the very first time.

The movie itself reminded me of the so many home video’s people from the US or Europe made while on vacation in Iran. He asked people on the streets to respond on the notion that people in the US thought Iranians still ride around on camels, etc. He asked that for about 15 times during the movie and required the same answer 15 times. He could have made a very interesting “inside movie”, but was obviously limited due to his filming permit. It was a nice try though, but rather stereotype, which is funny since he was trying to put and end to certain stereotypes of Iran himself.

Actually, it would all be ok if you could oblige people to see both “Tehran: Another Side” and “Our Times” right after one another. Only then one could have a more balanced and realistic image of Iran. “Our Times” confused me in the beginning, not because I found it unbelievable to hear educated young people being so ignorant to think that after 4 years of Khatami he could actually keep his word for a next 4 years, after realizing 0 of his promises he earlier made to especially young people.

It wasn’t that which caused my confusion, but the fact that the two young ladies being the Khatami supporters were actually two of Iran’s most popular silver screen actresses! Was the documentary a movie-documentary or were the two actresses at the time political activists who both coincidentally ended up in Iran’s movie industry? The second part of “Our Times” was startling and disturbing, putting emphasis on the impossible position of women in Iran.

After seeing so many movies, one needs some time to digest all the images and messages these movie makers try to bring across. Though the movies were all so different, the program was balanced and fresh. It made one see sides of Iranian movie art, that otherwise would be shared only with a small artistic elite, when one thinks of the works of for example Tala Madani and Sam Yazdanpanna.

While resting at the theater restaurant my eyes cought a glimpse of  some old friends. It made me think of Farah Karimi’s opening speech. One thing is for certain, this festival achieved something that otherwise would be impossible between Iranians: to accomplish unity!

See iraansfilmfestival.nl


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Maziar Bahari

by Tina Ehrami on

Just wanted to add that the documentary I referred to as "mollah running his “company” of clerical telemarketeers and on-demand Quran mumbojumbo" was made by Maziar Bahari.