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IRAN: Hollywood delegation on mission of cinema diplomacy

March 1, 2009 | 11:00 am

Iranbening

A delegation of Hollywood actors and producers arrived in Tehran this weekend to meet with their counterparts as part of a cultural exchange.

Hollywood producer Sidney Ganis led the team, which included three-time Oscar nominee Annette Bening. There were a series of workshops and meetings with movie industry types in the Islamic Republic organized through Tehran's House of Cinema, a hangout for actors and directors.

Ganis, who produced the critically acclaimed 2006 film "Akeelah and the Bee," told the Los Angeles Times this morning that the group was here simply "to communicate with our fellow filmmakers" in the Islamic Republic in "an exchange of ideas relating to the making and distributing of movies." (Full interview after the jump.)

As with most exchanges between Iran and the U.S. these days, the visit by the delegation from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which organizes the Oscar awards, has not been without controversy. In a Persian-language report published today, Javad Shamaghdari, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's cultural advisor, demanded the delegation apologize for Hollywood's alleged "insults and libels" against the Islamic Republic before it would get any meetings with ranking officials.

Iranganis

Some Iranians were irked by the depiction of ancient Persians in the film "300" as well as actor Mickey Rourke ripping up an Iranian flag during a scene in the 2008 film "The Wrestler."

The U.S. and Iran are mired in a decades-long dispute over a number of issues, including Iran's nuclear program and America's military presence in the Middle East.

The Obama administration has vowed to reach out diplomatically to Iran as a way of resolving major differences. In an exclusive interview in Tehran with the Times he also said American filmmakers were enthusiastic about prospects for more robust communication and exchange with Iranians.

Los Angeles Times: What brings you to Tehran? Could you describe the nature of your trip?

Sidney Ganis: To communicate with our fellow filmmakers. It's part of the program we have at the academy that took us to Vietnam last year, and we're here now too ... to meet, talk to, express, visit with, understand the problems of Iranian filmmakers, and express to them universal problems of filmmaking and just generally exchange ideas.

Also we show our films at the House of Cinema, and we are seeing Iranian films as well.

LAT: Anyone behind the curtain pushing for your arrival?

Ganis: No one behind the curtain — just us, discovering that through House of Cinema this was possible, and we immediately agreed that it would be a good thing for us to do.

LAT: What are your impressions? What have you learned?

Ganis: I've learned that a filmmaker is a filmmaker is a filmmaker, is a filmmaker, with similar needs, similar problems, the same artistic intention, the same difficulty getting the ball rolling.

LAT: Any message you want to convey to the Iranians? To the U.S.?

Ganis: That we have an art form here that is universal and so very accessible around the world. That it is a good thing to make use of that art form in expressing ideas.

LAT: Anything funny or interesting or surprising happened since the time you got off the plane?

Ganis: [Laughing] It's a big city, Tehran. We're zooming around it. Actually, most of us are pretty comfortable coming from Los Angeles where the traffic is difficult and sometimes exacerbating. But we're actually having a wonderful time here, meeting the filmmakers. That's the pleasure of it — being with filmmakers and asking them questions and having them ask us question as well.

LAT: Any assessment of the state of Iran’s film industry?

Ganis: I know that movies are made all the time. I don’t know much about the state of filmmaking in Iran other than it's a buoyant industry and films are made all the time.

LAT: What are some possibilities for further cooperation between the Iranian and U.S. film industries?

IranwoodardGanis: Well, we're ready to go, filmmakers to filmmakers. That's why we're here. We 're open, the Iranian filmmakers are also open, to even more mutual dialogue.

LAT: Is Annette Bening as charming in real life as she is in the movies?

Ganis: [Laughing] First of all, she's even more charming in real life. You know she is here and Alfre Woodard [right] is also here, and as women and filmmakers and film artists, they're having a fine time.

Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran

Photos:

Top: Actress Annette Bening as Deirdre in the 2006 film "Running with Scissors." Credit: Suzanne Tenner/TriStar Pictures

Middle: Producer Sidney Ganis, left, with Los Angeles Times correspondent Ramin Mostaghim this morning in Tehran. Credit: Courtesy photo

Bottom: Actress Alfre Woodard at the 40th NAACP Image Awards on Feb. 12, 2009, in Los Angeles. Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NAACP

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