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LEBANON: Iranian film festival kicks off in Beirut, highlights ties between the two countries

January 14, 2010 |  7:19 am

49721583Scores of veiled women, men and families poured into a cultural center in Beirut’s southern suburbs on Tuesday night for the opening of the third annual Iranian film festival in Beirut. 

The festival is sponsored by the Iranian cultural center in Beirut and Hezbollah’s TV channel Al-Manar, among other organizations, and highlights the intertwined relationship between the two countries. 

For the next four days, festival-goers can watch two Iranian films per night at the festival center, located two floors underground. 

For the opening, the festival committee chose to screen the 2006 release “In the Name of the Father” by the award-winning Iranian filmmaker Ebrahim Hatamikia.

The film is about a young female archaeologist finding mines at a dig site that her own father, a former military commander in the Iranian army during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, placed there.

Hatamikia, one of Iran's greatest contemporary directors, traveled to Beirut to attend the opening ceremony of the festivities.

“It’s the first time in two years I talk…. but Lebanon is special,” he told the audience in the jampacked auditorium where women had been seated to the left and men were asked to take their seats to the right of the stage.

Iranian-filmfestldskdsHatamikia also spoke of the image many have of Beirut as a war-torn city always on the brink of conflict.   His own son, he said, was worried about him going there. 

But, said Hatamikia, "I know it’s not like that."

The director recently attended another international Iranian film festival. 

Last fall, he was one of a group of Iranian filmmakers, screenwriters, and actors who traveled to California for the kickoff of a mini-Iranian film festival in Los Angeles put on by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Hatamikia did not have enough time to stay for a Q-and-A after the screening, but he agreed to swiftly answer a few questions from reporters.

One of the more controversial questions at the semi state-sponsored event came from a  Lebanese journalist who wondered whether the controversial actress in "In the Name of Father," Golshifteh Farahani, would risk apprehension if she returned to Iran.

"No, not at all. On the contrary," answered Hatamikia, quoting assurances from the Iranian culture ministry.

Last year, media reports said that 26-year-old Farahani was hassled by Iranian authorities over her appearance as the romantic interest in Ridley Scott's Hollywood blockbuster "Body of Lies," which tells the story of a CIA agent sent to Jordan to track down an Al Qaeda leader.The actress now lives in Paris.

Other Iranian films that will be shown at the festival include Mojtaba Raei’s “Birth of a Butterfly” and the acclaimed “Color of Paradise” by Majid Majidi.

The festival goes on until the end of this week at the Ressalat Theatre in the Ghobeiry area of Beirut.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: Iranian film director Ebrahim Hatamikia with actress Golshifteh Farahani on the set of "In the Name of Father"; Credit: UCLA Film & Television Archive.