'Dog Sweat': Underground filmmaking in Iran
Iranian cinema has been much in the news of late, though far too often for legal and bureaucratic entanglements involving directors working in the country rather than for the films themselves. Abbas Kiarostami, arguably Iran's best-known filmmaker internationally, has taken to making movies outside the country. Jafar Panahi, facing a prison term and ban from travel, interviews and filmmaking, recently created the dazzling, inside-out "This Is Not a Film" as an act of creativity and protest. Asghar Farhadi's "A Separation" is considered among the front-runners for this year's foreign-language Oscar.
The film "Dog Sweat," directed and co-written by Hossein Keshavarz, was made within Iran but without the official permits and censorship approval normally given to films. Made in a guerrilla, underground style, its interweaving stories look to capture the small, everyday rebellions that make up life in Iran, such as trying to have a drink, steal time with a lover, follow your own path and simply be yourself. "Dog Sweat" — the name refers to local bootleg liquor — earned Keshavarz a Spirit Award nomination and opened Friday in Los Angeles at the Music Hall.
"It's not hard making a film through official channels, but then you have to go through the censorship board," said Keshavarz, 34.
Keshavarz, who has both Iranian and U.S. passports and went to Columbia University's film school, was planning to make a movie titled "This Modern Love" in Iran with permits when his mother was in a car accident. Once he helped her back to good health, he found the political climate changing in the build-up to the 2009 elections, and his plans were adjusted accordingly.
"Things were more open and there was a space to make films that were about social topics in an artistic way," said Keshavarz, "but as things got restricted more and more, it was very hard to do in a way that felt honest, up to the point where a lot of young filmmakers would just make short films they knew would never be shown."
Keshavarz's sister Maryam Keshavarz made the film "Circumstance," which won a prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The two each helped out on the production of the other's film, with Maryam opting to shoot in Lebanon rather than deal with the difficulties she had seen her brother go through.
Hossein Keshavarz is a bit cagey as to the specifics of how he pulled off his shoot without interference, though he acknowledges that it took about 30 actual shooting days over many, many months. He has not tried to return to Iran since "Dog Sweat" began appearing on the festival circuit, and he somewhat coyly added that "I officially don't know" whether or not the film has been seen in Iran.
"The film hopefully is evenhanded," he added. "Even though it has politics in it, I think the thing I'm trying to get at is these very human people looking for a connection. In living their everyday lives, sometimes there's politics, but it's not like I want to make a political point. I'm trying to make a film. I want to make a point about how people live and how political things come into it."
— Mark Olsen
Photo: A scene from Hossein Keshavarz's "Dog Sweat." Photo credit: IndiePix.