Still reeling from the 2010 arrests of directors Mohammad Rasoulof and Jafar Panahi, Iran’s film community was dealt another blow in January when the Culture Ministry shut down the House of Cinema, a 20-year-old organization with 5,000 members that supports independent film. Despite these setbacks, 2012 has been a banner year for Iranian film. Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation” won the Golden Globe for foreign-language film and took home the Academy Award in February.
Shannon Kelley, programmer for UCLA’s Film & Television Archive’s annual celebration of Iranian cinema, which begins Friday evening at the Billy Wilder Theater, said the restrictions and difficulties haven’t silenced the country’s resilient filmmakers.
“This film culture is always introducing new young people doing very risky things — the kind of things I would like to see any cinema do,” he said. “It’s kind of phenomenal given the various pressures that remain.”
The festival opens with the 2011 drama “Mourning,” which Kelley described as a “surprising new film by a young director. It is a very contained family drama on the great current theme of Iranian cinema, which is communication breakdown.” Director Morteza Farshbaf is scheduled to attend the screening.
Also on tap are four films by actor-director-producer-writer Parviz Sayyad, who left Iran in the 1970s and lives in Los Angeles. He will be talking about his films at each program.
One is 1974’s “Samad Becomes an Artist,” which screens April 27. Samad, said Kelley, is “one of those characters who occurs in most national cinemas who comes from the country and collides with modernity.”
Last year, the festival had great success screening archival films from Iran. “The local community has been very supportive of our new cinema,” said Kelley. “But it is an audience who is regenerating so quickly that a lot of members of the audience don’t remember things that have been shown even a few years ago.”
The series concludes with two movies by directors who have faced sanctions from the Iranian government. “Good Bye” was Rasoulof’s last film before he was arrested in 2010; it was sneaked out of the country by the filmmaker’s friends and screened at the Cannes Film Festival last year. The other offering is “This Is Not a Film,” Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb’s homemade documentary about Panahi’s house arrest. It was smuggled out of the country on USB drive hidden in a birthday cake.
Kelley noted that these movies may be the last from these filmmakers for years. These directors, said Kelley, offered “complicated human portraits, and anything that cuts that off is like cutting off a life force.”
— Susan King
Photo: A scene from "Mourning." Credit: UCLA Film &Television Archive.