Sunday, 20 March 2016
Tehran Bureau correspondent joined the crowds queuing in the Tehran winter for the Fajr Film Festival. These are the movies Iranians will be watching over Nowruz
This 34th Fajr Film Festival, which ran for 11 days from 1 February, previewed most movies that will be in cinemas around Iran in the coming year. Being popular at Fajr can boost a film through creating a buzz on television, magazines and social media.
Fajr can also be helpful on what to avoid. Critic Shadmehr Rastin scoffed on Channel 4’s programme Sinamayeh Iran (Iranian Cinema): “If you want to sell your movie, add a runway girl and a secret pregnancy.” And in truth, betrayal, pregnancy and an angry older brother were a common theme this year.
Audiences seeking a break from familiar story lines had to attend screenings in the Negah-e No (new look) section, for first-time directors, or Honar-o Tajrobeh (art and experience), added the previous year to showcase art-house films.
Ehsan Biglari and Hamireza Qorbani, two former assistant directors to Oscar-winning writer and director Asghar Farhadi, presented their first feature films in Negah-e No, with Farhadi himself taking a break from shooting his latest project to attend the premieres.
Monday, 14 March 2016
Nomad. Rocker. Lover. The story of Reza Derakshani, an Iranian.
|Reza Derakshani, Red Hunting from 'Hunting Series', Oil on Canvas. Courtesy the artist and Sophia Contemporary Gallery.|
He stood there, motionless before the rusty microphone, not knowing what to do with his tanned, wiry hands. A haze of smoke and flowers lingered about in the air, and, in the corner of his eye, he could make out the longhair delicately rolling a joint and smacking his lips. He didn’t make too much of it at first, just as he hadn’t recognised the fellow in the corner after the gig at the boozer in town. It came on like a slow burn, like some supernal, numbing high, inching its way up his knees towards his damp navel and rumbling viscera. A spate of blurred images rushed past his eyes: shining leather trousers, a woman from the city of angels, drawn-out afternoons spun away by hot, scratched vinyl, the glow of blood-red pomegranates. It was then that it hit him: how had he come all that way, from the sleepy village of Sangsar, to be where he was at that particular moment in time? His hands moist, he awkwardly grappled with the forlorn microphone before clearing his throat with a curt cough. Once, many moons ago, an American poet had howled into the same hunk of metal before him, telling tales of loneliness, bacchanalia, and rapture; but as soon as he opened his mouth, the phantom of old Jim fizzled away into those folds of smoke, out of which appeared that of the bard of Shiraz, kindler of hearts. He could feel his knees again; with eyes closed, looking inwards towards a warm, lambent space, he remembered what the stars looked like atop the Alborz mountains.
Thursday, 10 March 2016
British filmmaker Miranda Pennell introduces The Host, her personal account of oil, empire and family
|A snapshot of the family in Iran. Photograph: Miranda Pennell. Courtesy the BP archive, Pennell family photographs and the Guardian.|
The film begins inside a box of Kodak Ektachrome slides. The box has my name written on it. Inside, the snow-capped peaks of the Zagros mountains rise up behind a big, glass-fronted house in north Tehran. Looking at this image I remember a pair of pale yellow flip-flops bobbing up and down on the surface of the kidney-shaped swimming pool. My father had jumped in to fish Azar out of the pool because she’d fallen in at the deep end, fully dressed, and couldn’t swim.
Or so the story went. Azar was the nanny who’d looked after me, and was married to Mohammad, the head servant. I don’t think I actually witnessed Azar’s rescue, and on reflection, I am not sure that I ever saw the yellow flip-flops floating on the water, either. This may be just one of those stories told within a family that gain solidity with each retelling, and whose imagery lives on in memory long after all of the protagonists and witnesses are gone.
I find no images of Tehran itself in the box, nor of any urban life beyond this cool, suburban idyl. But by now I am curious about the troubling story behind these records of a colonial encounter which I find myself bound up in.
Wednesday, 9 March 2016
Artists who have left the country discuss some of the lures and pitfalls of being branded Iranian
|Nicky Nodjoumi, Going Back Home, 2014, oil on canvas, 20h x 24w in / 50.8h x 61w cm. Courtesy Taymour Grahne Gallery.|
Generations of Iranian artists who have emigrated have struggled with a dualism. On one hand, they want to make art speaking to universal issues. On the other, the market may expect their work to reflect a homeland where they no longer live.
As the country’s geopolitical isolation grew after the 1979 Revolution, Iranian art became sought after by European or American art buyers seeking to enhance their worldly image as collectors. They wanted pieces that would appear Iranian to someone who had never been to the country.
The image of a struggling Iranian artist making work about his tough life makes for “a sexy story,” explains Iranian-American artist Amir Fallah. “It’s exciting for [collectors]. They have been doing that with African-American artists for decades. I’ve tried to resist it as much as I can.”
Some artists navigate this dichotomy well, securing their place on the world art scene. Last year three major museums on the east coast of the United States held exhibitions of Iranian artists. Shirin Neshat had her retrospective at the Hirsh Horn Museum in Washington DC. Parviz Tanavoli’s sculptures were displayed at Wellesley College in Boston. Monir Farman Farmaian had a solo show at the Guggenheim in New York.
These and other artists face a market that expects their work to reflect today’s Iran. It is difficult to identify the degree to which any of the emigre artists profiled below conform to these expectations. But all of them admit to grappling at some point with the issue as artists with an Iranian past.
Sunday, 6 March 2016
I had lost my passion for filmmaking — and found it again in Cuba.
|The author with Sitora Takanaev and Abbas Kiarostami. Courtesy Black Factory Cinema and Indiewire.|
After graduating from Columbia University and toiling for years as a screenwriter, I finally made my feature film debut in 2013 with an independent, romantic comedy called "Missed Connections." The film won multiple audience awards at festivals, reached number one on iTunes’ independent sales charts and The Playlist even suggested me as a "filmmaker to keep an eye on." Things were looking up. I went to Hollywood, represented by a major talent agency, drank numerous coffees and pitched a myriad of ideas and yet something was missing.
I didn’t know it at the time, but what it was, was telling stories that mattered to me and symbolized the kind of films I wanted to make. I was pitching ideas and working on scripts I thought could sell, all the while forgetting why I got into film in the first place — to tell stories of ups and downs, class and religious differences, self-identity, broken families, uprooting from one place to another. Actual life themes that had embedded to me like leaves to stone.
So after a series of false starts on various movie projects, I put writing on hold, moved with my new family from New York to Texas and focused on a tech entrepreneurial venture. Film would have to wait...only it couldn't. Through some divine intervention, I happened upon this Indiewire article on Abbas Kiarostami’s workshop in Cuba. Abbas Kiarostami? Cuba? Here, along with Louis Malle, Eric Rohmer and Michael Haneke, was a master filmmaker whose films I was incredibly passionate about. I thought, what better way to be immersed in film, strengthen my filmic voice, grow as a writer and deepen my artistic practice, than with the master himself — in Cuba no less.
I knew I had to go on this journey so that I could find my passion again.
Friday, 4 March 2016
3 contemporary Iranian women artists at Edward Hopper House Art Center
Exhibition takes an intimate look at artists’ “diasporic biographies” through the complexities of Iran’s socio-political milieu.
“Where We Are Standing: Contemporary Women Artists from Iran” brings together works from 3 artists born before the Iranian Revolution and currently residing in North America.
|Golnar Adili, ‘The King-Seat of My Eye is the Place of Repose for Your Imagination’, 2010, two photographs hand-cut and interlaced, 20 x 30 in. Image courtesy the artist and Art Radar.|
This exhibition came about because two of the artists (Golnar Adili and Roya Farassat) happened to separately submit exhibition proposals to the Edward Hopper House. I liked both of their work, and had just become familiar with Shabnam Ghazi’s work. It struck me that these three artists together would make a strong and compelling show. They all grew up in Tehran, although they came of age at different times. Their work is not connected, other than the strong influence their upbringing and their subsequent displacement had on their visions.
The Edward Hopper House Art Center is located in Nyack, New York and is the birthplace of American realist painter and printmaker Edward Hopper (1882-1967). The building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, opened in 1971 and according to the organisation’s website, seeks “to encourage and nurture community engagement with the arts”.