Focusing on Iran

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Each year, the Edinburgh International Film Festival features two country focuses. You've already heard about our Focus on Germany – so now it's time to hear about Iran. Here's our Artistic Director, Chris Fujiwara, to tell you more about the upcoming programme.

All over the world, film lovers recognise Iran as one of the great centres of filmmaking. The cinematic culture of Iran is rich and vast. Over the past 30 years, it has become known internationally thanks to the success of directors such as Abbas Kiarostami (whose masterpiece A Taste of Cherry won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1997), Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Jafar Panahi, Samira Makhmalbaf (chair of EIFF’s Michael Powell Award jury in 2013), Bahman Ghobadi and, most recently, Asghar Farhadi (whose film The Past, pictured, is now in cinemas).

At EIFF this year, we’ll go deeper into the film culture of Iran with a retrospective of films from before the 1979 Islamic revolution. This programme will explore the still-dazzling brilliance and audacity that fuelled a vital Iranian New Wave of artistic cinema, led by filmmakers whose names are legendary in Iran but too little known in the rest of the world, such as Farrokh Ghaffari, Ebrahim Golestan, Kamran Shirdel, Bahram Beyzai and Sohrab Shahid Saless. We’ll also show several new works made by Iranian filmmakers, including some who have left their country to live and work abroad, as did all five of their just-named forerunners.

The programme aims to open a discussion about the continuities and discontinuities between Iranian cinema before 1979 and filmmaking by Iranians today. Are there themes or approaches that have remained constant? What are the breaks and gaps? How much do today’s filmmakers know about the cinema of the past, and what can they still learn from it?

As part of the preparation for this programme, I recently spent two days in Fribourg, Switzerland, at the wonderful Fribourg International Film Festival, which held a major retrospective, “Hommage à... History of Iranian Cinema by Its Creators.” That retrospective was based on the results of a survey conducted by FIFF artistic director Thierry Jobin, in which 15 Iranian filmmakers were asked to choose the greatest works from the cinematic history of their country.

Thanks to the efforts and the cooperation of Thierry and FIFF programmer Marc Maeder, we’ll be able to bring a number of these films to Edinburgh, including — fingers crossed! — several that had not been found in time to screen at Fribourg. (Access to Iranian classic films is a notorious source of difficulty for international programmers, making a retrospective daunting to attempt.)

We’ve also consulted with Iranian filmmakers who were not part of Fribourg’s poll, including Mohammad Ali Talebi, three of whose films, incidentally, will be screening, with Talebi in attendance, as part of the newly launched Cinema of Childhood series curated by Mark Cousins and presented by Filmhouse across the UK.

In a discussion at Fribourg, a panel of Iranian filmmakers, journalists and critics noted some differences in the way Iranians and outsiders tend to view Iranian films. They also pointed out the Western influences on Iranian filmmakers (many of whom have been educated in Europe or North America) and the impact on them of the transnational nature of filmmaking and film appreciation.

As scholar Peter Chelkowski wrote, “Film is indeed a western form, but Iranians knew how to adapt it to their culture and enrich it with their artistic abilities.” This asssertion is fully proved by the astonishing masterpieces of the 1960s and 1970s that the EIFF programme team is now working on bringing to Edinburgh this June.

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