When the conflict began to escalate between the U.S. and Iran, and it all seemed certain that the messianiac leaders of both countries would start World War III, I kept thinking about all the Iranian filmmakers I had met over the years (see my conversations at indieWIRE with Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi, Samira Makhmalbaf, Babek Payami) and how insane it would be if the U.S. launched an attack on a country whose films and people I feel I have come to know.
With more movies from Iran in Tribeca Film Festival’s official lineup than any other foreign nation (aside from the U.K.), it got me wondering whether this was just a happy coincidence or whether the festival organizers were trying to counteract our country’s igorance. For this short New York Times story, “Iran Invades Tribeca“, I spoke with Tribeca executive director Peter Scarlet and his wife, Iranian-American journalist Katayoun Beglari-Scarlet, over baklava at their Wall Street apartment about the Iranian selection. Unfortunately, the New York Times only had room for just a small piece of my research, but I was fascinated by some of the things that Iranian filmmakers were telling me, ranging from disbelief that a war would actually happen to tangible concern that it would. As Men at Work director Mani Haghighi told me, “Yes, I am worried about a war. The American administration doesn’t seem smart enough to avoid it.”
For space contraints, I was also unable to include comments from the Iranian film scholar and filmmaker Jamseed Akrami, who offered this observation about changes in the current Iranian cinema — one that continues to be vibrant and evolve. “Despite the recent takeover of the Iranian government by the Islamic hardliners, the film production has continued at a rather healthy pace.” Akrami told me. “They are still producing some seventy to eighty films each year, though some twenty to thirty of them are never shown for a variety of reasons.
“The big-name filmmakers were conspicuously absent in the recent Fajr Film Festival. Instead there were about a dozen names that will definitely make their marks on the international scene within the next several years. The torch has been definitely passed on from the old guard to a new generation of young filmmakers.
“Not so surprisingly, the transition seems to have also created a fertile ground for dealing with new stories and daring themes. Filmmakers have taken the initiative to tackle some previously taboo subjects. The best director award in the last Fajr Film Festival went to Fireworks Wednesday, a film about conjugal infidelity within the context of an educated Iranian middle class family. The film’s director Asghar Farhdi is a bright young talent who seriously questioned some fundamental aspects of the Islamic justice system in his second film Beautiful City” — which recently played at the Film Forum.
While Americans have seen a “palpable decline in the number of Iranian films in commercial release,” says Akrami, he is confident that “new themes and trends in Iranian cinema may help remedy this situation, and hopefully we can see a stronger re-emergence of Iranian films on American screens this year.”