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DAILY NEWS: Iranian Filmmaker Awaits Fate; Toronto Fest Changes; and a Letter to the Editor

DAILY NEWS: Iranian Filmmaker Awaits Fate; Toronto Fest Changes; and a Letter to the Editor

DAILY NEWS: Iranian Filmmaker Awaits Fate; Toronto Fest Changes; and a Letter to the Editor

by Eugene Hernandez and Brian Brooks and Maud Kersnowski/indieWIRE

>> PART ONE: Questions Remain Over Fate of Arrested Iranian Filmmaker; Tahmineh Milani Stuck In the Middle of Ongoing Political Stuggle

(indieWIRE/11.05.01) — Iranian authorities arrested filmmaker Tahmineh
(“Two Women“) last month and held her for eight days on charges
yet to be made public. Milani’s arrest is the most recent action in an
ongoing struggle between religious conservatives and reformers in Iran.
Journalists, academics and even translators have been sentenced to
prison for over ten years for distributing information the right-wing
judiciary disapproved of. Milani is the first filmmaker to be arrested.

She is currently out on bail, largely due to the intervention of reformist
President Mohammad Khatami. Her latest film “The Hidden Half” is set in
politically sensitive 1980, a year after the Shah was deposed. This film,
like all movies in Iran, passed through a rigorous government approval and
licensing process. It is currently playing in Tehran, even though the
charges have not been dropped. “The film has no problems,” Milani’s
translator, spokesman and husband Mohammad Nikbin told indieWIRE last
week. “We’re still debating ourselves what actually caused this action.”

Statements Milani made in the press while she was promoting the film seem
to have prompted her arrest, rather than film content that slipped by the
government censors. “It’s difficult to make too many controversial films
in Iran. But Milani’s very outspoken. I don’t see anything in the film
to cause her arrest,” said Jamsheed Akrami, an Iran film scholar and
director of “Friendly Persuasions,” a documentary about Iranian filmmakers.

During an interview with an Iranian publication, Milani referred to
“friends” who were arrested, tortured and executed in the early days of
the revolution for belonging to leftist political groups, according to
Human Rights Watch Researcher Elahe Hicks who covers Iran for the Mid-East and North African division. Milani now says she never gave her permission
for this statement to be printed. She thought she was speaking to the
journalist off the record. “It was what they thought she said that some
[of the authorities] had problems with,” Nikbin reported.

Milani’s arrest came without warning. “The order came and she was arrested,”
Nikbin said. Everyday she was questioned for hours. Her first few days in
jail, Milani was not allowed to interact with other prisoners. After eight
days the Minster of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Masjeb Jamee, with the
support of President Khatami, arranged for her release. The charges were not
made public, nor were they dropped. “We would very much like this to be over
with so we can get back to our normal life,” Mohammad Nikbin said.

But it appears Milani has been singled out to be made an example of. The
constitutionally entrenched conservative religious leaders in the
judiciary and reform-minded President Khatami often have very different
political agendas, as in Milani’s case. “The authorities within the
judiciary in Iran are not happy with the success of the Iranian film
industry outside of Iran because the pictures and the messages of these
films are criticizing the situation. They’re the real picture of what’s
going on in Iran,” said Hicks. “Milani’s arrest was to embarrass
President Khatami.”

Reformers within the government are backing Milani. “There has been support
from a good number of officials,” Nikbin said. Both Khatami and the Iranian
Deputy Minster of Culture and Islamic Guidance worked for Milani’s release.
Milani’s case was the first time the President stepped in to help obtain a
prisoner’s release. The action was extremely controversial because in the
past, he had always declined to help prisoners. “He did this because his
government is well aware of the international community’s focus on the
Iranian film industry,” Hicks said.

Growing international concern over the accusations — and the possibility
that they could result in the death penalty — mushroomed into a petition
signed by over 100 filmmakers last month. Since Milani has not been
publicly accused of a specific crime, there is no way to know what the
sentence would be if she were convicted, but there are charges that she
could be brought up on that could result in a death sentence. “What she
is facing is no joke. She’s always been a courageous lady, a courageous
filmmaker to make the films she does and tries to speak frankly and openly,
often facing formidable censorship,” said Milos Stehlik director of Facets
Multi-Media who initiated the petition.

“It was almost a personal action against Milani,” Akrami observed. She
likely drew fire because she is already a controversial figure who will
publicly discuss subjects most people shy away from, such as feminism, in a
country where words are taken very seriously.

“She’s so outrageous and provocative that I’m surprised she hasn’t been
arrested before,” commented Godfrey Cheshire, a film critic who is
currently writing a book on Iranian cinema. “You go to see her and
she’s got her cowboy boots up on the table. She’s smoking a Marlboro
and she’s talking about what an atheist she is. She’s really completely
unafraid. She’ll say anything to anybody.”
[Maud Kersnowski]

[Tomorrow indieWIRE will publish part 2 of Maud Kersnowski’s coverage of
the charges against Tahmineh Milani, focusing on the petition and the
possible punishment she may suffer if convicted.]

>> Cowan Exits Toronto, Pulvi Named Replacement

(indieWIRE/11.05.01) — Giovanna Pulvi has been appointed Asian Cinema
Programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival replacing Noah
of Cowboy Pictures, the festival director Piers Handling announced
late last week.

Cowan joined the festival in 1984 at the age of 16, working in the box
office and began programming in 1989 for the annual event, in addition to
co-launching Midnight Madness, the fest’s late night series. In 1992, he
was appointed Program Administrator and later served as Associate Director
of Programming beginning in 1997. Cowan will now devote more time to Cowboy
which is based in New York City. The company has grown and recently had four
films in the New York Film Festival and currently has six films in release.

Giovanna Pulvi has served as a Programming Consultant for Toronto since 1995
and holds a Masters degree in Oriental Languages and Literatures (Chinese).
Aside from working with the Toronto Festival, Pulvi is also a programming
consultant for the San Sebastian International Film Festival and the
International Film Festival Rotterdam. Additionally, she worked on Bernardo
‘s “The Last Emperor” as a researcher.

“I’m delighted to welcome Giovanna to an expanded programming role
within the organization,” commented Handling in a prepared statement,
“Her considerable experience and expertise will be a great asset to
the festival.” [Brian Brooks]

>> LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Please Don’t Redefine the Term “Outsider” IN RESPONSE TO: The Outsider; Richard Kelly Breaks In with “Donnie Darko”

Dear indieWIRE:

I’m just wondering what strangely skewed universe of independent film
Jessica Hundley is living in when she writes about the travails of
“outsider” director Richard Kelly. Has the film world become so insular that
one is considered an outsider simply because he or she is not the child of a

A 26 year old white male graduate of USC, perhaps the world’s most “insider”
film school, who scores an agent after his first short (through a connected
friend/producer), gets his script to Drew Barrymore who then produces and
stars in it, along with the likes of Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle and others,
secures financing for what was most certainly a multi-million dollar budget
through Pandora Cinema, and then gets picked up by the distributor of last
year’s most successful indie film might be many things: talented, lucky,
smart….but he’s anything but an outsider.

Here’s a tiny list of first films made independently by “outsiders”:
American Job (Chris Smith), Just Another Girl On the IRT (Leslie Harris),
Stranger Than Paradise (Jim Jarmusch), Strawberry Fields (Rea Tajiri), Sex,
Lies, and Videotape (Steven Soderbergh), Chutney Popcorn (Nisha Ganatra),
Laws of Gravity (Nick Gomez), Follow Me Home (Peter Bratt), The Watermelon
Woman (Cheryl Dunye). Thankfully, this list could go on for pages, as there
are still many people who started and continue to work outside the system.
Some of these films got seen, others did not. But they were made with all
the spirit, blood, sweat, and tears that defines the independent experience.

Donnie Darko may very well be a great, revolutionary film – I have no idea,
I haven’t seen it. But please don’t insult the efforts of generations of
d.i.y. filmmakers by redefining the very thing that makes and keeps
“independent film” alive and vital.

Thank you.


Jim McKay

[Jim McKay is a filmmaker and producer based in New York City.]

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