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Iranian film festival in Houston

In the early 1990s, a journalist in Paris asked renowned Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami to evaluate the status of the current Iranian cinema. With a mixture of pride and sly satisfaction, he answered: "I think of it as one of Iran's major exports: in addition to pistachio nuts, carpets, and oil, now there's the cinema." Called "one of the pre-eminent national cinemas in the world today" by the Toronto International Film Festival, Iranian cinema is a new, vital cinema with its own special industrial and financial structure, and unique ideology, themes, and production values. It is also part of a more general transformation in the political culture of Iran since the revolution of 1978-79.

However, this is not an "Islamic" cinema, or a monolithic, propagandistic cinema, which upholds the ruling ideology. In fact, at least two major types of cinemas have evolved side by side. The "populist cinema" affirms the post-revolutionary Islamic values more fully at the level of plot, theme, characterization, and portrayal of women. The "quality cinema," on the other hand, engages with those values and tends to critique current social conditions. Another remarkable and unexpected achievement of this cinema is that more women directors are now making films in Iran than they did in the entire preceding eight decades. Women and children have been two key subjects of the contemporary films, and they form the subjects of the films featured in this film series.

The series offers three powerful feature films from the quality cinema made by veteran directors Mehrjui and Panahi and by newcomer Parviz Shahbazi. It also features a remarkable full-length documentary co-directed by an Iranian anthropologist and a well-known British filmmaker. Together, these films offer affectionate and devastating glimpses of contemporary life in Iran. Hamid Naficy, Associate Professor Film and Media Studies, Rice University

Festival venue:

Rice University Media Center, off gate #8
University Blvd,
Info phone: 713/527-4882

Program / Schedule:

* Divorce Iranian Style
Directed by Kim Longinotto and Ziba Mir-Hosseini
(England/Iran/subtitled, 1998, 80mins, documentary)

Houston Premiere!

Fri Mar 26 7:30pm
Sat Mar 27 5:00pm & 9:30pm

In a small Tehran courtroom, the stories of three strong-willed women unfold as they use reason, charm, pleas for sympathy, anger, even a disarming wit to win what they each need - a divorce. Divorce Iranian Style is a unique window into the impassioned but very practical business of divorce - and marriage - in three Iranian women's lives. Jamileh, whose son saved her from the hand of her abusive husband; Ziba, an outspoken 16 year-old who proudly stands up to her 38 year-old husband and his family; and Maryam, remarried and desperate to regain custody of her two daughters. Stirring and poignant, this fly-on-the-wall look into the real circumstances of Iranian women's lives shatters the stereotype of women as passive victims in the Muslim world.

* Leila
Directed by Dariush Mehrjui
(Farsi/subtitled, 1997, 35mm, 129mins)

Houston Premiere!

Fri Mar 26 9:15pm
Sat Mar 27 2:30pm & 7:00pm

Leila is the recent masterpiece from veteran Iranian filmmaker Mehrjui. This devastating film beautifully acted by Leila Hatami tells the tragic story of an Iranian woman, Leila, whose marriage falls apart when she discovers that she is infertile. Although her husband insists he doesn't want children, her mother-in-law begins browbeating her to allow Reza, her husband, to take a second wife who might bear him a son. Leila's self-esteem crumbles before her relentless onslaught. Her despair reaches a howling peak on the night her husband arrives with his new wife for the wedding party at the house where Leila has been exiled to a guest room. Without being simplistic, the film suggests that in Iran, contemporary attitudes toward love and marriage and modern psychology are no match for the combined force of social pressure and Islamic tradition when ruthlessly appropriated as weapons of intimidation. "LeilaSillustrates the brutal clash between modernity and Islamic tradition in contemporary Iran." Steve Holden, NY Times

* The Traveller From the South
Directed by Parviz Shahbazi
(Farsi/subtitled, 1996, 35mm, 90mins)

Houston Premiere!

Fri Apr 9 7:30pm (Preceded by a short film: Outsider by Hassan Nadji)
Sat Apr 10 4:15pm & 8:45pm

The Traveller From the South is Shahbazi's debut as a feature filmmaker. After providing Jafa Panahi with the story outline of the hugely successful The White Balloon, this film follows the misadventures of a 12-year-old boy who travels from southern Iran to visit his aunt in Tehran. Along the way he meets an elderly lady who has just been robbed on her way to the airport. The boy decides that her fate rests in his hands and is determined to do everything it takes to help her out. "The portrait of Iranian society sketched by The Traveller From the South is of an easily irritated and rather cold bureaucracy, but one that does house warm and caring people. The film is borne with verve by the young actor Reza Moghadam, who manages to overcome all the obstacles in his path with irrepressible energy". Rotterdam International Film Festival Catalog

* The Mirror
Directed by Jafar Panahi
(Farsi/subtitled, 1997, 35mm, 95mins)

Houston Premiere!

Fri Apr 9 9:15pm
Sat Apr 10 2:30pm & 7:00pm

Just two years ago, Jafar Panahi enchanted international audiences with his remarkable debut film, The White Balloon. In that film, a little girl who dreamed of goldfish wended her way through city streets and a series of most enlightening encounters. The Mirror can be seen as Chapter Two in her odyssey, or perhaps Panahi's variation on a poetic theme. Here, a child (Mina Mohannad Khani) waits in vain for her mother to pick her up after school. Whether she tries to resolve the dilemma herself or asks for help from the adult world, this serious little girl confronts dead-ends. Finally, Mina has had it! This charming and strong-willed little girl takes the situation into her own hands, thus creating an insightful, unforgettable portrait of the fabric of contemporary Iranian society and a young girl's place in the world. Piers Handling of the Toronto International Film Festival writes: "How she rebels and who she rebels against is what turns this film into a masterpiece." Film Society of Lincoln Center, NY.

Festival venue:

Rice University Media Center, off gate #8
University Blvd,
Info phone: 713/527-4882


Copyright © 1997 Abadan Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved. May not be duplicated or distributed in any form