I’ve met Parviz Sayyad only once, and that was a long time ago in a dimly lit pizza shop in Tehran. I was there with a girl I was trying to impress, so we walked up to Sayyad at the other table to say hello. He was sitting with a couple of his colleagues, and as soon as I got a close look at them I saw in their exhausted faces that they had likely just come from a very a hard day on the set. Bad timing! Luckily Sayyad quickly read the story between the dating teenagers and instead of telling us to get lost he acted delighted to make our acquaintance. That’s when I realized, first hand, that Sayyad was a marvelous actor as well as a natural in noticing the everyday drama between ordinary people.
Actor/director/writer Parviz Sayyad will be coming to UC Berkeley this Friday April 6 for a screening of his 1983 film, The Mission. Afterwards he’ll stay around for a Q & A session. The event is part of UC Berkeley’s Iranian Film Festival made possible by a grant from the Parsa Foundation, so the shows and lectures are free to the public. The Mission is a good fit for the festival partly because the film captures the immediate post-revolution discourse among Iranian diasporans. In the early 1980s the shock of the cultural upheaval was still fresh and the Islamic regime was still struggling in a phase of short-term survival strategies. Despite his enormous contributions to Iranian dramatic arts before the revolution—including being a leading character in Iran’s first television series--Sayyad’s most lasting legacy may turn out to be The Mission because the film gives future generations an early snapshot of our states of mind during a pivotal moment in world history.
The Berkeley campus will be hosting this festival three Fridays in a row and one Sunday this April. On Friday April 13 Iranian film scholar, Hamid Naficy, will deliver a lecture on the historiography of Iranian cinema. Professor Naficy is the author of a four volume work on the social history of Iranian cinema. In a way, Naficy’s careful research and insightful social analysis of Iranian cinema has made life more difficult for amateur film critics who have not read his works, as it is no longer possible to opine on Iranian film in mehmoonis`without appearing under-informed. So it is a matter of intellectual aberoo to become familiar with Naficy’s works whether you are discussing allegories in the works of Ebrahim Golestan or wish to invent a distinction between the aabgooshti and band tonbooni genres. Just sayin’.
On Friday April 20 another giant of Iranian cinema, Bahram Beizai, will be at the festival to screen and discuss his 1979 film, The Ballad of Tara. To my mind Beizai is the most Iranian of all Iranian film makers in the sense that his works reflect and are inspired by an encyclopedic knowledge of Iranian culture throughout all our history. He is a fascinating mind to be in the presence of. You may have already seen the Ballad of Tara and many other Beizai films, but it’s a different experience when you know the director is sitting in the crowd. As the film rolls, your mind makes observations that it does not normally allow itself because you know the insights will lead to questions that will frustrate in the absence of someone to answer them. And Beizai is a deep well of answers. Try it!
The festival ends on Sunday April 29 with a documentary film by the young and very promising Afghan born director Sahraa Karimi. The 2009 documentary is called Afghan Women Behind the Wheel. It is the story of four Afghan women in Kabul who have dared take on the profession of driving in the post-Taliban years. Karimi has lived in Iran and knows both Afghan and Iranian cinema well. Her works, however, are also influenced by the Eastern European cinematic heritage because she studied film in Slovakia. It is said that her style of filmmaking is as different from the styles of other Afghan women film makers as Forough Farrokhzad’s poems are different from Parvin Etesami’s. With Karimi, it is obvious that a woman is behind the camera, whereas with the few other Afghan female directors their gender does not show in the works. Part of the reason I am curious to see the film is because I wonder if the secret title isn’t Afghan Women Behind the Camera.
All the films will be subtitled in English. Sayyad and Baizaie’s Q & A will be conducted in Persian while Naficy and Karimi are planning to speak in English. Shows will start on time, so reserve a few minutes for the City of Berkeley’s infamous parking drama.
See Facebook page with showtimes and places.
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