Best of..., English 0 comments on What You (May) Missed – Iranian Cinema After 2000

What You (May) Missed – Iranian Cinema After 2000

I wrote a lits for Keyframe about 7 (+11) best unsung Iranian films since 2000. I compiled the list since I think Iranian cinema has more than just a few familiar faces and films you will easily find in big film festivals, and also because I think Iranian films you usually see in film festivals won’t depict whole scope of Iranian cinema. I hope this list can tease you to go and look for other Iranian films that you may have missed in the past 15, 16 years.
Continue Reading “What You (May) Missed – Iranian Cinema After 2000”

Best of..., English, فارسی‌نوشت‌ها 2 comments on Top 10 Films 2015

Top 10 Films 2015

سال 2015، سال لذت‌بخش سینمایی بود، سالی با فیلم‌های دیدنی فراوان، فیلم‌هایی که برای دیدن برخی‌شان باید کمی تلاش می‌کردی و تکاپو اما خب، مگر بخشی از کار سینمادوست پیدا کردن و کشف فیلم‌ها نیست. Continue Reading “Top 10 Films 2015”

English 0 comments on Iranian Cinema and Nuclear Deal

Iranian Cinema and Nuclear Deal

In “Iran’s Film Industry Hopes Nuclear Deal Will Help Open Up Biz Internationally”, an article by Variety’s Nick Vivarelli, different aspects of the pros and cons of Nuclear Deal for Iranian cinema is discussed. I am happy to be quoted alongside a number of other Iranian cineastes including Shahram Mokri, Reza Dormishian, Barry Navidi, Amir Rezazadeh, Mohammad Attebbai and Amir Esfandiari. Continue Reading “Iranian Cinema and Nuclear Deal”

Articles, Best of..., English 0 comments on 10 Essential Abbas Kiarostami Films

10 Essential Abbas Kiarostami Films

Abbas Kiarostami is a familiar name to many people around the world. Since countless internet sites about him exist. He is considered by many as one of the best filmmakers of cinema. The filmmaker is a source of pride, because through his films, Kiarostami manages to present a new, refreshing image of Iran, a poetic outlook one can’t find in any other Iranian movie. Continue Reading “10 Essential Abbas Kiarostami Films”

English 0 comments on Female Gaze – My First Article in Sight & Sound

Female Gaze – My First Article in Sight & Sound

My first piece for Sight & Sound magazine is published and out there in the October 2015 issue. It is part of the Female Gaze special issue and I wrote about Marva Nabili’s The Sealed Soil. It feels really good that it is there in page 27 just after Kim Morgan‘s piece on Mikey and Nicki and in the same page as Greta Gerwig’s piece on Girlfriends. There are only three pieces on Iranian female filmmakers, Sarah Gavron on The Apple by Samira Makhmalbaf, Jonathan Rosenbaum on The Day I Became a Woman by Marzieh Meshkini and my short piece on The Sealed Soil. Thanks to Isabel Stevens for the opportunity. Continue Reading “Female Gaze – My First Article in Sight & Sound”

English 0 comments on Being a Young Film Critic in Modern Iran

Being a Young Film Critic in Modern Iran

(This article was originally published at Indiewire)

In recent years, much of the English-speaking world has heard about Iranian cinema. Many Western audiences have seen the Oscar-winning “A Separation” and explored the filmography of Abbas Kiarostami. With the imprisonment of seminal Iranian director Jafar Panahi, plenty of stories about the challenges of making movies in Iran have circled the world. But what about the challenges of writing *about* movies in Iran?

You may never have heard about Iranian film critics, about how they watch movies in a country that never screens foreign titles and where DVDs are not sold in stores. Allow me to fill that gap. What you are about to read is my personal account of watching movies in Iran as a film critic, but I am certain much about my experience applies to other young critics in the country.

The first thing I remember about movies is a single picture: Federico Fellini with clown make-up from the movie “The Clowns” on the cover of Film, the oldest monthly film magazine in Iran (published since 1982). I vividly remember how it terrified me. My father, a film buff before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, used to buy the magazine and he was the man who introduced me to cinema. He told me many stories about movies he had seen before the Revolution, when movies were dubbed into Persian and cinemas were interested in screening popular American movies like “Gone with the Wind” and “Casablanca.” He recalled that there were few cinematheques (the first was founded by Farrokh Ghafari in 1941) that only screened European movies such as those made by Ingmar Bergman or Michelangelo Antonioni.

In the mid-1980s, the only ways to know about movies in Iran were from the latest issues of Film and a television program called “Honar-e Haftom” (“Seventh Art”). Since I couldn’t read yet, I watched the program, which featured classic movies such as “Metropolis,” “Rashomon” and “Psycho.”

There was another way of watching movies in late 1980s and 1990s that many people around the world will fondly recall: VHS. Although video players were banned then, many people owned them anyway. While we didn’t have one, sometimes my father borrowed his friends’ machines and let me watch “appropriate” movies like Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times,” “The Beauty and the Beast” or “Sound of the Music.” However, I sometimes sneaked out of my bedroom late at night and secretly watched some guilty pleasures — “Goldfinger,” on one occasion — when my father put them on for himself.

By the mid-1990s, the VHS ban was lifted and Mohammad Khatami’s presidency (1997 – 2005) brought the country several cultural reforms. As a result, more movies were available and CDs became popular. By the late 1990’s, the movies were everywhere.

During my first year in high school, I started watching movies like crazy. I had a PC and knew about film clubs that rented uncut films illegally, so I watched more than a thousand films during my four years in high school. Those movies were mostly entertaining blockbusters like “Titanic” and “Godzilla,” but also became interested in horror through “Scream” and “Nightmare on Elm Street,” as well as classics like “The Godfather.” Some of the non-English films I saw during this period include “Last Tango in Paris” and “Persona.”

As I was getting more and more into movies at the turn of the century, I watched two movies that changed my life: “American Beauty” and “The Matrix.” While “The Matrix” showed me new frontiers in filmmaking, “American Beauty” taught me how a story must be told. Watching these two, I decided to become a director, a dream I still pursue. It was at that same time that I started using the internet, though our connection speed was (and remains, compared to Western standards) very low. Using the internet, I could learn more about movies and read about movies that were not discussed about in domestic magazines (especially if they contained sexual content). It was thanks to the internet that I became aware of film directors I now adore, such as Peter Greenaway. In short, the internet was a miracle for us: It helped us feel like we were connected to the world.

Aside from the inability to view movies in Iranian theaters, critics are further limited by the country’s religious standards. Since nudity and sexuality are forbidden in Iranian cinema, critics prefer not to write about such movies in official publications. (Both “Antichrist” and “Shame”, for example, were barely covered by the Iranian press.) Instead, they turn to their Facebook pages.

For many Iranians, cinema is their window to the world beyond their restrictive borders. My window was Fellini. The first movie of his I watched all the way through was “Julliet of the Spirits,” but the film that opened the window was that still image from “The Clowns.” To this day, it remains my favorite movie of all time.

Articles, English 0 comments on The Tribe Director Talks Sex Scenes, Deaf and Mute Actors and Many More

The Tribe Director Talks Sex Scenes, Deaf and Mute Actors and Many More

Ukrainian filmmaker Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy won the European Discovery award for his first film, The Tribe, a teen gang drama featuring a cast of deaf sign-language users. The Tribe debuted in Critics’ Week in Cannes, where it won the section’s grand prize. I talked to Slaboshpytskiy , after Cannes Film Festival, where his movie won three awards; Critics Week Grand Prize, France 4 Visionary Award and Gan Foundation Support for Distribution. Thanks to the producer of the movie and Myroslav, I get to watch the movie and totally mesmerized by it; it is one of the best movies of the year, one of the boldest and one of the most innovative ones. In the following interview he talks more about shooting the movie with non-professionals, filming the sex scenes and not using language. 

How did the idea of the movie come to your mind?
Initially, there was a concept: the film in sign language. And this concept has been with me most of my life. When I was a little boy, there was this specialized school for deaf children across the yard near my school. By the way, most of the shooting took place in my old school. Deaf kids came to play in our football playground. Often we fought each other. But I still remember how I was fascinated, watching the deaf communicate with each other in sign language. And since I already knew in my childhood that I would become a filmmaker, we can say that the idea was born then. Almost the entire film was shot in an district where I had spent my childhood. It was formerly named after Joseph Stalin. Locals still call it Stalinka. It proletarian district on the outskirts of the city, with its special architecture and character. And since I grew up there, I tried to express the spirit of this brutal district in the visual way. I selected all shooting locations personally. Since I’m the only one who knew the area thoroughly.

Why did you decide to use no subtitle in the movie?
For me it was a major challenge – to make a film that can be understood anywhere in the world without translation, without subtitles. This is its novelty. I thought it was pretty interesting art solution in terms of film language – like a mix of cinema, ballet or pantomime.

Does audience need to know sign language to understand the movie? 

I realized that it would be difficult for the general audience to understand literally what the characters are talking about, but the idea was that the whole story is comprehensible and did not let go until the last frame. The movie has pretty stiff story line. “Tribe” can be seen even as a  western in some point of view.

 
Do you know sign language yourself?
I learned a couple of gestures, mostly swear-words to entertain actors. They laughed a lot when I was showing some obscene gesture. In fact, the sign language is very difficult, because it is somehow similar to Chinese or Japanese. It has an alphabet, of course, but they use it quite a bit, in order to spell a name, for example. The rest of the gestures are signs like hieroglyphs. Each represents a concept or an item name. So for me it was a daunting task.
 
Are the actors deaf or mute, or they are just actors playing the role?
All the leading actors are deaf and mute. All our actors are amateurs. Casting lasted about a year. Back then when i was shooting “Deafness”, my short film, I’ve met the head of the Cultural Center of the Deaf people in Kiev. And he helped me a lot. The fact is that deaf people are pretty isolated and distrustful towards the others in our country. Organizing a casting with the support of the Cultural Center of the Deaf was a big luck. Deaf youth are very active users of social networks. There are several reasons for it. Deaf community is quite little. And it is difficult for them to communicate with the outside world beyond their own communities. Therefore, social networks play a very important part in their lives. Our castings took place in Cultural Center of the Deaf people for every month. In between castings we placed ads and announcements in all possible social networks, we’ve been supported by many specialized web-sites. I personally called all the specialized schools for deaf students in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. We saw about 300 applicants for all roles.
At that age – we have actors from 19 to 23 years old – a person today may be interested in acting, and tomorrow switch passion to a sports, studies, whatever comes in hand. But I need actors for six-months shooting. Therefore, we haven’t searched actors by photographs or persuaded someone to participate. Willing was an important selection criterion: we knew that we will depend on these people and we had to be sure they are trustworthy.
I came across the leading actress, Yana, accidentally. She is studying in Gomel and takes pantomime classes. She has ambitions to become an actress. Yana arrived in Kiev on a casting in pop-circus school, for a special section for deaf actors. I also came to this casting, to cast completely different girl, more sexy-looking. That’s how i originally imagined our main character. Yana is different6 she’s sort of Belarusian Audrey Hepburn.  During this casting, where I came with the cameraman, I suddenly realized that I was looking not at sexy girl, but at Yana. She had that amazing energy coming from her. Two weeks later, Yana has come to us on the set. You know, she’s just fantastic. She died at the site, and then revived. All she was doing she did with absolute dedication. We celebrated her 20th birthday on set. 

Did you write the script without any dialogue and in sign language?
This is a real script with written dialogues. Actors memorized text. But we have tried, of course, to choose the most expressive gestures. Sometimes we asked actors to rephrase their lines right on set. In this sense, “The Tribe” is a regular film, which tells the usual story in which the characters talk a lot – they just do it in sign language, because they are deaf. On the other hand we can say that it is a modern silent film. Not stylized to an old silent movie, which is different. There is a certain amount of stylizations, but what we’ve done here… I talked to many people in Cannes – people who can tell everything about some movie filmed in Nigeria in 1965, and they, too, could not I say that something like this was already filmed before. I asked them to tell me if there is a movie like “The Tribe”, but so far no one did.
 
Your movie is some kind of experimental, you prefer experimental films or ordinary drama films or combination of both? 
I think my film is rather a combination of both. Despite all the experiments and innovations for dramatic cinematic language, The Tribe, in my opinion, is a classic western. And, frankly speaking, in movies I appreciate freshness most. Surprise, perhaps, some audacity. I love to be amused, whether it is an experimental film or narrative.
 
Tribe is controversial regarding nudity, sex and violence, do you believe so? 
This is a new kind of movie. Absolutely insane and uncompromising. And it’s not about nudity that is shown – in the end, we are all adults, we watch porn and we are used to sex scenes. This is a radical film in the terms of a relationship and concept. I never had any doubts that I was doing everything right. Although, of course, in Cannes, I was concerned about a reaction to such radicalism. You know, sometimes after in Cannes screening you start to think that it would be better not to present a movie at all. Cannes failure can bury any director’s career. Thank God with us everything was successful. 
 
Was directing the nude scenes hard? Was it hard convincing the actors to get involved in these real-like sex scenes? 
Well, Grisha, who plays the main character, we had no problems. For him to play in a sex scene is a demonstration of prowess. He’s a risky guy. He is a graffiti artist, parkourist, roofer. Despite my ban, he participated in Maidan street fights.
We had some problems with the leading actress, Yana, in the sex scenes. She came to us from the small town of Gomel Belarus. And she was slightly conservative. Fortunately, my friend Denis Ivanov, owner of the largest Ukrainian company-distributor of arthouse cinema “Arthouse Traffic ” had just released “La Vie d’Adele” by Abdellatif Kechiche. What is important, the film was screened with subtitles. It is very important for a deaf person. We sent the actress to see the film, accompanied by team of assistants who put her under merciless psychological pressure. Thus, we were able to legalize her a nudity in her eyes. After some time I was told by assistants, that she erased an lipstick inscription on the mirror in her bathroom, “I want to marry that kinda guy” and wrote “I want to get a Palm D’or in Cannes”. She became a fan of the film, joined the all «La Vie d’Adele» fan communities in social networks, watched all movies with Adele and Lea, and all Kechiche works too. She was the only one out of entire crew, who really believed we will be in Cannes. 
 
How do you think winning in Cannes can help you with your next movie?
I really hope so. I was offered to make one project right away, the day after the ceremony. A number of people have expressed their desire to work with me. I get tons of emails. Now I finally have time to answer all of them. I hope it all goes well. I’ve been waiting for it for too long. And I’m ready to start shooting a new film tomorrow.
 
Did you go to film school? Was it helpful for you?
Yes, I graduated from National University of theatre, cinema and television of Karpenko-Kary. Perhaps the main benefit of high school education is that the entire Ukrainian film community have studied there and formally we all know each other. I think that self-education should not be underestimated, but film school played an important role in socialization. Although it’s been a long time ago.
 
Who are your favorite filmmakers? 
This question always puzzles me,  I’ve seen a lot of movies, enough for a couple of lifetimes. And it was various movies – from porn to Tarkovsky, from thrash to blockbusters. I am almost omnivorous as a movie spectator. And at different times of the day I have a different favorite directors. This may be George Romero, and Tod Browning, and Russ Meyer, and Lars von Trier and Martin Scorsese, and Larry Clark, and Ulrich Seidl, and many, many others.
 
Will you continue making films in Ukraine, or you may make your next films in France or other countries? 
I have a project about Chernobyl, which I started to develop before filming “The Tribe” and even directed a short film, which won the “Silver Leopard.” I would like to make this picture, and since Chernobyl is in Ukraine, the shooting apparently will be held in Ukraine. But it obviously does not prevent other countries to participate in the producing, as they may desire.
 
How did making short films help you in directing a feature length movie? 
In 2010, with the help of my friends we took experimental short film “Deafness” with Canon Mark2 camera. It’s budget was only 300 euros, it was cheap, but i love it anyway. «Deafness» proved to be successful, hit the Berlinale Shorts Competition, received a number of awards at international film festivals. And at the end of 2010, I received a Hubert Belsey grant from the Rotterdam Film Festival Fund to develop the project – a feature length movie.
Making of “The Tribe” took about four years, ten percent of my life. In late 2010, I started writing the script, and in May 2014 it premiered.
 
Do you know what will be your next movie?
As I said before, I think it will be a movie about today’s life in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. I know these places pretty well and I think I have something to say about it.
 
Do you like to make another unconventional film; I mean Tribe has no dialogue, maybe you like to experiment with making a movie with no actor or no sound?
In fact this is a very interesting way. I saw one movie without scenery, and I was absolutely shocked that 5 minutes after I start watching it I completely stopped paying attention to the lack of scenery and was completely absorbed by the plot. Of course, I am talking about one of my favorite movies ever –  “Dogville” by Lars von Trier. And of course, withdrawing speech (one of the basic elements) from the construction of “The Tribe”, I kept it in my mind. I think that the artificial withdrawal of one of the pillars, so that the building remain standing is a very interesting and challenging story. 99% the building to collapse, but if you manage this trick – it brings enormous satisfaction.
 
How much are you familiar with Iranian cinema?
Unfortunately, far less than I would like to. Of course, I’ve seen “A Separation” by Asghar Farhadi, which I find absolutely awesome. And, of course, I’m familiar with movies by Jafar Panahi, Mohsen Makhmalbaf . When I was a student, in soviet and post-soviet times many international students from all over the world enrolled to film school in Kiev. At the time I once worked as director assistant with a guy named Naim, from Iran. Unfortunately, I can’t recall his last name now. Another contact with Iranian cinema happened in my Short Film Festival in Drama, Greece, where we had a wonderful international group, which included Germans, Brazilians, my wife and myself – the Ukrainians and the guy from Iran – Ashkan Ahmadi, who brought a wonderful short film “The pilgrims of Pomegranate Valley.” I really liked it. The company was wonderful and despite the fact that we were all citizens of different countries, nationalities and cultures, we had a great time and understood each other very well, because it seemed to me that we are all one united nation – the filmmakers. We still exchange emails and messages on Facebook from time to time.