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Open for now: a window on Iran

UCLA celebrates the films of a nation that is imposing limits on artistic freedom.

January 08, 2006|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

THE UCLA Film and Television Archive's 16th annual Celebration of Iranian Cinema takes on added significance this year. Just a few months ago, the new hard-line president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, outlawed foreign films that promote secularism and feminism. And last month, he went even further by banning all Western music on Iranian state radio and television stations.

"There are alarming changes occurring in Iran right now because the Iranian government appears to be closing itself off to the West," says Mimi Brody, programmer for the festival. "I believe it's very important for us to retain a connection to the people and culture of Iran. A cultural event like our Iranian film series is a window onto the world despite the political situation on both sides."

Since its inception, the festival has attracted a strong crossover audience. "But," adds Brody, "the Iranian community is the largest supporter of the series. The community comes out in full force to experience this very diverse range of films."

Brody believes Ahmadinejad's conservatism will "absolutely affect" female Iranian filmmakers. "Last year, there were daring depictions of sexuality and particularly female sexuality," she says. "I definitely have seen a decline in that and more of a move to conservatism in terms of religion."

Still, she predicts an eager audience for films by Iranian women outside of Iran and on the festival circuit. "The films will be seen," she says, "but not so much in Iran itself, which will be troubling."

Only rarely do the films featured in the series get a U.S. distributor or DVD release. "There is sort of an unofficial tour [of Iranian films] that we take part in. Certainly a lot of them get international film festival play. The majority of the films will not be available again theatrically."

This year's festival kicks off Friday with "Iron Island," which will be released theatrically in the U.S. Directed by Mohammad Rasoulof, the drama revolves around a community of poor families who live in an abandoned ship anchored off the Persian Gulf.

Other highlights of the festival include "One Night," which marks the directorial debut of one of Iran's best-known actresses, Niki Karimi. "One Night" follows the adventures of a young woman who must spend the night on the streets -- her mother kicked her out because her married lover was visiting -- and the three diverse men who give her rides in their cars.

Closing the festival Feb. 11 is Iran's submission for the 2005 foreign language film Oscar, "So Close, So Far," directed by Reza Mirkarimi.

"Most of the films that we screen probably fall into the art house category, as opposed to popular films," says Brody.

Several, including "One Night," haven't been released in Iran.

"Interestingly, the last two films in the festival, 'A Piece of Bread' and 'So Close, So Far,' deal with religion," says Brody. "Given that the Iranian government has recently banned films that promote secularism, it is not a surprise that 'So Close,' which focuses on renewed spirituality and possible divine intervention, was the official entry."

The films in this year's festival are diverse in terms of style and subject, but she notes a central recurring theme: "The characters appear to be in limbo either for a single night or for several years," Brody says. "I think this is a reflection of how many Iranians appear to feel. "


16th annual Celebration of Iranian Cinema

Where: James A. Bridges Theater, Melnitz Hall, UCLA

When: Friday to Feb. 11

Price: $5 to $8

Contact: (310) 206-8013 or


Friday: "Iron Island," 7:30 p.m.

Saturday: "We Are All Fine," 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 21: "Wake Up, Arezoo!" 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 27: "Portrait of a Lady Far Away," "Reattachment," 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 3: "One Night," 7:30 p.m.; and Feb. 5 at 7 p.m.

Feb. 8: "A Piece of Bread," 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 11: "So Close, So Far," 7:30 p.m.

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