30th Annual Festival of Films from Iran
February 8 - March 1
From February 8 through March 1, the Gene Siskel Film Center celebrates the 30th anniversary of our Festival of Films from Iran. The festival endures as a showcase that has brought the innovation, resilience, and humanism of one of the world’s great national cinemas to Chicago audiences over three decades. Now, more than ever, the voices of Iranian artists need to be heard in exploring our shared humanity through history, compassion, comedy, and love. Whether you are a longtime supporter or completely new to Iranian cinema, please join us in discovery!
A fitting approach to our milestone year involves taking a journey through the past by way of the present in four documentaries, as well as focusing on the exciting range and creativity of four very diverse dramatic features. The festival opens on Saturday, February 8, with the critically acclaimed documentary COUP 53 by Taghi Amirani, who will be present for audience discussion. A gripping real-life story of spies and international perfidy, the film reveals newly discovered facts in the recounting of the British and U.S.-backed 1953 overthrow of Iran's democratically elected government.
A reception celebrating the festival anniversary and presented by MALA (Muslim American Leadership Alliance) follows the opening night film and discussion. We also present an award to longtime festival advisor, filmmaker, and author Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa, honoring her key role in the founding of the Festival of Films from Iran.
FINDING FARIDEH, Iran's official entry for Oscar consideration, follows an Iranian woman's search for her birth family. Adopted from a Tehran orphanage by a Dutch couple after being abandoned as an infant at a religious shrine in Mashad, 38-year-old Farideh opens a Pandora's Box of conflicted emotions when three families attempt to claim her. A most transgressive and satirical look at love is seen in TEHRAN: CITY OF LOVE, a daring of-the-moment comedy that pushes the limits of subject matter with regard to things like catfishing, stalking, and homosexuality, and has yet to screen in Iran. Amir Homayoun Ghanizadeh, one of Iran's best-known avant-garde stage directors brings a black-comic fantasy with bizarre musical numbers to the screen with A HAIRY TALE.
Although the body of Iran's pre-1979 cinema has largely been destroyed in its entirety in the wake of the revolution, two highly motivated filmmakers have created documentaries assembled from hundreds of clips sourced from surviving home video copies of these long-lost films. Due to the obsolete home-video technology, the imagery may be a ghost of the originals, but these ghosts speak volumes in revealing a lost cultural legacy. Ehsan Khoshbakht's FILMFARSI spills a veritable cornucopia of genres that once graced Iranian screens, from action movies and musicals to Three Stooges knock-offs, all with his own insightful interpretive commentary. A reception sponsored by Pasfarda Arts & Cultural Exchange follows the February 23 screening. We pair FILMFARSI with THE WARDEN, a contemporary mystery/thriller that plunges the viewer into the pre-revolution cultural milieu of 1966, with a prison break in progress.
Images of women and issues affecting women prevail on our closing weekend of February 29 and March 1. Also compiled from clips of lost films, the documentary WOMEN ACCORDING TO MEN, directed by Saeed Nouri, presents a colorful and revealing look at the images and stereotypes of Iranian women as portrayed by male directors between 1932 and 1979. Nouri will be present for Q&A via Skype following the March 1 screening. We pair the documentary with the contemporary drama SEVEN AND A HALF, in which seven young women struggle with fallout from their society's fetishized ideal of female virginity.
The Gene Siskel Film Center thanks the many individuals, companies, and agencies in Iran and in the U.S. whose invaluable efforts, good will, and support have made this year’s festival possible. Special thanks to: Taghi Amirani, Amirani Media; Mohammad Atebbai, Iranian Independents; Ehsan Khoshbakht; Armin Miladi, Daricheh Cinema; Nasrine Médard de Chardon, DreamLab Films; Eleaheh Nobakht, Eli Image; Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa; Narimon Safavi; Pasfarda Arts & Cultural Exchange; and MALA.
2019, Taghi Amirani, UK/Iran, 118 min.
With Ralph Fiennes
“Forensic focus and expert storytelling…pulse-racing discovery…feels as compelling as a John Le Carre novel or a Costa-Gavras classic.”—Allan Hunter, Screen Daily
“Passionate and fearless…mysterious strands that demand further investigation.”—Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
A real-life cliff-hanger thriller, this daring documentary dissects the 1953 British-American coup that brought down Iran’s democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh in order to prop up the reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. In a transparent grab for control of Iran’s oil industry, which had been nationalized under Mossadegh, Eisenhower, and Churchill set the stage for the long and treacherous slide toward the nation’s 1979 Islamic revolution. Utilizing archival footage, interviews, and newly unearthed and reconstituted transcripts, director Amirani weaves a gripping tale of spies, turncoats, secret negotiations, and suppressed documents, honing in on the mystery of a missing tell-all ITV interview with British M16 secret agent Norman Darbyshire, in which Britain’s role in the coup is for the first time substantiated. Edited by Oscar-winning sound designer and editor Walter Murch (APOCALYPSE NOW, THE GODFATHER TRILOGY). In English and Persian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
A Hairy Tale
2019, Amir Homayoun Ghanizadeh, Iran, 100 min.
With Saber Abar, Ali Nasirian
“Eccentric fantasy, a dark fairy tale…a refreshing turn from the honest social realism of Iranian movies that the festival audience is most familiar with.”—Joanna Konczak, Asian Movie Pulse
This delightfully bizarre black comedy by one of Iran’s best-known avant-garde stage directors pays tribute to the surrealism of playwrights including Beckett and Ionesco, with special effects hinting at the visual imagination of Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer. A barbershop with an old-time retro air is the setting for dark and sometimes macabre flights of fancy involving Kazem, the owner, who harbors a nostalgic passion for the movie CASABLANCA, and his employees Danesh and Shapour. Danesh’s dream of a film career comes to life in elaborate fantasy sequences, while a murder mystery intrudes on his dreams. Tellingly, women remain an elusive presence in this male milieu, symbolized by a disembodied hank of hair and a movie poster. In Persian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
2018, Khourosh Ataee and Azadeh Moussari, Iran/Netherlands, 88 min.
“A lot of laughing and a lot of tears…takes the viewer into territory rarely explored in contemporary Iranian films.”—Deborah Young, Hollywood Reporter
“Packs a punch…revealing great insights into family life and what it means to find yourself.”—Joel Kalkopf, Switch
In Iran’s official submission for Oscar consideration, an Iranian woman adopted at the age of two from a Tehran orphanage by a Dutch family makes an emotional journey in search of her birth family. Eline Koning, aka Farideh, was abandoned as an infant at a religious shrine in the city of Mashad. With the help of a newspaper ad and a Persian-speaking friend, Farideh, now 38, ventures to Iran for the first time to meet three different families that have come forward. Each had abandoned a child at the shrine under tragic circumstances, and each seeks to claim her. Joy and tears mix in excess when these extended clans welcome her as their long-lost daughter. Stories of regret, guilt, shame and hardship are spilled, each one more wrenching than the last. The film builds to the tense day when the three families await the results of the DNA tests that will tell the tale. In Persian, Dutch, and English with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
Tehran: City of Love
2018, Ali Jaberansari, Iran/UK/Netherlands, 102 min.
With Forough Ghajabagli, Mehdi Saki
“Warm, witty and full of empathy…some fine sight gags.”—Andrew Winter, The Digital Fix
“Tapestry of romantic manners mixes wry social commentary with arch arthouse humor…clear homage to Aki Kaurismäki, Roy Andersson and early Jim Jarmusch”—Hannah McGill, Sight & Sound
In a perfect Valentine’s Day chaser, three surprising tales of thwarted romance combine droll deadpan comedy with a look at maneuvers on the clandestine side of love. Director Jaberansari ventures into unusual territory for Iranian cinema, with innuendo-laced escapades involving catfishing, stalking, gay attraction, and a wedding reception that runs afoul of the law. Mina, a lonely overweight receptionist at a unisex body-salon for the sleek and buff, employs an ingenious method for getting close virtually to her employer’s most attractive male clients. Hessam, a personal trainer, lets longing interfere with a career opportunity when a hunky young weightlifter seeks his services. The potential for success comes with an unexpected down side when Vahid, a funeral singer at a mosque, opts for a career change and a radical new style in the hope of attracting women. In Persian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
2019, Ehsan Khoshbakht, Iran/UK, 83 min.
“Uncovers the cinematic and social history of Iran under the Shah…brings back a cinema of passion, horror and melodrama.”—Georgia Korossi, British Film Institute
“Locates this crazy cinema within the Iranian popular and political culture of its time…allows it to find a place in the wider context of world cinema.”—Laura Mulvey
Action and melodrama, car chases, lurid affairs, and flashy musical numbers all figured into the Iranian cinema’s pre-1979 signature, as the nation’s filmmakers made a bold bid for the attention of the savvy entertainment-hungry audiences in the urban centers. Compiled from clips from more than 100 films painstakingly sourced from surviving VHS tapes and accompanied by insightful interpretive commentary by director Khoshbakht, FILMFARSI bursts with spirited revelations of the heyday of a popular cinema willfully destroyed and largely lost in the wake of the Islamic revolution. Repurposed Western genres and copycat films abound, from The Three Stooges to James Bond, but all with a uniquely Persian twist and unmistakable cultural coding. In Persian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
2019, Nima Javidi, Iran, 90 min.
With Navid Mohammadzadeh, Parinaz Izadyar
“Dreamlike…an operatic feeling.”—Deborah Young, Hollywood Reporter
An eerily windswept landscape, a vacated prison, and one missing death-row inmate figure into this precisely calibrated mystery/thriller. Set in 1966, with the authentic retro look and feel of the culture of pre-revolutionary Iran, the plot pits a preening, promotion-hungry warden (Mohammadzadeh of SHEEPLE) against a wily escapee, who is improbably unaccounted for just as the facility is being evacuated prior to teardown for the site of Tehran’s new airport. Director Javidi (MELBOURNE) makes the story less about the cat-and-mouse game between warden and prisoner than a pressure cooker drama revolving around ambition, guilt in high places, and the warden’s barely disguised attraction for a self-possessed and most stylishly attired female social worker who comes to plead on behalf of the missing man. In Persian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
Women According to Men
Zan Be Ravayat-e Mard
2019, Saeed Nouri, Iran, 90 min.
“Both devastating and illuminating, sometimes in unexpected ways.”—Jonathan Rosenbaum
There was a time when nightclubbing babes, motorcycle mamas, and mini-skirted temptresses ushered in an era of genre-driven Iranian popular cinema, comprising a stark counterpoint to the idealized image of the modest maternal figure in a chador. The multifaceted images and stereotypes of Iranian women as portrayed by Iranian male directors between 1932 and the 1979 Islamic revolution comprise the subject of this revealing and sometimes hair-raising documentary showcasing clips from over 120 archival films. Director Nouri presents an intelligent compendium of films and genres, showcasing beloved and prolific stars including Pouri Banaei, Forouzan, Gougush, Susan Taslimi, Behrouz Vossoughi, Shoreh Aghdasloo, and scores more, whose pre-1979 work has been largely lost to the punishing arc of history. In Persian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)
Seven and a Half
Haft va nim
2019, Navid Mahmoudi, Iran/Afghanistan, 75 min.
With Neda Jebrelli, Hasti Mahdavi
Cultural traditions die hard, and the patriarchy still sets the rules in these mini-dramas revolving around an age-old fetishized ideal of female purity. Seven young women bravely face the question of virginity as the condition that may decide their fates for better or for worse. Despite her best friend’s advice, Shabaneh, a seamstress in a couture dress shop, longs to confide her closely guarded shameful secret to her fiancé. Negar is troubled by her fiancé’s prying and her prospective mother-in-law’s intimate request, while Fereshteh’s husband-to-be makes a non-negotiable demand. A paper marriage is a trap for Afghan immigrant Nahid, and marriage is a less than willing choice for Niloofar and Sugar, while Rahil seeks a dire antidote to betrayal. In Persian with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)