Iranian Film on the Rise

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The San Francisco Art Institute’s courtyard was filled with excited chatter mixing Farsi and English and feverish cheek kissing two weekends ago at the first Iranian Film Festival (IFF).  The festival showcased 21 independent films made by or about Iranians within a plethora of genres including documentary, comedy, musical, narrative and a handful of short films. 

IFF was established by the founders of the Tiburon International Film Festival (TIFF) and founded by nonprofit and private donations. 

TIFF’s founder/executive director, Saeed Shafa, is an Iranian immigrant whose accomplishments include overcoming a language barrier to receive a bachelor’s from San Francisco State University and a master’s in film from the Art Academy of San Francisco. His son and associate director of the IFF, Siamak Shafa, spoke proudly of the festival’s celebration of Iranian filmmaking and potential for education, “I think…in the past 30 years Iran has been very misunderstood,” he said. “Film is the most powerful medium out there. It sheds a lot of light.”   

One of the festival’s documentary films, “Cinema Iran” directed by Mark Cousins, provided viewers with a synopsis of two decades of Iranian film, exploring the poetic realism pioneered by Iranian filmmakers and the effects of the Iranian revolution on its film industry. “Cinema Iran” featured interviews with Iranian directors including Abbas Kiarostami, director of “Where is the Friend’s Home?” who discussed the techniques he uses to emphasize natural settings and human imagery in his internationally acclaimed films. On camera, Kiarostami likened directing to coaching a football team by citing the extensive preparation, mounting energy and final release of watching all the forethought naturally unfold. Fellow documentary “A World Between,” directed by Nezam Manoucheri, focused on American Iranian Jason Rezaian and his experience while living in Iran as an outsider, exploring, learning and interacting with the culture around him. 

During a Q & A audience members expressed their appreciation for director interation within the festival.  One  audience member told Manouchehri and Rezaian, “I think what you have done is extremely valuable.”

Iranian American USF sophomore, Robert Moaveni thinks that San Francisco is the ideal place for such art-inspired cultural exchange. “I thought [the IFF]  was very fitting because San Francisco is really known as an international city,” said Moaveni. “I think it’s important that people get the Iranian culture a little more, especially in the present day.”

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