By Azadeh Farahmand, PhD Candidate, Theater, Film & Television
The UCLA Film and Television Archive and the UCLA Center for the Near Eastern Studies continue their ongoing collaboration by organizing the 12th annual series of Iranian cinema. The series consist of six feature films and four documentary shorts, which screen in the UCLA James Bridges theater. Screenings begin with Mohsen Makhmalbaf's "Kandahar" on January 10, and end on Feb. 10 with Iraj Karimi's "Going By."
The festival, which has been among the best-attended film series on campus, has marked the infusion of cinema with cultural education and academic scholarship. "It was a huge success and it was controversial," said Jonathan Freidlander, assistant director of the Center for the Near Eastern Studies. "It was the first window to Iran for many people, Americans, and especially the (Iranian) immigrant and the exile community here, who came in great numbers to this festival."
Many of the Iranian films are now part of the curriculum of classes in Iranian Studies and other departments across the UCLA campus. UCLA associate professor of English, Ali Behdad, who incorporates the current series in his winter quarter course, "Western Representations of the Middle
East," underscores the use of allegories and subversive techniques in Iranian films. For Behdad, however, the self-conscious exoticism and recurring motifs of the child and the poor in Iranian cinema represent "a new mode of 'indigenous orientalism' that packages the exotic other for
Western intellectual consumption."
The current series showcase themes and genres that arguably thrive to move away from some of the clichéd exoticism that have become trademarks of Iranian films in the West. The direct interrogation of social issues is detectable in the documentaries in the series. Rakhshan Bani-Etemad's "Under the Skin of the City," an intense drama of an urban working-class family centered around a resilient matriarch, dispenses with the slow pace and exotic landscapes that typify exported Iranian films.
The UCLA Archive programmer, Cheng-Sim Lim observes a "new and exciting directorial talent" in the recent Iranian cinema scene. " I see a greater willingness in Iranian films of the past two years to address social concerns directly, with less resorting to allegory or the casting of children."