Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Night It Rained (Kamran Shirdel, 1967)

From my Iranian New Wave programme notes, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, 2015. The world premiere of the restored version (2K). -- EK

PS: Playing in London on March 16, 2018. [+]

Iran, 1967 Regia: Kamran Shirdel
T. int.: The Night It Rained or the Epic of the Gorgan Village Boy. Scen.: Esmaeel Noori Ala, Kamran Shirdel. F.: Naghi Maasoumi. M.: Fatemeh Dorostian. Int.: Nosratollah Karimi (narrator/interviewer). Prod.: The Ministry of Culture.

Shirdel and cameraman Naghi Maasoumi on the set
This satirical documentary film offers a crash course in 1960s Iran. A newspaper story of a heroic village boy who prevented a train disaster appears and spreads quickly. The incident, reported on and challenged by local officials and journalists, is soon doubted and leads ultimately to confusion, with nobody knowing exactly who has saved whom.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Interview with Kamran Shirdel

Kamran Shirdel (right) on the set of The Night It Rained

Kamran Shirdel (born 1939)

One of the giants of Iranian modern cinema, Shirdel is mostly remembered for his clandestine documentaries about poverty and injustice as well as his Rashomonesque The Night It Rained (1967) which became an instrumental film in the birth of New Wave. It’s been hardly noted that he was also responsible for remaking À bout de souffle under the title The Morning of the Fourth Day (1972).

Shirdel today

  • How conscious were you about the New Wave while making your “new” film?

In 1965, after finishing my film school in Rome (Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia), I returned back home mostly for a family visit when I encountered the unbelievable and ridiculous socio-economico-political situation in Iran. No Iranian school of filmmaking existed and there were very few [educated] film directors – mostly graduated from foreign film schools trying to do their best at the only place existing for documentary filmmaking in Iran which was The Ministry of Culture and Art. And the filmmakers’ job was to satisfy The Ministry with their commissioned orders. Under these circumstances I had the rare chance to be called – quite accidentally - to make a series of so called propaganda films for the Iranian Women Organization (headed by Ashraf, the twin sister of the Shah!) The subject of the films opened the tightly closed doors of hidden worlds of, respectively, Women’s Prison and Tehran’s red light district (in Farsi, Shahre No) which I showed in Women's Quarter, as well as other poor slums of southern Tehran. I got hold of this rare chance and benefitted from this unexpected situation by relying on my zero experience in the field of documentary filmmaking which was balanced by my love to approach the socio-political problems. I directed them one after another and in a very short time.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Underline#2, The English Edition

Underline's second issue is about journeys, real and imagined. As with Issue#1, several of the stories reveal more of the rich cultural interactions between the UK and Iran historically. Such interactions are often achieved by that old method of learning: hitting the road.

The chosen theme for this issue also touches on the conditions of the magazine's production. Many of the wonderful team who have made this issue happen are travellers; visitors or residents in another country, sharing their observations both in close-up and long shot.

The stories in close-up are focused on two British poets (Basil Bunting and Dylan Thomas) and an American art collector (Abby Weed Grey), each of whom were drawn fortuitously to Iran. Thomas’s journey remains a personal favourite: he sees both heaven and hell, leaving the country bruised, enlightened, shocked and awakened. No romanticism of ‘Persia’ here.

Filmmaker and writer Mark Cousins, who drove his campervan through Iran shortly after 9/11, provides us with one long shot. Some three decades before he set out on his journey, other campervans had crossed the country for a different reason: fulfilling the hippy dream of reaching those eastern destinations associated with self-discovery – and good hash. Rory MacLean has written a best-seller on the subject, Magic Bus, about which we've interviewed him.

The journeys also continue in our In Review pages where the recent, auspicious trip made by British sculptor Tony Cragg to exhibit his work in Tehran has given one of our contributors the opportunity for a first-hand encounter. Travelling in the opposite direction, the works of Iranian photographer Kaveh Golestan have reached Tate Modern, prompting another fascinating review.

Underline#2, The Persian Edition

دومین شمارۀ آندرلاین دربارۀ «سفر» است، چه به شکل عینی‌اش و چه سفرهای ذهنی و مجازی. در امتداد مضمونِ شمارۀ اول، بعضی از این سفرها عمق، قدمت و تناقض‌های رابطۀ ایران و بریتانیا در یک قرن گذشته را برملا می‌کنند. اما مضمون سفر انعکاسی از وضعیت تعداد زیادی از نویسندگان این شماره هم هست که بین دو کشور در حرکت‌اند و جایی جز مبداء اصلی‌شان را برای سکونت انتخاب کرده‌اند. هر کدام از این نویسندگان، داستان‌هایی در کلوزآپ و لانگ‌شات به این شماره داده‌اند.
در کلوزآپ، داستان سفر دو شاعر بریتانیایی (بازیل بانتینگ و دیلن تاماس) و یک مجموعه‌دار آثار هنری از آمریکا (ابی وید گری) را داریم که بدون برنامه‌ریزی قبلی خودشان را در ایران می‌یابند. از بین آنها سفر تاماس طنینی گزنده دارد که در آن شاعر ولشی هم بهشت را در ایران می‌یابد و هم دوزخ را. وقتی در پایان سفر به بریتانیا برمی‌گردد، ذهنش کبود، بیدار و روشن است. کلیشه‌‌های «پرشیا»، سرزمینِ گل و بلبل در داستان سفر او جایی ندارد.
یکی از داستان‌های در لانگ‌شات این شماره را مارک کازینز، فیلم‌ساز و نویسندۀ اهل ایرلند شمالی، روایت کرده که درست بعد از یازده سپتامبر با یک فولکس واگن در ایران سفر کرد. سهچهار دهه پیش از او، همین مسیر را فولکس واگن‌های دیگری مملو از هیپی‌ها، به نیت متفاوت رسیدن به آرامش (و مواد مخدر ارزان و فراوان) در شرق، طی کرده بودند که موضوع کتاب پرفروش اتوبوس جادویی است. در این شماره با مؤلف این کتاب، روری مک‌لین، گفتگو کرده‌ایم.
سفرها در بخش گزارش و نقد ادامه پیدا می‌کنند. سفر اخیر تُنی کرگ و آثارش به موزه هنرهای معاصر تهران موضوع یک مقاله است و در سوی مخالف جاده، سفر آثار عکاسی کاوه گلستان به موزه تیت مدرن در لندن موضوع مقاله‌ای دیگر.
با دشواری‌های موجود برای سفر بین دو کشور که می‌تواند حتی قهرمان هومر، اودیسیوس، را از صرافت سفر بیندازد، امیدوارم شمارۀ دوم آندرلاین همان کاری را بکند که کتاب‌ها و فیلمهای به‌دردبه‌خور می‌کنند: شما را به جایی ببرند که قبلاً در آن نبوده‌اید.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Departed: the filmmakers we lost in 2017

Naiel Ibarrola and I are back in Sight & Sound for a new series of what we call cine-comic-strip, illustrating the departed filmmakers of 2017. The complete collection, composed of 13 panels, can be viewed here.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Notebook 10th Writers' Poll

In MUBI Notebook's annual poll, the contributors pair their favorite new films of the year (2017) with older films seen in the same year to create fantastic double features. Here is what I can offer as one of 2017's so many ideal and less than ideal double-bills. The first bill features the underappreciated Wajib, the third feature by Annemarie Jacir and her best work so far. -- EK

NEW: Wajib (Annemarie Jacir, Palestine)
OLD: Time Without Pity (Joseph Losey, 1957)

On the surface, simply pairing two father-son films (of which there are probably far too many out there), striking the so-called universal chord. However, here, the universality is only secondary, if not entirely irrelevant, to what binds them internally—it is in their particularities of that relationship and their ties to the place (Nazareth/London) that a decent double-bill might emerge. Both films never abandon their political agendas but somehow move to more personal territories. They, in fact, are about those "territories", personal or impersonal: characters with their vague hope traversing in hostile cities in which the place of the saved and the savior is interchanged.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Best of the Last Films

Terror in a Texas Town
فهرست «فيلم‌(هاي) آخر» محبوبم از تاريخ سينما براي ماهنامۀ حالا تعطیل شدۀ «صنعت سينما» (پانزدهم فروردين 1393)
فيلم آخر، بدون اين‌كه كارگردان قصد ساختن فيلم آخرش را داشته باشد. جبر حاكم بر شرايط فيلم‌سازي يا انتخاب فردي، با وجود عمر نسبتاً طولاني فيلم‌ساز باعث شده تا اين فيلم «آواز قوي» او باقي بماند:

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Il Cinema Ritrovato in London#1

Assunta spina
Catholics have the Vatican. Muslims make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Cinephiles have Il Cinema Ritrovato. It's the name of a unique film festival which has been running now for 31 years. The annual setting for the festival is Bologna which boasts majestic architecture, great food and the oldest university in Europe, helping to turn the location into a film set.

The festival, hosted by Cineteca di Bologna, screens films from all over the world. It is dedicated to film history, but in a way that will fully convince anyone that the past is a vital part of the present – or as Henri Langlois said about Chaplin, it is the future. Il Cinema Ritrovato brings to an international audience films which have rarely been seen, films that have never been seen in decent copies and films that may have been seen before, but never in the city's main piazza with 4,000 passionate viewers in attendance and a philharmonic orchestra providing musical accompaniment. The festival never ceases to amaze visitors.New restorations, new prints, and remarkable discoveries on an almost daily basis are characteristic of this annual eight-day affair, a 500-film marathon that Sight & Sound magazine recently called "The Shock of the Old."

Monday, November 6, 2017

A Simple Event (Sohrab Shahid Saless, 1973)

Update: Playing at GOETHE-INSTITUT LONDON on November 9, 2017, 7 PM.

From my Iranian New Wave programme notes, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, 2015. -- EK

Iran, 1973 Regia: Sohrab Shahid Saless
T. int.: A Simple Event. Scen.: Sohrab Shahid Saless (uncredited), Omid Rouhani (uncredited). F.: Naghi Maasoumi. M.: Kazem Rajinia. Int.: Mohammad Zamani, Anne Mohammad Tarikhi, Habibullah Safarian, Hedayatullah Navid, Majid Baghaie. Prod.: Sazman-e Cinemaie Keshvar.

A few days in the life of a young boy living by the Caspian Sea. At school he is falling behind his classmates and almost expelled. He helps his father to fish illegally, and at home watches as his mother’s health deteriorates.

original poster

Sohrab Shahid Saless’s debut feature was made clandestinely with the budget and crew assigned to him for a short film by the government-run Sazman-e Cinemaie Keshvar, for whom he had previously made around 20, mostly uncredited shorts. The film was shot in Bandar Shah. Saless, who admired Chekov, chose the location for its “Russian-looking” atmosphere and the fact that it was at the end of the railroad – at a dead end, like the lives of his characters. Mohammad Zamani, who had never been to a cinema, plays the young boy and one can feel the weight of the world on his frail shoulders. Mysteriously quiet and empty, the film’s characters are apparently devoid of any feeling, yet still capable of making an enormous emotional impact on the audience.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Underline#1 [a new magazine]

I'm editing a new magazine on arts for British Council Iran called Underline. The digital quarterly publication can be downloaded for free here in both Persian and English editions. This is the editorial from the first issue, Autumn 2017. -- Ehsan Khoshbakht


The Swinging Sixties – a period of cultural change characterised by optimism, hedonism and extraordinary artistic creativity – was not only a British phenomenon…

Before elaborating any further, allow me to share the good news: Underline, the online arts journal of the British Council Iran, is now a proper quarterly e-magazine, available both as a free download and for online browsing. We believe the magazine format can give greater coherence to the stories we want to tell.

The articles in this issue are themed around the changing culture of the 1960s – the happiest (and hippest) note struck for UK-Iran cultural relations.

Following the arrival into Iran of new British cultural exports – chiefly cinema, music, theatre productions and literary translations – the scepticism of the post-Coup years temporarily dissolved. Iran was a country striving to become revitalised and modern. Iranians were not content to be merely passive recipients of these new trends. They adapted, transformed and reinterpreted that which captivated them from abroad and made their own cultural exports during this significant period of transition.