Thursday, 9 April 2020

On Film Curating [Scalarama Newspaper Interview]

Interviewed by UK's Scalarama Newspaper in late summer 2019. EK


What inspired you to get into film programming?

I was playing films, from VHS tapes, for my two sisters. Every day we were lying on the floor , putting our heads in 30 degree angels towards each on a big pillow -- almost like mummies -- totally transfixed by Singin' in the Rain or Citizen Kane, without understanding a word of English. It came out of that, a sort of natural tendency to share what you think is good. Later I thought if I could entertain my sisters, I might be able to keep more people entertained.

How did you first get into film programming?

I started a film club in my hometown, a tiny place on the map somewhere in northeast Iran called Bojnord. It was shut down after the fourth or fifth screening because we showed a film whose writer was a Marxist. That shattered my dreams and was almost like a trauma.


Tell me about your experiences as a film programmer outside of the UK. In which countries have you programmed, and how were those experiences different?

I've done projects in the Middle East, northern Europe but mostly Italy, or to be more precise, in Bologna and its annual international film festival, Il Cinema Ritrovato. I guess the major difference between my gigs in Bologna and the ones elsewhere is that in Bologna I have to think totally international because the audience come from 70 different countries but in Tehran or Helsinki I know that I'm doing it for a more homogeneous audience. Good films are received well everywhere but the diversity of views is something you feel strongly in Bologna. The cultural differences, I guess, are the main thing. I'm making a documentary about Iranian pre-revolutionary mainstream cinema. So far I've shown the work-in-progress version in four different countries. In the first stop, the cinematheque of Copenhagen, people had a goodtime laughing a lot to the bad taste sex scenes shown in the film but the second audience of the film, in Basel, was surprisingly more reserved. A Swiss friend told me that people are not comfortable laughing at the vulgar and the grotesque in that country. Well, their miss. So in Copenhagen you have this long history of sexploitation films and generally speaking, being easy with your body. That made a huge difference to the way my film was received.


What are the main differences between programming in Italy [and, separately, any other countries in which you’ve worked as a film programmer] and programming in the UK?

Well, my experience in Italy is limited to Il Cinema Ritrovato and I don't know much about what's happening elsewhere in the country but the miracles that happen in Bologna can hardly happen anywhere else in the world. There was a film we screened this year, a proto-feminist silent film called The Woman Under Oath by John M. Stahl which is a beautiful work from 1919. I saw the film earlier in the year at BFI Southbank. There were some 60 people in the audience which I guess is the maximum capacity of that kind of film in London – a very good number of people for a not very well-known silent film. Yet, in Bologna we had a full house and 350 people saw it and then there was this good buzz about the film, discussions and enthusiasm to see more of Stahl's film. That enables the festival to be more daring in its selection, more experimental and more diverse. No marketing guys getting nervous, just great cinema without any compromise. But you can find responsive audience in places you never imagine, like a jazz and film programme I co-curated in Ankara and the cinema was full most of the time, and a great number of our audience were women which challenges the notion that jazz is mostly favoured by men.


Have you got any film programmes planned for September?

Nothing for September I'm afraid, but Jonathan Rosenbaum and I are doing a programme called Outsider Films on America, films about America made by non-Americans which is for a festival in Anakara called Festival on Wheels, usually touring other Turkish cities as well. This is going to be late November. Around the same time, I'm hoping to put together a Finnish film history retrospective in London. I also have my own documentary to finish. And then of course the preparation for the next edition of Il Cinema Ritrovato is a full-time thing in terms of the sheer volume of films to be viewed. I think I need another pair of eyes to stay in the race.

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