FILMFARSI, A film by Ehsan Khoshbakht

2019, Iran/UK
Written, directed and produced by Ehsan Khoshbakht
Edited by Niyaz Saghari and Abolfazl Talooni
Sound by Rob Szeliga
Music by Naiel Ibarrola and Lander Macho
Fearturing (archival footage): Pouri Banai, Reza Beik Imanverdi, Fardin, Forouzan, Iraj Ghaderi, Irenne, Nasser Malek Moti'i, Saeed Raad, Manouchehr Vosough, Behrouz Vossoughi
84 minutes and 10 seconds, colour/b&w

Narration in English; clips in Persian (subtitled in English)

Press Kit +

Book the film: 
In North America: Grasshopper Films
Elsewhere: esatchmo at yahoo dot com

On DVD in North America (release date: November 9, 2021)

"Uno studio sulla memoria e rimozione brutale." — Natasha Ceci, Il Manifesto

"An invaluable achievement and a remarkable archive of a forgotten period." — Alan Zilberman, Washington City Paper

"Filmfarsi is more than just compelling entertainment and political history; it’s an archival success story that keeps the past alive." — Pat Padua, The DC Line

"Essential for lovers of Iranian cinema." — Redmond Bacon, Dirty Movies

"Khoshbakht’s deeply personal film is a comprehensive and expansive examination [that] inadvertently provides a whirlwind history of pre-revolutionary Iran and analysis of the country’s fractured national psyche." Oscar Harding, Cinema Escapist

"I love Ehsan Khoshbakht's Filmfarsi which can be warmly recommended for programs of Iranian history and film history. It is funny and devastating, irreverent and profound, a masterpiece of the montage film." — Antti Alanen

As a long standing admirer of the New Iranian Cinema, I often wondered about its popular predecessor. Ehsan Khoshbakht has finally opened up this story.  His essayistic, meditative and cinephile analysis celebrates an unashamedly exploitative genre, steeped in sex and violence; Filmfarsi very usefully locates this crazy cinema within the Iranian popular and political culture of its time, and also allows it to find a place in the wider context of World Cinema. — Laura Mulvey

"Valuably informative and often humorous [Khoshbakht’s] enthusiastic voiceover allows the films to transcend the dismissals of B-movie classification, and instead positions them as a way of personally understanding the tumultuous events of Iranian history." — Andrew Northrop, KinoScope

"A small historiographical treasure, with great montage ideas." — Carlos Alberto Mattos, Carta Maior


2016-2019 Work-in-progress screenings

June 2016: Cinemateket, Copenhagen | Length of the film: 107 mins (vs. 84' final cut)
November 2016: Stadtkino, Basel | Length of the film: 105 mins (vs. 84')
March 31, 2017: London Essay Film Festival | Length: 96 mins (vs. 84')
April, 2017: Ankara International Film FestivalLength: 96 mins (vs. 84')
February 25, 2019: Cinemateket, Copenhagen | Length of the film: 87 mins (vs. 84' final cut)


July 26: Cinema Rediscovered, Bristol, UK [World Premiere]
October 13: HIFF
October 22: Cambridge Film Festival, UK
November 1: Artissima (in collaboration with Torino Film Festival) at Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Turin, Italy
November 13: FilmBath Festival, Bath, UK
November 21: Cairo International Film Festival, Egypt
November 21: Slagtehal 3, Aarhus, Denmark
November 28: Athens Avant Garde Film Festival, Greece
December 3: Festival on Wheels, Ankara, Turkey


January 15 & 17: ÍRÁN:CI, Prague, Czech Republic
January 17: Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, USA
January 19: Smithsonian Institute's Freer Gallery of ArtWashington, DC, USA
January 26: Film Mutations: Festival of Invisible Cinema, Zagreb, Croatia
January 27-30: International Film Festival Rotterdam, The Netherlands
January 30: AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, Washington DC, USA
February 5: Wexner Center for the ArtsColumbus, Ohio, USA
February 22-23: Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago, USA
March 12: Borderlines Film Festival, The Courtyard, Hereford, UK
[...virus break...]
September 4: IndieLisboa International Film Festival, Lisbon, Portugal
September 18: Sinema Transtopia, Berlin, Germany
September 27: It's All True, Brazil [V=Virtual screening]
October 21-25: Virginia Film Festival, Charlottesville, USA [V]
November: UCLA, Los Angeles, USA [V]
November: Wisconsin Film Festival, USA  [V]
November 26: Iranisches Filmfestival Köln, Germany  [V]


March 14: Wales One World, UK [V]
May 6: M+ Museum, Hong Kong [V]
May 27: Iranian Film Festival Zurich, Switzerland [V]
October: limited run at Close-Up Cinema, London, UK
December 15: Filmoteca de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain


January 23: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, US
August 26: Offkino Bielefeld, Germany
September: Paris


December: Cinematek, Brussels, Belgium


"Iranian cinema is often understood through a framework of post-revolutionary art-house film. Critically acclaimed works from the likes of Abbas Kiarostami to Mohsen Makhmalbaf ran rings around the international film festival circuit upon their releases outside of Iran, and the legacy of these works is still felt. In his epic exploration of pre-revolutionary films in Iran, Ehsan Khoshbakht seeks to excavate a new cinematic narrative for his country, at once humorous, moving, and confronting. Utilizing a personal collection of now-banned VHS tapes, Khoshbakht painstakingly compiled Filmfarsi, a visual essay that dips and dives through the melodramatic and the trashy, the romantic and the absurd. This feat is a humbling reminder of the temporality of film and the paramountcy of preserving a national cinema. In one clip, we see a sign in a local cinema that reads, “Please refrain from bringing guns into the cinema.” Through Filmfarsi, Khoshbakht repositions these once lost films as not only a vital part of Iranian life, but as a crucial catalyst to the revolution in Iran." — Naomi Gessesse, MUBI Notebook


Filmfarsi was the cinema of a nation with a split personality”, says filmmaker Ehsan Khoshbakht in this film-critical history of Iran under the Shah. Khoshbakht’s found-footage essay film salvages low budget thrillers and melodramas suppressed following the 1979 Islamic revolution. These films defined Iranian cinema in the 1960s and '70s, when the industry shared an equal percentage of the market with the USA. Little more than VHS rips remain.

Khoshbakht here uncovers that which was thought destroyed. A cinema of titillation, action and big emotions, which also presented a troubling mirror for the country, as Iran struggled to reconcile its religious traditions with the turbulence of modernity, and the influences of the West.

There are remakes and rip-offs, even a Persian Vertigo. The often cheap, sleazy and derivative films offer an insight into Iran’s psyche. Among the scratched reels, some keystones of Iran’s extraordinary film culture emerge, too: Gheysar, whose title design was done by a young Abbas Kiarostami; the work of director Samuel Khachikian, a progenitor of Iranian noir; and The Deer, a film which more than any other symbolises the historic violent turns in Iran’s recent past. Filmfarsi presaged a revolution, and it became one of its first victims. — Yusef Sayed


In Abadan, Iran, on August 19, 1978, as the Cinema Rex audience watched Masoud Kimiai’s The Deer (1974) — a rebellious, street-level drama starring Behrouz Vossoughi, one of Iran’s most versatile actors — four individuals barred the entrances and doused the theater with gasoline. An estimated 400-plus people were killed as the building went up in flames. This tragedy is the point of departure for Ehsan Khoshbakht’s archival documentary Filmfarsi. Bridging the riotous expression of a country in the midst of an identity crisis with the vilification of cheap thrills by revolutionary fundamentalists, Filmfarsi unearths a buried genre of low-budget films in Iran. This sensational cinema, unjustly targeted by those it represented, reflected not only the nation’s self-loathing, but also its verve under brutal modernization. To quote a fictional film title from Samad in Dragon’s Way (Parviz Sayyad, 1977), Filmfarsi is a pop culture requiem featuring “Sex, Violence, and Karate.” — Paul Farrell [read the full review up on Hyperallergic website]


For the past four years, filmmaker Ehsan Khoshbakht has been unearthing a long lost cinematic history of film stars from the Middle East. In opening a Pandora’s box of Iranian popular films, Khoshbakht unlocked one of the richest film genres recorded on celluloid. Filmfarsi uncovers the cinematic and social history of Iran under the Shah, suppressed since the 1979 revolution. The world premiere of Khoshbakht’s essay film brings back a cinema of passion, horror and melodrama that was led by Iran’s most beloved actors.” — Georgia Korossi, BFI


"[Filmfarsi is a] quintessential Cinema Rediscovered film. Khoshbakht [digs] into his Iranian upbringing to produce a work of half-documentary and half personal essay, looking back at the pre-revolution genre cinema of the country. He unearths a wealth of insights into the popular cinema of the time and the wider context of Iranian social and cultural history. Today, nearly all of the films he refers to survive mostly as VHS tapes, which in many cases Khoshbakht has kept hold of and digitised himself, giving the film a grainy, half-remembered quality at times, criss-crossing between films, tropes and stars to paint a wider picture of a society rife with contradictions and juxtapositions at every turn. [Khoshbakht] brings humour and lightness to a subject that could easily be crushed under the weight of history." — Flip Screen


Il constitue surtout un travail d’archéologie du cinéma essentiel, révélant au monde certains des exemples les plus loufoques du genre, mais dévoilant aussi les perles rares qui en sont issues, les drames hitchcockiens de Samuel Khachikian par exemple, ou les premiers films de Dariush Mehrjui, déterrés ici pour notre plus grand plaisir cinéphilique. — Olivier Thibodeau, Panorama-Cinéma


Further reading:

Take One: "A fascinating dig"

The Culturist


1 comment:

  1. Dear Ehsan, here's Pedro from Festival ECRÃ from Brazil. Please get in touch regarding screenings of your film here!