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World Cinema Fund - Iranians Arise
by Becky Tan

On February 17 the World Cinema Fund celebrated its official day in Berlin. It was founded October 2004 by the German Federal Cultural Foundation and the Berlinale in cooperation with the Goethe Institute. It grants about Euro 300,000 annually to support films in certain regions of the world. Since its founding, there have been 1165 applicants, and 70 films from 30 countries have been supported. Fifty films were actually made and all showed in cinemas. Money received from the fund must be spent in the country where the film is made. The two films nominated this year for Best Foreign-Language Oscar, Ajami and The Milk of Sorrow, had received WCF support.

To celebrate the special day, Iranian directors discussed “Iranian Cinema: Present and Future. Expectations Inside and Outside of Iran.”

Participants were:
Rafi Pitts, (The Hunter/Shekarchi, Competition 2010)
Reza Haeri, All Restrictions End-The Politics of Clothes
Nader Davoodi, Red, White and the Green
Mohammad Farokhmanesch, Director/Producer
Maryam Mameghanian-Prenzlow, Instructor of Iranistic at the Free University of Berlin

The Iranian government has been extremely sly and clever in dismantling the film industry and there is much more money to be made in television. Cinema as an art needs to be defended. Iran would eagerly finance a film about the Holy war with Iraq, as well as moralistic and religious films, but nobody is interested. No erotic, sex or horror films are made in Iran. Seeking financing abroad is a dangerous thing. One wouldn’t go to the minister of culture without government backing. “Irony is our basic culture,” they said. The Iranian film festival was boycotted by 90% of the filmmakers.

In spite of difficulties, art is necessary as a social criticism and documentaries are important to show that problems are the same everywhere. No One Knows About Persian Cats by Kurd Bahman Ghobadi (which ended the 2009 Filmfest Hamburg) was filmed secretly in 17 days. Digital cameras, bloggers and international connections help distribute information in the absence of a free press. Moviemaking is not just a business; it needs a special spirit.

Mameghanian-Prenzlow, the only woman and non-filmmaker, traced the rise of women in Iranian film, including directors and actresses in roles other than a domestic situation.

All of the Iranian filmmakers are different with their own special identities and each one is trying to find his own style. Educated in Great Britain, Pitts spoke the most fluent English and monopolized the floor. Farokhmanesch spoke no English but came with a jolly, elderly male translator. It is difficult to label a film maker as representing one certain country. There are cultural influences and they try to break stereotypes.

These directors are nothing if not self-confident. Perhaps their difficulties have made them so. The moderator of the panel immediately got into hot water by calling their language Farsi when some insisted that Persian is the right word – or not. Iranian members of the audience who dared to criticize were immediately put down with “You haven’t been Iran for 33 years; come on over and then you can make suggestions.” They all agreed that it was a terrible crime that director Jafar Panahi, (Offside, Silver Bear 2006) was absent because the Iranian authorities had prevented his leaving the country.