FOCUS:

35th Roshd International Film Festival in Mashhad Iran

A decade ago, while Dorothea Moritz was serving as a member of the Selection Committee for the Children’s Film Festival at the Berlinale, she was invited to attend the Esfahan International Children’s Film Festival in southern Iran. I went along as her companion — an unforgettable experience, particularly if you like medieval history and Oriental architecture. Back in the 17th century, when Esfahan was the Persian capital, it was reckoned one of the world’s most beautiful cities. The immense Royal Square in the center of the city hints of this splendor. It is enough to take your breath away. I fell in love with ancient Persia.

So, this year, when I was invited by Rahmatollah Mehrabi, the progressive Iranian Minister of Education, to participate in one of the four juries at the 35th Roshd International Film Festival (8-17 November 2005), I jumped at the chance. A festival of research and educational films, Roshd (read »upbringing« in Farsi) changes host cities annually. The 35th Roshd International Film Festival, coupled with the 3rd Student Filmmakers Festival, was hosted in the pilgrimage city of Mashhad, the site of a Shiite Muslim shrine honoring Imam Reza (martyred in 818 AD) near the border to Turkmenistan. But a short distance away lies the ancient capital of Nishabur, famous for the tombs of two great medieval Persian poets: Omar Khayyam and Farid Al-din Attar.

Why was I invited? Probably because the editors at Moving Pictures had regularly called upon me to write about Iranian entries at Cannes. Gradually I became an admiring disciple of the cinema of Abbas Kiarostami (The Taste of Cherries, Golden Palm, Cannes 1997), Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Kandahar, 2001), Jafar Panahi (The Circle, 2000), Rakhshan Bani-Etemad (Under the City’s Skin, 2000), Samira Makhmalbaf (At Five in the Afternoon, 2003), Bahman Ghobadi (Turtles Can Fly, 2004), and Hassan Yektapanah (Story Undone. 2004), among a half-dozen others. Never mind that some of these auteur directors are presently working abroad.

Of course, visas can be slow in coming. In my case, it took a month and a couple phone calls to Tehran for officials in the Iranian Embassy in Berlin to make up their minds. After all, I was the only American invited to attend the festival. So why go in the first place? The best reason of all: my documentary jury at Roshd was stacked with some prominent Iranian film scholars, all of whom had studied and worked abroad. Vahid Vahed, our jury president, currently produces and directs documentaries from his base as artistic director of the Cinewest festival in Sydney, Australia. Esmail Mir Fakhrai, a noted lecturer, had obtained his B.A. in Radio-Television at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, not far from where my father was born and raised. Last, but not least, there was Kamran Shirdel, founder-director of the Kish International Documentary Film Festival (KIDFF) in the Persian Gulf.

Kamran Shirdel (born 1939) had emigrated abroad to study architecture and cinema in Rome, then returned to Iran in the mid-1960s to become a severe critic of the Shah in a string of timely documentaries of social and political relevance. Among his previously banned films were Women’s Prison (1965) on inhumane prison conditions, Tehran Is the Capital of Iran (1966/80) on the urban poor, Women’s District (1966/80) on prostitution, and The Night It Rained (1967/79) on oppression in a corrupt society. When his documentaries were smuggled out of the country, to be screened at the 1999 Leipzig DOKfestival, the Kamran Shirdel retrospective tribute organized by Swiss critic Robert Richter was nothing short of a sensation. While attending the Roshd festival in Mashhad, Kamran Shirdel was informed that his KIDFF bureau had been taken over by conservative authorities in the new regime. Now approaching its seventh year, KIDFF was considered a festival oasis in Iran. »Both films and submission forms were confiscated,« he confirmed at an evening forum.

Another bone of contention these days is the fate of women filmmakers in Iran. As it turned out, however, some outstanding films were programmed at Roshd. Rakshan Bani-Etemad’s Gilameh, a fiction feature, portrays the suffering of a mother during the recent Iran-Iraq war. This is the first film to depict in some detail the bombings of Tehran that resulted in heavy civilian losses. Sudabe Mojaveri’s Inana, a treatise on ancient Sumerian inscriptions, recounts the role of the goddess of life and fertility in three poetic chapters with social and aesthetic reference to the present. Whether or not this enlightened 30-minute documentary can be seen by the home public outside of a festival event is an open question. And Laleh Barzegar’s End of Winter, a fiction short, blends visual poetics with light musical interludes to depict the trials of a talented young girl who has been refused entrance into a music conservatory.

The Roshd festival is composed for four sections — documentary, fiction, animation, student films — each with its own international jury. Altogether 198 competition films were programmed in a half-dozen venues scattered across the city: 58 documentaries, 55 fiction films, 42 animation films, and 43 student films — with cross-references to be noted in each section. Since Roshd is primarily an educational film festival, a Panorama of Austrian Documentaries from the ORF-Universum series was also programmed. And Serbian documentarist Miroslav Petrovic was honored with a retrospective tribute (see list of awards below). Throughout the entire Roshd festival the main topic of conversation among both foreign guests and Iranian filmmakers was the recent proposal of the Islamic government to oversee religious education from the early school years. Should this happen, say some, the restrictions might possibly affect the thematic content of the more progressive Iranian filmmakers, enough perhaps to spark another emigration of talent abroad.

Ron Holloway
 

AWARDS:


I. DOCUMENTARY / SCIENTIFIC / EDUCATIONAL:

A. DOCUMENTARY:

Gold Award:
Jestem (I Am With You) (Poland), dir Maciej Adamek

Silver Award:
Innana (Iran), dir Sudabeh Mojaveri

Diploma of Honor:
I Talk to God (Iran), dir Kaveh Bahrami Moqadam

Special Jury Award for Best Cinematography:
I Talk to God (Iran), dir Kaveh Bahrami Moqadam


B. SCIENTIFIC & EDUCATIONAL:

Gold Award:
First Flight (Austria), dir Steve Nicholls, Alfred Vendl

Silver Award:
Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Australia), dir Larry Zetlin

Diploma of Honor:
A Silent Killer (India), dir Dhananjoy Mandal

Special Jury Award for Best Research:
Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Australia), dir Larry Zetlin

Special Mentions:
Squids — Hunting for the White Gold (Germany/South Africa), dir Owen Pruemm
Poisoned! (Austria), Steve Nicholls, dir Alfred Vendi
Alphabet Pam (USA) and Alphabet Zelda (USA), dir Eva Saks


II. FICTION / LIVE ACTION:

A. SHORTS FOR CHILDREN:

Gold Award:
The Rain Is Falling (Germany), dir Holger Ernst

Silver Award:
Initiation (Russia), dir Roman Filipov

Diploma of Honor:
Kabul Cinema (Afghanistan), dir Mir Veys Rekab

Special Mention:
Pilala (Greece), dir Theo Papadoulakis


B. FEATURES FOR CHILDREN:

Gold Award:
Say Sorry (UK), dir Camille Griffin

Silver Award:
Binta and the Great Idea (Spain), dir Javier Fesser

Diploma of Honor:
Rosario (Spain), dir Juan Miguel Del Castillo

Special Mention:
End of Winter (Iran), dir Laleh Barzegar


C. SHORTS FOR FAMILIES:

Gold Award:
Say Sorry (UK), dir Camille Griffin

Silver Award:
Binta and the Great Idea (Spain), dir Javier Fesser

Diploma of Honor:
Rosario (Spain), dir Juan Miguel Del Castillo

Special Mention:
End of Winter (Iran), dir Laleh Barzegar


D. FEATURES FOR FAMILIES:

Gold Award:
For the Living and the Dead (Germany), dir Kari Paljakka

Silver Award:
Moony (Iran), dir Ruhollah Hejazi

Diploma of Honor:
Homesick (Finland), dir Petri Kotwica

Special Mention:
Gilaneh (Iran), dir Rakhshan Bani-Etemad


E. OTHER AWARDS:

Special Jury Award for Best Film:
Hayflower and Quiltshoe (Finland), dir Kaisa Rastimo

Special Jury Award for Best Director:
The Rain Is Falling (Germany), dir Holger Ernst

Special Jury Award for Best Adult Actor:
Asuncion Balaguer, Rosario (Spain), dir Juan Miguel del Castillo

Diploma of Honor for Best Adult Actor:
Farhad Aslani, Moony (Iran), dir Ruhollah Hejazi

Special Jury Award for Best Child Actor:
Fatemeh Sajadian, Mother Came While Raining (Iran), dir Ali Sokhdari

Diploma of Honor for Best Child Actor:
Adipas Damotsidis, Pilala (Greece), dir Theo Papadoulakis


III. ANIMATION:

Gold Award:
Flatlife (Belgium), dir Jonas Geirnaert

Silver Award:
Imago (France), dir Cedric Babouche

Diploma of Honor:
Ayaran (Iran), dir Mohammad Reza Zahab


IV. STUDENT FILMS:

A. FICTION:

Gold Award:
Eager to Travel (Iran), dir Saman Shabani

Silver Award:
We Are (India), dir Sahiful Mandal

Diploma of Honor:
The Route (Iran), dir Amir Hossein Ahanj

Special Mention:
Milad (Iran), dir Bayan Sijani
Technology (Iran), dir Alireza Habib


B. DOCUMENTARY:

Gold Award:
End of Destiny (Iran), dir Mina Zakeri

Silver Award:
No Evade (Iran), dir Parisa Mohammad Hossein Shirazi

Diploma of Honor:
Secret of a Need (Iran), dir Marjan Sadighi, Mahbobeh Salehiyeh


C. ANIMATION:

Gold Award:
Escape from Salad (Ukraine), dir Dima Egdelshtein

Silver Award:
For A Coconut (Belgium), dir Camera Enfants Admis

Diploma of Honor:
Brave Cat (Mexico), dir Eugenio Garza Banos

Special Mention:
We Love School (Iran), dir Nima Naderi
It’s not a Bird (Iran), dir Sadgad Vojdani, Mohay-Oldin Eskandari

Jury Award:
Voting with IOU (Iran), dir Majid Ashori-Nasab