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1st London Iranian Film Festival

The 1st London Iranian Film Festival will run from 19 - 26 November in different venues around London. 

Werner Herzog once said: “The greatest films in the world today are being made in Iran.” On 19 November, these “greatest films” will come to town, as the 1st London Iranian Film Festival (UKIFF) brings to London, and for the first time in the UK, 35 of the best Iranian contemporary movies.

"There was something extraordinarily liberating about the vast open-endedness of a white screen suddenly darkened, and then illuminated with colorful im/possibilities. In the cinema we were re-born as global citizens in defiance of the tyranny of the time and the isolation of the space that sought to confine us. In cinema, everything was possible, and in that possibility we defied our paralyzing limitations. The cinema revealed our hidden hopes as a nation. With all the political and religious censorship that brutally limited our visual pleasures and experiences, we reveled in the rainbows of images that colored our cinematic daydreams." - Hamid Dabashi in ‘Close Up Iranian Cinema: Past, Present and Future’

Having been a compulsive lover of Iranian cinema for over a decade and having watched, lived and dreamt the silver screen worlds created by the cinematic genius of directors like Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi, Majid Majidi, Niki Karimi, Samira Makhmalbaf (and the list goes on… ) I was thrilled to hear about the launch of the first Iranian film festival in London. As any cine-lover would agree, this was well over-due, London being the “multicultural capital” of the world.

The inaugural press conference was held at the wonderful Roxy Bar & Screen in London on Thursday 4th November 2010. It was a quiet and intimate evening and the festival director Pejman Danaei along with the selectors were present to meet the press and to introduce the British media to this year's inaugural festival. After the initial introduction by the Festival director, Pejman Danaei and other selection committee members: Patrick Tucker, Zoran Veljkovic and Hossein Khosrojerdi, introducing the festival's mission and aims, there was a screening of clips and trailers from some of the films on this year's programme. The themes of death, survival, visual poetry and imagery, an overwhelming spiritual feel and scenes of the sea seemed to recur in the films over and over again, according to the selectors. The trailer was a visual treat and glimpses of the films were very seductive, leaving the audience wanting more.

The London Iranian Film Festival has been organised by a non-political organization called UKIFF. The Festival aims to produce the most diverse Iranian film programme in the UK attracting as many people as possible to view Iranian cinema and to introduce it to people who have never watched Iranian films before.

Whilst a handful of acclaimed Iranian Directors are familiar to UK audiences, the new generation of emerging talents remain largely unknown. “The intention of the London Iranian Film Festival is to introduce this undiscovered new talent to London’s film enthusiasts, as well as celebrating the work of legendary Iranian filmmakers”, says Pejman Danaei, the festival director. Mr. Danaei stressed that this is a “non-political” festival. The only criterion for submission to this festival is a high standard of art. The non-political nature of the festival has been somewhat of a hindrance to him when it came to raising funds, he said. However the festival has had amazing response from film-makers in Iran and abroad with 471 film submissions from 53 countries for this year’s festival, containing features, shorts and documentaries. Out of these, 35 films have been selected and will be shown at this festival. The festival’s main mission is to be a platform to the myriad of talent in Iran and introduce them to the world audience. Hence the festival doesn’t have a competition or Jury awards.

One of the major attractions of the festival this year is undoubtedly Jafar Panahi’s The Accordion which was the inaugural film of the ‘Venice Days’ portion of the Venice Film Festival and is still banned in Iran. It is the story of two young musicians on the streets of Tehran, who have their accordion confiscated as the result of an incident. The Accordion is the story of materialistic human need to survive under a pretentious religious order. Panahi, director of such acclaimed and uncompromising films as The Circle, has faced abuse and imprisonment from the authorities for his decision to express himself without fear and is currently on bail.

However there are many more gems at the UKIFF this year: Mohammad Rasoulof’s The white Meadow, which will be the opening film of the festival, is simply stunning with a story that borders between reality and myth, with the fable of a character called Rahmat who sails from island to island to collect tears in glass jars.  Another such film is Asghar Farhadi’s About Elly, which deals with a young girl’s mysterious disappearance while on a holiday on a beach by the Caspian Sea. The Accordion, Solitude, Delusive Sound are some great shorts, while Pearls on the Ocean Floor, The Glass House and Rough Cut are some of several fascinating documentaries to watch out for at the festival.

The Festival will be held from19th to 26th November and will screen films at four main venues: Ciné Lumière (French Institute), Apollo Cinema (Regent Street), Shortwave Cinema (Bermondsey Square) and the Roxy Bar & Screen.

For further information, check out the festival’s website.

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