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Filmfarsi & the tradition of Iranian film at the Wex

David Filipi, Director, Film/Video

Wed, Jan 15, 2020

A black and white dual projection image of gender-segregated crowds from the Shirin Neshat video installation Fervor

Image: Shirin Neshat, Fervor, 2000. Black-and-white video/sound installation. Running time: 10 mins. Courtesy Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York. Production still photography: Larry Barns.

 

We’re excited to be screening Ehsan Khoshbakht’s new labor-of-love documentary, Filmfarsi, on February 5. Intended to be derogatory, the term Filmfarsi was coined in 1953 by critic Amir Houshang Kavousi to describe popular, low-budget films being produced in Iran—from the coup d’état that year to the Islamic revolution in 1979—that might feature gangsters, violence, music, wrestlers and abundant sexual situations. They represented escapism for a people trying to adjust to a shifting economic and social landscape in their country. In researching another project, director Khoshbakht (who is also a critic and film programmer) immersed himself in Filmfarsi titles and realized that the genre represented a cinematic secret yet to be revealed to the rest of the world. His film should change that.

A photo of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami sitting with Wexner Center Film/Video Director David Filipi behind a table with posters for Kiarostami's 1998 film A Taste of Cherry

Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami with Wex Film/Video Director David Filipi in 1998

The screening is just the latest of the dozens of Iranian films that we have screened in the center’s history. Many audiences first discovered Iranian films in the 1990s, when films by such great directors as Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and Dariush Mehrjui began to appear with greater regularity at festivals, art houses, and venues such as the Wexner Center. (Most point to Mehrjui’s The Cow from 1969 as the first film of the Iranian New Wave.)  For us, the screenings became popular social occasions for members of our Iranian and Iranian American community as well as an opportunity for filmgoers to experience a multifaceted portrait of a country so often misrepresented by the mainstream media. 

Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami talking with Wexner Center curator at large Bill Horrigan in 1998

Kiarostami (far left) with former Ohio Wesleyan Professor Ali Akbar Mahdi and Wex Curator-at-Large Bill Horrigan (far right)

One of the most memorable moments in the center’s history was the 1998 visit by Kiarostami for a screening of his Palme d’Or winner Taste of Cherry. His visit led to visits by Mehrjui with his film The Pear Tree in 1998; multiple visits by filmmaker and historian Jamsheed Akrami, a 2005 visit by Babak Payami with The Silence Between Two Thoughts (2003) (the signed poster for his film Secret Ballot still hangs in our theater), among others. Other examples of our support of and/or presentation of work by Iranian artists include our 2000 exhibition Two Installations, featuring the work of Shirin Neshat and curated by Bill Horrigan. In August 2019, we presented Pouran Esrafily’s Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday (2011) in The Box. The piece was created through the support of a residency in our Film/Video Studio.

"The work of all of these Iranian artists and more provide us with the nuanced and multifaceted view of their country that any country would yield and deserves. And their work reminds us how art can introduce us to new places and new people and how it can create a greater depth of empathy and understanding with others around the world."
Artist Shirin Neshat at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Fall 2000

Shirin Neshat at the Wex in 2000 for the opening of Two Installations

These are just highlights, of course. Great films continue to be produced in Iran, and we continue to show them (we screened Wex favorite Jafar Panahi’s 3 Faces less than a year ago). For his political stances and actions, Panahi has been persecuted by the Iranian government for years. He was placed under house arrest in 2011, and sentence that has been lessened recently, but he is still not free to leave the country.

The work of all of these Iranian artists and more provide us with the nuanced and multifaceted view of their country that any country would yield and deserves. And their work reminds us how art can introduce us to new places and new people and how it can create a greater depth of empathy and understanding with others around the world.