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  • 9 February 2012
  • Posted By Lily Samimi
  • 0 Comments
  • Culture, Let's Talk Iran

“Bridge to Iran” & Iranian Documentary Film

In this episode, we talk with Parisa Soultani, host of LinkTV’s “Bridge to Iran“, about their Iranian documentary series.

The series fills a knowledge gap by providing Americans with informed, insider’s views on modern Iranian society, through documentaries made by Iranian directors, living both inside Iran and within the Iranian diaspora.

The series kicks off on Tuesday, February 14 with a film by Takmil Homayoun entitled “Iran: A Cinematographic Revolution.”

Visit www.linktv.org/bridgetoiran for more information.

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  • 8 September 2011
  • Posted By Parisa Saranj
  • 1 Comments
  • Culture

Cultures of Resistance: Spotlight on Iranian Artists

Almost every day, news and media cover politics or policy related topics on Iran with a concrete agenda. Behind this coverage, however, there is another voice desperate to be heard. It’s the voice of Iranian artists representing ordinary Iranian citizens. Trying not to be overshadowed by the common misconceptions about Iran, it is not easy to earn a forum for displaying their arts.

Fortunately, many non-Iranian activists who have noticed this phenomenon are turning their interests toward some groundbreaking Iranian artists. One  such group is Cultures of Resistance (CoR) an activist network using documentary and film as an outreach tool to promote peace and global justice.

Two short films featured on the CoR website deserve special attention, for they examine more underground and lesser known artists.

Tehran Ratz: Graffiti For a New Iran” takes a look at the works of two young Tehrani graffiti artists who challenge not only the ideologies of the Iranian government, but also question the broader understanding of issues such as peace and justice. While their work is “Iranian” in terms of using exclusively Iranian topics or cultural beliefs and figures, the universality of their painting is evident. This is a notable characteristic of the short film – it uses vivid images of graffiti to show the artists’ awareness of the social issues affecting their lives.  In this case, images prove to be more powerful than words.

The film exposes the audience to complex topics that the artists cover, such as gender inequalities, injustice in the legal system, and even war and death. Thus, forcing the viewer to go back and watch it over and over, asking more and more questions and wondering how the youth of a distant culture could produce an art comprehensive for people of all backgrounds.

Tehran Ratz: Graffiti for a New Iran from Cultures of Resistance on Vimeo.

The second short film (and my personal favorite) is called “Iran Inside Out: Explorations at the Chelsea Art Museum.” It looks at five different exhibits displaying the art of Iranian artists residing both inside and outside of Iran.  Even though it might just seem like a twelve-minute report on an art exhibition, the short film delves into a much deeper message about how Iranian people want to be portrayed as “human beings’ interested in peace, art, solidarity, and globalization than “oppressed people” or even characterized as the “axis of evil.”

Iran Inside Out: Explorations at the Chelsea Art Museum from Cultures of Resistance on Vimeo.

Given the fact that the Iranian regime heavily controls art and frames every social concept within an Islamic ideology, the bold and controversial topics such as sexuality, ideas of femininity/masculinity, hijab, body image and even clash of generations covered by Iranian artists at times make it impossible to distinguish between the arts coming out of Iran and those produced in America and Europe.

One might argue that art should not be political. However, these short films prove otherwise.  The reason is that ordinary Iranian citizens are constantly being influenced and monitored by an oppressive regime, leaving no choice for artists but to overtly produce censored art and covertly produce art full of political notions, activism, and hope.

Finally, what these Iranian artists and Cultures of Resistance activists have in common is the relentless questioning of assumptions and challenging of the stereotypes whether it is in Iran against its government or on the international level against the preconceived ideas about a particular country or a global issue.  And for a time when a non-violent democratic movement is the only option for the Iranian youth, what better tool than art to carry the cries of a nation for democracy?

  • 1 September 2011
  • Posted By Lily Samimi
  • 5 Comments
  • Culture, Human Rights in Iran, Let's Talk Iran

Promoting Global Solidarity & Peace through Art

Iara Lee is filmmaker, activist, and Director of CulturesofResistance.org. In 2008, Iara lived in Iran and supported a number of cultural exchange projects between Iran and the West with the goal of using arts & culture for peaceful democratic change within Iran.

Iara was spoke with us about her time in Iran and her insight on how creative art is being used as an initiative for change within Iran.

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  • 8 July 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 3 Comments
  • Culture, Iranian American Life

Talented Iranian American Top Ranked in Film Competition

Ali Tabibnejad knew he was meant to be a film-maker since he was a child in Ahvaz. He would go into a room by himself and act out entire films. He imagined an entire film industry in his head: from different studios — different rooms in the house– to different theaters and directors. He would even imagine sales figures for the films and pick winners among them in imaginary film festivals.

Now, Tabibnejad is turning his favorite childhood game into reality. His film, “Untitled for James,” is currently ranked as one of the top six films in Openfilm’s Get It Made Competition. “Untitled for James” is about connecting to people and how technology affects that connection. It is the story of a son who has given up on his father because the father has been a technology-obsessed workaholic, working on advancing technology and its promise all his life. The son, an anti-technology musician, thinks he has figured it all out, but in actuality his life is in tatters. Through the events depicted in the film, his father succeeds in connecting with him.

The creation of the film was no small feat. Just days before production was to begin, Tabibnejad lost his lead actress. With challenging and frantic last minute rewriting, Tabibnejad did not stop rewriting until the very last edits in the post-production.

When asked about his interest in film-making, Tabibnejad stressed the social nature of art. “I hope to be a filmmaker in the tradition of Mohsen Makhmalbaf, not just because I have admired his films growing up, but also because he uses his status as an artist for social change,” he told NIAC. “I believe that the platform for expression that artists are afforded in society brings with it the responsibility to fight for the freedom of others.”

Asked whether he views himself as a role model for other Iranian-American involvement in the arts, Tabibnejad replied, “No, but I hope to be one. Iranians are a talented people, often intimidatingly so, and if my story inspires any Iranian to commit to the arts, I would count myself blessed.”

If Tabibnejad’s “Untitled for James” is still ranked as one of the top six films at the end of July, he will have the chance to turn it into a feature film. With this jumpstart to his career, Tabibnejad hopes to later revisit and explore his Iranian roots through cinema. “I don’t think any film has done justice to the richness of Iran’s recent history… and the breadth and depth of the personal stories that Iranians have been the heroes of in the last thirty to forty years.”

  • 23 June 2010
  • Posted By Shawn Amoei
  • 1 Comments
  • Culture

Iranian Adventurer on a Quest to Help Malagasy Children

Reza

A year ago, Reza Pakravan went on a three-week trip to Madagascar as part of a volunteer campaign with the charity group Afazady. What he experienced during his trip would change him forever.

“Living in a tent, eating rice and beans for every meal, using a bucket shower and working a demanding construction job with primitive tools would have been enough to put most people off from repeating the experience.” But for Pakravan, this experience was a calling to give back.

Realizing the difficulty of everyday life for people on the island, Pakravan decided to raise money to build two new schools in Madagascar. And so, along with friend Marco Gustapane, he launched “the Jellybabies on a bike campaign”—a 10-day 1,000 km cycling expedition across the Himalayas. The name originated when he offered children in Agnena village “Jellybabies” pastilles and was consequently referred to as “Jellybabies” by the entire village.

The schools that Pakravan visited in his time in Madagascar were typically overcrowded, and children were forced to walk at least 12 miles through crocodile-infested rivers to get there. Frequent floods often make these rivers impassable.

  • 17 June 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 49 Comments
  • Culture, discrimination, Iranian American Life

Will the Real Iranians Please Stand Up?

In the past three decades, American perceptions of Iran have shifted dramatically.  The very people who once had an empire, who drafted the first human rights declaration, and who were one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East are now among the most misunderstood and discriminated-against populations in the country.

First, Iran was labeled as a member of the ‘axis of evil’. Then, in the movie 300, Persians were depicted as pillaging, deranged savages wearing rags. Public officials and famous politicians oftentimes make off-hand and flippant comments about killing or hating Iranians.

All of this has led much of the public to equate all Iranians in their minds with terrorists and suicide bombers.  (I actually had a World History teacher tell one of the Iranian-American kids in my class to be quiet because “All Iran exports is terrorism.”)

With Prince of Persia, we were finally portrayed in a good light. Our ancient world was being shown in romantic and mythological ways based on revered Persian literature, The Book of Kings and A Thousand and One Nights. For once, my dad said he’d actually sit through a movie without falling asleep. We were all excited.

We should have known that it wouldn’t last long…

Enter: Jersey Shore — The Persian Version.

“Two thousand years ago the Persian Empire ruled the ancient world…but they didn’t have your soundtrack, your style, or your swagger,” reads the casting call for the new reality show, seeking “anyone who uses exotic appeal to get anything or anyone [they] desire.”

For anyone who has not seen Jersey Shore, the show currently consists of a cast of young Italian Americans, whose “reality”-show lifestyle is little more than drinking and partying. They live on the beach, but refuse to tan anywhere but a tanning salon, and take an hour to get ready, with a lot of hair gel and a lot of hair spray involved. The characters either hook up, or attempt to hook up, with a sort of mad desperation.

And now they’re going to do the same thing with Iranian Americans.

A short while ago, the Iranian band Zed Bazi came out with a song called “Iranian of LA,” making fun of the very people who are chosen to represent our community in this show.  Now everyone knows that Iranians are the real origin of the hair “poof” and can party as much as anyone else. But honestly, no one wants to be represented by the type of people and lifestyles shown on Jersey Shore.

The sad thing is there are hundreds of amazing Iranian Americans who deserve some recognition: artists, fashion designers, film directors, actors, doctors, website founders, and more.  But the quiet dignity with which these people live their lives isn’t considered “good TV.”

For a moment, we thought our reputations might be saved with a last-minute addition to your nightly TV line-up: Funny in Farsi. But sadly, that show was nixed after the first episode.

Silly Iranians, we were told by Hollywood, you have three options only: terrorists, savages, or party animals. Take your pick.

Underground Music Eludes Government Efforts to Silence It

Music has become political as Iranians turn to alternative outlets to express their frustration at the leaders of their government. Avid fans of blocked music have found ways to maneuver around government censors to download the “resistance music” the Islamic regime has so doggedly tried to silence.

Rap, folk, and classical music artists have all come together to give rise to a varied and dynamic underground music scene which has grown rapidly in the wake of the 2009 election in Iran. The lyrics of dissent have caught the attention of a wide public audience, speaking to the young and old alike.  As street demonstrations and open rebellion have been repressed, music has become a subtle but powerful form of protest according to Abbas Milani, the director of Iranian studies at Standford University.

The lyrics to one such song by traditional artist Mohammad Reza Shajarian titled “Language of Fire,” are pointed and powerful, making it an overnight hit:

Lay down your gun/ As I hate this very abnormal shedding of blod/The gun in your hand speaks the language of fire and iron/But I, before this fiendish tool/Have nothing but, the language of the heart/ The heart full to the brim with love for you/Who are in love with the enemy.

Unsurprisingly, the music has come under the ever-watchful government eye in Iran. Some artists like Persian classical musician Shahram Nazeri have paid a steep price for artistic freedom. Nazeri was held in custody and threatened after his release of an anti government song, “We Are Not Dirt or Dust.” His song was a response to President Ahmadinejad’s dismissal of protesters as “dirt and dust” in the aftermath of the demonstrations following the disputed presidential election last year.

Artists like rapper Shahin Najafi and folk artist Mohsen Namjoo have found themselves homeless.  Najafi now lives in Cologne, Germany and faces three years in prison and one hundred lashes should he choose to return to his native country. As Namjoo, who now lives in Palo Alto, California, told New York times reporter Nazila Fathi, “you have to constantly live with fear.”

However, there have been victories. When broadcasters tried to play Shajarian’s music as part of a government propaganda campaign, he proclaimed himself the voice of dirt and dust. He stood up to the state-controlled media and threatened to sue broadcasters if they continued. In the end, the voice of dirt and dust triumphed and broadcasters backed off.

  • 19 May 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 1 Comments
  • Culture, Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran

The Starvation of Iranian Art

World-renowned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, famous for his 2006 film Offside, has been engaged in a hunger strike in Tehran’s Evin Prison since Sunday.

Tahere Saeidi, the filmmaker’s wife, told the Rahesabz website that Panahi told her on the phone that he will continue his protest until he is allowed to see his family, meet with a lawyer, and be set free pending trial.

“I swear on the cinema in which I believe: I will not stop my [hunger] strike until my wishes are fulfilled,” he wrote. “My last wish is that my corpse be given back to my family so they are able to bury me where they like.”

Panahi has been detained since early March on charges of producing a film on the unrest inside the country after the June 2009 election.

The freedom to make films was the focus of the Cannes Film Festival yesterday, where Panahi was supposed to have been a juror on the panel but obviously could not attend because of his detention.

Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami made a plea for Panahi’s release at the Cannes Film Festival yesterday.

“I can’t understand how a film can be described as a crime when it is yet to be shown to anyone,” said Kiarostami, adding, “When a filmmaker is imprisoned, it is the art which is attacked. I believe we can’t remain different to the situation. One can’t give up hope.”

The Iranian culture has been long known for its art: its painters, writers, poets, musicians, and filmmakers. Iran has made a name for itself in the international community through its art. This can be seen in the very fact that many notable American film directors have called for Panahi’s release including Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Robert Redford, Martin Scorcese, Robert de Niro, and Michael Moore.

The Islamic Republic must release Panahi and show the world and remind Iranians in particular just how much art is revered in our culture.  We cannot have our artists continuously punished for their work. We cannot continue to scare Iranians from even trying to produce something truly magnificent.

Amanpour: Attacked for Being Iranian

As with anything in politics, there should be room for a lively debate about Christiane Amanpour’s recent appointment to host ABC’s This Week. Legitimate arguments can be made both for and against the decision to hire an acclaimed foreign correspondent to do a Sunday morning show that previously focused on domestic issues.  And employees at ABC are well within their right to be miffed at the network’s decision to pay top dollar for a star like Amanpour at the same time they are scaling back and laying off long-time employees.

But what cannot be countenanced is accusing her of bias based only on insinuations about her Iranian heritage.  The attacks on Amanpour follow in a long line of Iranophobic attempts to keep qualified Iranian Americans out of the public sphere in America, and it should be called out for what it is: anti-Iranian bigotry.

  • 22 March 2010
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 1 Comments
  • Culture

Open Letter to Congressmen Miller and Posey on their refusal to wish the Iranian people a Happy Norooz

Cross posted from the Huffington Post

Last week, Congress took the unprecedented step to recognize the Iranian New Year, Norooz. The House passed resolution H.Res.267, sponsored by Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) and wished the Iranian-American community, as well as the Iranian people, a happy New Year. The resolution was as uncontroversial as could be – just a sign of America’s humanity. Oddly enough though, two lawmakers from Florida, Congressmen Jeff Miller (R-FL) and Bill Posey (R-FL), chose to vote against it, effectively stating that they don’t wish 300 million Norooz celebrators worldwide a happy new year.

At the National Iranian American Council, we were very dismayed by this decision and decided to reach out to the Florida lawmakers in the hopes that they wouldn’t punish the Iranian people for the errors of the Iranian government. The text of the letter is below.