Nonfiction cinema directors draw their inspiration from the real world and, in the process, cede some control to fate. Fiction filmmakers, meanwhile, exert complete control over their work. This simplistic dichotomy drives the film world’s taxonomists — be they film festival programmers or video store employees — to slot movies into “Narrative” and “Documentary” categories. In this process, we marginalize vital, innovative cinema that locates a healthy tension between these two authorial desires.
Now entering its second year, Neither/Nor is the True/False Film Fest’s annual inquiry into the history of “chimeric” cinema, i.e. films that contain elements of both fiction and nonfiction.
In our inaugural year, film writer Eric Hynes focused on chimeric cinema made in New York City during the late 1960s, in the immediate aftermath of Direct Cinema. This year, we decided to look outside of our own country and focus on Iran, a country that turned heads throughout the 1990s with its many inventive, self-reflexive films.
This year’s Neither/Nor guide is the estimable Godfrey Cheshire, who, since writing the 1993 Film Comment piece “Where Iranian Cinema Is,” has emerged as one of the world’s leading authorities on Iranian cinema. Godfrey has spent much time in Iran and has interviewed many of its most famous directors — including Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf — on numerous occasions.
In his invaluable essay, available at Ragtag in a free limited edition monograph, Godfrey traces the story of Iranian chimeric cinema, starting with its earliest films and leading all the way up to its 1990s blossoming. It’s an engrossing narrative revolving around mentorship and rivalry, ingenuity and tradition.
We’re incredibly grateful to Godfrey for sharing his immense insights into these films, and we look forward to continuing to explore more chimeric traditions next year.
Neither/Nor is presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. All screenings in the Neither/Nor series are free and will take place in Ragtag Cinema’s big theater. Tickets to tonight’s screening of Close-up are available at the Ragtag Box Office. Screenings during the Fest will be accessible via the Q.
Here’s a short introduction to each of this year’s selections.
Close-Up (dir. Abbas Kiarostami, 1990, 98 min.) In this 1990 landmark, director Abbas Kiarostami takes a bizarre case of identity theft and convinces its real-life subjects to participate in a creative reenactment. Hossain Sabzian is a young, underemployed lover of cinema. One day while riding a bus, he meets a woman and convinces her that he is film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. When she is confused why such a famous man would be riding public transit, Sabzian explains that it’s important to draw inspiration from the real world. Under this pretense, he worms his way into her family’s home and bank account. When the family starts to become suspicious, they invite an ambitious journalist to come investigate. Plays tonight at 6:30 pm and Saturday at 8:30 pm
A Moment of Innocence (dir. Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 1996, 78 min.) In 1974, when Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf was a 17-year-old anti-Shah militant, he stabbed a policeman at a rally. Makhmalbaf found himself in prison for six years, while the police officer suffered serious injuries. Many years later, after Makhmalbaf had found fame as a director, he ran into the same police officer during a film shoot, and they agreed to collaborate on a film. In the brilliantly structured A Moment of Innocence, we witness the two men as they work together to recreate this incident. As they go about this process, we discover that the men have very different memories of what transpired on that pivotal day. Plays Thursday at 5:30
The Mirror (dir. Jafar Panahi, 1997, 93 min.) In the center of Tehran, as the day comes to a close, a young first-grader named Mina (played by Mina Mohammad-Khani) walks out of her school and discovers that her mother is nowhere to be found. Impatient, and with one arm in a sling, she decides to find her own way home. Mina boards a bus and listens in on the various conversations unfolding around her. That bus, it turns out, is heading the wrong direction. Eventually, all of a sudden, a frustrated Mina does something surprising. Jafar Panahi, then a protégé of Close-Up director Abbas Kiarostami, directed this playfully reflexive 1997 film. Plays Friday at 12:30 pm
The Apple (dir. Samira Makhmalbaf, 1999, 86 min.) Directed by a then 17-year-old Samira Makhmalbaf (daughter of Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who co-wrote the screenplay), this 1998 film recreates a scandalous news story using the real life participants. In an Iranian neighborhood, a strict, unemployed father and his blind wife keep their 11-year-old twin daughters, Massoumeh and Zahra, locked in their house. After neighbors complain to the welfare ministry, a social worker comes to release them. Makhmalbaf’s quasi-documentary follows Massoumeh and Zahra as they receive their first taste of freedom and observes their father as he sits behind bars, reflecting on his actions. Makhmalbaf’s auspicious debut is a profoundly unsettling exploration of patriarchy. Screens with “The House Is Black” (Forough Farrokhzad, 1963, 22 min.). Plays Saturday at 10:30 am
– Chris Boeckmann