N/N 2014: Chimeric Cinema, Iran, 1990-1998 – True/False Film Fest N/N 2014: Chimeric Cinema, Iran, 1990-1998 - True/False Film Fest

N/N 2014: Chimeric Cinema, Iran, 1990-1998

In which Godfrey Cheshire introduces us to the self-reflexive Iranian cinema of the 1990s.

Nonfiction cinema directors draw their inspiration from real world and, in the process, cede some control to fate. Fiction filmmakers, meanwhile, attempt to 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, that is, films that contain elements of both fiction and nonfiction. In our inaugural year, Eric Hynes focused on chimeric cinema made in New York City during the late 1960s, in the immediate aftermath of Direct Cinema’s heyday. This year, we decided to look outside of our country and focus on Iran, a country that turned heads throughout the 1990s with its many inventive and self-reflexive films. This year’s Neither/Nor guide is the estimable Godfrey Chesire, 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 monograph, available for free at the T/F and Ragtag Cinema box offices, 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 grateful to Godfrey for sharing his immense insights into these films, and we look forward to exploring more chimeric traditions next year.

N/N The Apple

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.). (CB) Screens for free as a part of the Neither/Nor Film Series. Neither/Nor is presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

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N/N Close-Up

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 becomes suspicious, they invite an ambitious journalist to come investigate. (CB) Screens for free as a part of the Neither/Nor Film Series. Neither/Nor is presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

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N/N The Mirror

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, a frustrated Mina does something surprising. Jafar Panahi, then a protégé of Close-Up director Abbas Kiarostami, directed this playfully reflexive 1997 film. (CB) Screens for free as a part of the Neither/Nor Film Series. Neither/Nor is presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

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N/N A Moment of Innocence

In 1974, when Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf was a 17-year-old anti-Shah militant, he stabbed a policeman at a rally. The police officer suffered serious injuries, and Makhmalbaf found himself in prison for six years. 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 working 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. (CB) Screens for free as a part of the Neither/Nor Film Series. Neither/Nor is presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

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To accompany each Neither/Nor film series, we publish a monograph with extended essays, writings, and interviews. The monographs are available for free at various venues in downtown Columbia and are published online, in their entirety. Follow the link on the cover photo to read the monograph.

Godfrey Chesire is a film critic, journalist, and filmmaker based in New York City. Beginning in 1993, his writings on Iranian cinema have appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, Variety, The Village Voice, Film Comment, Sight & Sound, Cineaste, Dissent, and other publications. Beginning in the late ‘90s, he made several extended trips to Iran to study the country and its cinema. In 2008, First Run Features released his feature Moving Midway, a documentary about his family’s North Carolina Plantation, which he wrote and directed; recently, The Museum of Modern Art acquired the film for its permanent collection. He is a former chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle and a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

NEITHER/NOR IS SUPPORTED BY A FILMWATCH GRANT FROM THE ACADEMY OF MOTION PICTURES ARTS AND SCIENCES.