15 Apr 2016

The way “WE” accept your films

Every so often I am approached by film programmers, festival curators and other individuals (all from the western political world) via Experimental Film Society mail. They wish to curate a show of alternative Iranian cinema or experimental film shorts by filmmakers in Iran or the Iranian diaspora. This has happened so much that I have decided to blog about it and perhaps raise some awareness, and I’m sure it won’t have much of an impact because the issues I have found in these proposals are often very deeply rooted into some systematic agenda. In response to a request such as this I usually compile a list of films from EFS or by friends of EFS and send it on. These works are heavily audio-visual and formally challenging, and in 95% of cases I either get no response or a very polite message stating that the films cannot be accommodated into the programme and best of luck!

When this happens regularly it really makes you rethink and re-evaluate the system. If the films had taken the form of the following scenarios I’m 99% sure they would have been accepted and subsequently screened:

1_A crowd of protestors running down streets shouting against the government and getting hammered by the police. Usually this takes the form of an essay film, compiled with footage shot by various mobile phones and other consumer-end cameras.

2_Exploitation of the suffering felt by a certain political/human rights activist group, visiting their homes in a guerrilla filmmaking style. The structure is more like a vox-pop of talking heads, cutting back and forth from daily life in Iran with some reasonably avant-garde music in place so that they can declare it as an alternative film.

3_Showing the daily life of a group of villagers, nomadic people and or other such people living in a remote part of the country. The participants are deeply frightened and yet thrilled by the presence of the camera and crew who are targeting them.

4_Revealing some factual evidence about some disadvantaged people in tough situations with a cinema-verite style, ripping off and abusing the heritage of Chantal Akerman, Chris Marker, Jean Rouch, Albert and David Maysles etc.

5_Imagining Iran as a country in which people are travelling with horses and camels; depicting a people in the most primitive situations possible like animals in a zoo.

6_Typical images that defined the political (not existential) existence of the Middle East. Utilising a back catalogue of references to images that are already available in mainstream media. Possible dramas will revolve around shrines, mosques, religious iconography, women wearing the hijab, prisons and popular mass movements.

I find it hilarious that most of these films (and of course there can be exceptions) are completely designed for western viewers and contain no benefit, cultural or otherwise, for any kind of exchange with Iran. It is simply a crude and kitsch product that these institutions feed off like vampires and in a way perhaps through viewing people like animals they feel better about themselves. This is a sort of fascism that crawls and manifests itself in a completely legal fashion, and it is one that is validated by audiences, festival juries and curators.

Still nobody says anything and another day passes and this cancer grows. If you try to create something that is beyond this form of image you will appear as an ALIEN, and a potentially dangerous one! Here are two quotes by Walter Benjamin, and though they are perhaps unrelated, I feel they shine some light on this situation:

“Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves.”

“In big parades and monster rallies, in sports events, and in war, all of which nowadays are captured by camera and sound recording, the masses are brought face to face with themselves. This process, whose significance need not be stressed; is intimately connected with the development of the techniques of reproduction and photography. Mass movements are usually discerned more clearly by a camera than by the naked eye.”

-Rouzbeh Rashidi

Thanks to Dean Kavanagh