The new movie from the director of A Separation spearheads a festival making its Melbourne debut this September
Most film buffs could easily name at least three Iranian film directors. There’s the recently deceased experimentalist Abbas Kiarostami, whose movies like Taste of Cherry and Certified Copy daringly break the fourth wall; Jafar Panahi (Tehran Taxi, This Is Not a Film), the filmmaker who has become if anything more prolific since being banned by the government from filmmaking for 20 years; and current superstar Asghar Farhadi, whose A Separation won dozen of awards, including the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
The Iranian film industry is itself a healthy one, with hundreds of films released in the country’s cinemas every year. So it’s not before time that the Sydney-based Persian International Film Festival at last makes it to Melbourne, in its fifth year of existence.
PIFF owes its beginnings to Farhadi, according to the festival’s director, Dr Amin Palangi. “In 2011 A Separation had its worldwide release and inspired this idea that we don’t actually have a festival in Australia that represents our community and shares this strong cinematic culture with the rest of the country.
"We had worked on the Sydney Film Festival and the Arab Film Festival and we used those experiences to establish the Persian Film Festival.”
This year, Palangi and his partner, Sanaz Fotouhi, succeeded in acquiring Farhadi’s latest film, The Salesman, for its Sydney premiere, which emboldened them to extend their festival to Adelaide, Canberra and Melbourne. “It took a long time and lots of massaging,” Palangi says of the filmic coup. “I ended up having to speak to Mr Farhadi himself. We’re very proud.”
The Salesman, which won two awards at Cannes, is the slow-burn story of a teacher who seeks revenge on the person who attacked his wife in their apartment. A powerful morality piece, it’s the opening night gala for the festival, which will feature ten movies from Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Australia and the US.
Highlights include Nahid from director Ida Penahandeh, which deals with the Shia phenomenon of sighe (temporary marriage), and a retrospective of three films by Majid Barzegar, who will be in attendance as a festival guest.
Palangi, who lectures at the University of Western Sydney and received acclaim for his own documentary Love Marriage in Kabul, says that previous PIFFs have successfully reached non-Persian speaking audiences in Sydney. “We sold out every session last year,” he says. “We surveyed the audience and about 48 per cent were from the non-Persian speaking background.
“Filmmakers in Iran, I strongly believe, are the pulse of the nation. They make films that capture the essence or the problems of people in the society.”
He adds that the limitations imposed by religion and government upon filmmakers often have the effect of inspiring creativity. “They’ve been working in that system for so long that they are trying to find ways to express their ideas in a way that bypasses those restrictions. It’s an automatic thing. It makes the films quite poetic.”