Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 20:43 pm (KSA) 17:43 pm (GMT)

Iranian street protests hit big screen in Venice

Iranian director Shirin Neshat arrives at the Venice film festival
Iranian director Shirin Neshat arrives at the Venice film festival

The Venice film festival is providing a timely forum for Iranian works amid crackdowns on opposition groups disputing the June elections in their country.

The short films are part of the Venice Days section, which this year paid homage to the "resistance" of Iranian cinema.

Green Days

 This is not a propagandistic film, made to support someone in particular. I also show a minority of people supporting Ahmadinejad to give them a chance to explain things, even if I don't believe them 
Iranian director Hana Makhmalbaf

Twenty one-year-old Iranian director Hana Makhmalbaf brings the bloody street protests that followed June's presidential vote to the big screen in a film looking at the hopes and frustrations of the country's youth.

"Green Days" focuses on the run-up to the election on the streets of Tehran and features interviews with ordinary young people, mostly supporters of opposition candidate Mirhossein Mousavi.

The film blends fictional elements with raw footage of the swelling protests by Mousavi's green-clad sympathizers after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared winner, and their brutal repression by security forces.

Some of the images were shot with mobile phones by the demonstrators, as the government imposed restrictions on independent and foreign media.

One shows the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman who became a symbol of the protests.

Makhmalbaf's father Mohsen, a respected director, is now Mousavi's spokesman abroad and she said she had to leave Iran after the vote because the government wanted to arrest her.

Iranian director Hana Makhmalbaf wears a green scarf as she poses at the Venice film festival

She finished editing the film at a secret location in Italy to avoid Iranian censorship.

"Ahmadinejad can force me out of Iran, he can force foreign media out of Iran, but he can't force out all the Nedas in Iran and those who think like Neda," Makhmalbaf told Reuters in an interview, speaking through an interpreter.

"Green Days" is openly critical of the Iranian president, whom Mousavi's supporters accuse of stealing the election, but it does not glorify opposition leaders past and present.

"This is not a propagandistic film, made to support someone in particular. I also show a minority of people supporting Ahmadinejad to give them a chance to explain things, even if I don't believe them," said Makhmalbaf, wearing a green scarf.

"I wanted to show the reality of what is happening in Iran ... the hopes people had in those days."

Lost hopes

 I wanted to show the reality of what is happening in Iran ... the hopes people had in those days 
Makhmalbaf

Through the main character Ava, a 20-year-old female playwright suffering from depression, the film also explores the disillusionment of a generation feeling that its voice is not being heard and its aspirations are being trampled.

When Ava asks Mousavi's supporters to give her one good reason to vote for him, most answer that he is "not perfect, but we have to choose between not perfect and bad."

Ava at one stage tries to confront former president Mohammad Khatami, who has thrown his weight behind Mousavi, at an election rally. "What have you done with my hopes?" she shouts.

Makhmalbaf, who made her first short film when she was just nine years old, is one of at least three Iranian directors at the Venice film festival this year, all denouncing what they see as the lack of freedom in their country.

Women Without Men

 This film speaks to the Iranian people and the world. We have been struggling for over 100 years, and we will not give up. ... We will get there one day 
Iranian director Shirin Neshat

Shirin Neshat made her directorial debut Wednesday with "Women Without Men," dissecting Iranian society at the time of the 1953 CIA-backed coup that overturned the nationalist government of Mohammed Mossadegh and installed the Shah in power.

Against that backdrop, four women -- a prostitute, an activist, a cosmopolitan woman and a traditional young girl -- fight for individual freedom and independence, winding up together at an idyllic orchard in the countryside.

"The four characters are who I am -- every one of them carries some personal dilemma, though it is not exactly autobiographical," the young photographer and visual artist told reporters.

Based on a novel by Shahrnush Parsipur, the film vying for the prestigious Golden Lion here is dedicated to "those who lost their lives fighting for freedom and democracy in Iran, from the constitutional revolution of 1906 to the Green Movement of 2009."

Neshat said: "This film speaks to the Iranian people and the world. We have been struggling for over 100 years, and we will not give up. ... We will get there one day."

Like Makhmalbaf, Neshat sees the struggle for democracy and for women's rights going hand-in-hand and says women are central to the protests today.

Other works

A guest wears a green armband as she arrives with Iranian director Shirin Neshat

"Tehroun", by Nader T. Homayoun, shows the dark side of the capital, filling it with prostitutes, beggars and baby traffickers.

Amirali Navaee has two short films in the festival, "As I Was Leaving My City" and "My Atomic Beloved."

In the first, the camera focuses on the legs of a dancing man, passing by those of a beggar, a sweeper, and someone who is being handcuffed by police.

"My Atomic Beloved" shows a young man rushing through the house of his ex-girlfriend 12 hours before an atomic bomb strikes Tehran.

The short films are part of the Venice Days section, which this year paid homage to the "resistance" of Iranian cinema.

The selection also includes "Muli," a black-and-white animation by Marjon Farsad, about a little girl who dreams of becoming a scientist but lives with the fear of "not being able to play again, one day."

Other Iranians featured in Venice are Hana Kamkar with "Shahrzad" and dissident Arash Irandoost with "Paper Airplane."

And for International Critics' Week, another Venice filmfest programme, Nader T. Homayoun offered his film noir "Tehroun" exploring the underbelly of the Iranian capital.

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