Tumultuous marriages, father-son relationships and film censorship are just three of the themes explored in the 12 Iranian films featured at this year's UCLA Celebration of Iranian Cinema.
Beginning Thursday, the series will show the films at the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum in Westwood Village through May 14. Four of the screenings will be accompanied by Q&As with the movies' directors.
Iranian cinema is "one of the most exciting on Earth," said Paul Malcolm, programmer at UCLA's Film & Television Archive, which presents more than 200 professionally curated public screenings each year.
The Iranian series opens with "The Snow on the Pines," a 2013 film directed by Payman Maadi, the star of the Academy Award-winning foreign film
Shot in black and white, the 92-minute film follows an Iranian piano teacher who finds out that her husband has been hiding an affair. The well-received film took home audience favorite at the Los Angeles-based Noor Iranian Film Festival in October.
Maadi said it was important for him to tell the story through a female perspective.
"In Iran there are a lot of cases of cheating like this, but it is a big taboo to show it from the woman's side," he said.
Film festivals and series like the one at UCLA show audiences that "cinema is an international language," Maadi said.
"Iranian cinema is not for Iranian people just like American film is not just for American people," he said. "Film festivals connect people." They allow filmmakers to share stories with other nations, he said.
Ali Karim, director of "I Hate the Dawn," which will have its international premiere at the series on May 2, echoed those sentiments.
"It's a good opportunity to reflect my perception of the culture to an audience that is more inquisitive," he said in an email interview translated from Persian.
Karim's film follows an independent film crew that tries to complete a single shot before bad weather hits. However, stories within stories emerge as secrets are revealed in conversations between the director and his assistant.
Jamsheed Akrami, director of the documentary "A Cinema of Discontent," which will premiere during the UCLA festival on May 10, called the event an "important forum for filmmakers."
"I think it's a very healthy trend to provide this forum for Iranian filmmakers so they can show their movies not just to Iranian audiences but also to larger audiences," he said.
His documentary focuses on film censorship in Revolutionary Iran. He interviewed 12 Iranian filmmakers in the course of three years and then spent about a year and a half editing the footage.
"It's great any time you can have a cultural bridge. It's diplomacy through culture, which is healthier than diplomacy through actual politics, especially when it comes to Iran."
Akrami, who also will be at the screening, is vocal in praising his fellow directors, many of whom he argued are "bravely defiant" of the Iranian regime when making their movies.
Other films that will be shown during the series include: "Bending the Rules" on April 25;
Because the Iranian community in Los Angeles is one of the largest outside of Iran, Malcolm said the series draws big crowds.
"The Iranian community is an enthusiastic and passionate base that cares for art and culture," he said. "They have always been very supportive."
However, the films are not just catered to the Iranian community.
"While filmmakers in Iran face their own unique challenges, such as censorship, I think the filmmaking community continues to make exciting work that speaks to a wide array of universal themes and concerns," Malcolm said.
The UCLA Iranian cinema series, which began in 1990, has allowed people to have a "sustained look" at international cinema over time, Malcolm said.
"It gives you a chance to learn new voices and watch artists continue to develop their voices and their work," he said.
UCLA Celebration of Iranian Cinema
When: Thursday-May 14
Where: Billy Wilder Theater, Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles