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Iranian films reflect the homeland’s anguish

If there is a common thread among films in the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s 14th annual celebration of Iranian Cinema, it’s probably anguish.

“A lot of them are grim films,” programmer David Pendleton concedes, “but they [explore] urban contemporary concerns that I think a lot of people can identify with. We appreciate the fact that we have developed a crossover audience in Iranian cinema in Los Angeles, but I think this year it has the potential to widen that crossover because the films are very accessible.”

In the past, Pendleton says, “what put Iranian cinema on the map in the 1990s was the way it addressed concerns about living in an Islamic state and the way it examined, very carefully and thoughtfully, the role of women in Iran. There were also a certain number of films that were very lyrical films often set in pastoral areas. In this year’s films, most of them take place in the city and are about very contemporary people with contemporary problems.”

The festival kicks off Friday at the James Bridges Theater with Jafar Panahi’s “Crimson Gold,” based on a true incident about an exasperated war veteran working as a pizza driver who turns to violence. “Crimson Gold” will open at the Music Hall on Jan. 31.

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Other notable films in the festival include “Deep Breath” (Jan. 23), a comedy-drama about two slackers driving aimlessly around Tehran, occasionally becoming involved in petty crimes; “Tehran, 7:00 A.M.” (Jan. 25), which comes out of Iran’s new independent film movement and deals with a disparate group of individuals who meet and tell their stories; and “Black Tape -- A Tehran Diary” (Jan. 31), a harrowing look at a troubled marriage.

“We don’t necessarily group the films in order to make them seem homogeneous,” Pendleton says. “We are only seeing the tip” of Iranian cinema. “There is a whole sort of commercial popular Iranian cinema that doesn’t make the festival circuit. So the films we see tend to be the ones that make their way through to festivals and have crossover appeal.”

When UCLA first began the festival, the films were supplied by the government-funded cinema agency. “But now that Iranian cinema has an international presence you find more and more filmmakers working with producers outside Iran,” Pendleton says. “A lot of the famous names can get mostly European and Asian money to make their films, so the films are now coming from a variety of sources.”

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Iranian Cinema

Where: James Bridges Theater, Melnitz Hall, UCLA

Ends: Feb. 8

Price: $5-$7

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Contact: (310) 206-FILM or www.cinema.ucla.edu

Schedule

Friday at 7:30 p.m.: “Crimson Gold”

Saturday at 7:30 p.m.: “Letters in the Wind”

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Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m.: “Deep Breath”

Jan. 25 at 7 p.m.: “Tehran, 7:00 A.M.”

Jan. 31 at 7:30 p.m.: “Black Tape -- A Tehran Diary”

Feb. 6 at 7:30 p.m.: “Dancing in the Dust”

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Feb. 8 at 7 p.m.: “Abjad”

-- Susan King


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