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Iranian Filmmakers Make Hollywood Visit

By Azam K. Gorgin

Staff Writer

Washington - A group of Iranian filmmakers traveled to Hollywood on October 8 - the first such visit in 35 years.

According to Ellen Harrington, director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' international outreach program, the academy began work on the visit in cooperation with the Tehran-based Khaneh Cinema (House of Cinema) in the summer of 2008.

Both organizations agreed to carry out the program in the spirit of cultural exchange, a tradition that dates back in recent times to 1997, when Iranian President Mohammad Khatami initiated a cultural exchange program with the United States to permit scholars, poets, scientists and artists to travel between the two countries.

The 2009 exchange began in February when Khaneh Cinema welcomed an academy delegation to Iran. The American delegation included producers Sid Ganis, Tom Pollock, and William Horberg; actresses Annette Bening and Alfre Woodard; writer/directors Frank Pierson and Phil Alden Robinson; and documentarian James Longley. The Americans met with members of the Iranian film industry and participated in seminars and workshops.

For the October program, the academy and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Film & Television Archive co-hosted a weeklong screening of Iranian films. The academy chose UCLA as a partner because it has a history of hosting Iranian film festivals and, Harrington said, the university has "a well-established audience of people who are interested in Iranian films."

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Shannon Kelly, head of public programming at the UCLA Film & Television Archive, said UCLA has hosted individual directors, but this visit was its first from a group of directors.

The event, titled Up Close and Personal, also featured discussions with academy members and the visiting Iranian delegation, including directors Mohammad Mehdi Asgarpour, Ebrahim Hatamikia, Reza Mir-Karimi, Mojtaba Raie, Rakhshan Bani Etemad and Alireza Raisian; actor Amin Tarokh; and screenwriter Farhad Tohidi.

Harrington said turnout for Up Close and Personal was "very, very good. We had full houses for a couple of nights and very enthusiastic audiences for the rest of the nights. The films that come out of Iran are really excellent. Very compelling stories, good screenplays, very well photographed and well acted. Overall, it's a very dynamic group of work that we were able to share and they were received very well."

Although efforts to improve cultural exchange programs between the United States and Iran continue, there are persistent challenges. According to Harrington, Iranian authorities held back the passports of documentarian Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and actress Fatemeh Motamed-Arya, both of whom were slated to join the Iranian group. Motamed-Arya was one of the signatories of an open letter by artists and intellectuals that protested the 2009 Iranian presidential election results.

Despite the political climate in Iran, modern Iranian cinema has achieved recognition, fame and respect among critics and moviegoers and at international film festivals. Iranian filmmakers have won major awards in world-renowned film festivals such as those Cannes, France; Venice, Italy; Berlin; Moscow; and Toronto, among others. Iranian directors and actors also participate in many of these festivals as jurors who select award winners.

The academy plans to continue its collaboration with Iranian filmmakers. "This is an established program to reach international filmmakers since our first trip to Vietnam in 2007," Harrington said. "Iran has been of some interest to the academy for their ideas and outstanding people." And UCLA will host another Iranian film festival in February 2010 marking the 20th anniversary of Iranian film festivals at the university.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:


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