The short film appeal; a roundup of 35th Tehran Intl. Short Film Festival

TEHRAN, Nov. 12 (MNA) – A successful short film in Iran, which can appeal to the not-so-easily impressed taste of Iranian audience, seems to be built around a ‘punchline’, which serves as a figurative punch to the gut. If there's no punchline, then technique needs to come to the rescue; otherwise, the audience is left wondering about the whole point of the film.

“The most important cinematic event in Iran, and without exaggeration, the most significant international film festival in the Middle East,” these are the words used by Director of 35th Tehran International Short Film Festival, Sadegh Mousavi, to describe the Iranian short film event currently underway at Mellat Cineplex in an upscale Tehran neighborhood.

With 34 successful editions already in the bag, the festival is noteworthy enough in terms of experience and volume of screened films and total number of audience and participating filmmakers from all around the world. But is the appeal of ‘short film’ able to overshadow the popularity of long features where famous, money-making film stars engage in lengthy dialogues and dramatic actions, and their stories become so important, so gripping, that the audience would sacrifice nearly two hours of their time and a big chunk of their savings just to see how it all ends? After all, there is simply not enough time in a short film to develop a full story, and the director and cast are not usually famous enough to act as in impetus to grab the audience’s attention.

Despite this, the short film industry is booming because making short films is cheap. It can also serve as an easy way to gain experience as a filmmaker and see whether you are cut out for bigger projects. On the other hand, the audience may have started to grow an appetite for short films, if the high number of people tuning in to watch 30-minute something TV shows is any indication. The growing trend of short film enthusiasts is especially evident in Iran, perhaps thanks to the many international appearances (a formidable figure of 2,000 international events) and won awards (370 awards, according to the festival director), that put short films in the spotlight. A case in point is ‘Retouch’, directed by Kaveh Mazaheri, in which a startling look into the seemingly ordinary life of a young couple shocks the audience into bouts of disbelieving laughter and awed expression. The 20-minute film already has a Wikipedia page, and has made it into nearly 200 film festivals across the world, raking in awards as best short film and best screenplay.

The powerful presence of Iranian shorts in the international cinematic scene makes it all the more urgent to give special attention to the short film industry in Iran. As of now, the short films have just recently found a way into the Iranian movie theaters (mainly Tehran, and a number of major cities), presented in a package of five or six, during a particular season. On the other hand, Tehran Short Film Festival has still retained its free-of-charge policy, which makes for a good incentive for bringing in a huge number of audience and introducing them to the charm and power of short films, but it also makes no money to further support the short film industry.

Mousavi, who is also the managing director of Iranian Youth Cinema Society (IYCS) – the organizer of TISFF, goes so far as to describe short film as the “backbone of Iranian cinema”, adding that Iran’s cultural and artistic cinema is guided by short films.

He also said that the festival offers the “best perspective on Iranian short films situation to the world.”

For the most part, it seems to me, that Iranian shorts lend themselves to dark themes of tragedy and intense conflict that don’t necessarily resolve with a happy ending. A successful short film in Iran, which can appeal to the not-so-easily impressed taste of Iranian audience, seems to be built around a ‘punchline’, which – true to its name – serves as a figurative punch to the gut, leaving the audience gasping for breath at the moment of truth. If there is no punchline, the audience may be left wondering about the whole point of a short film.

For this reason, perhaps, the lines outside the movie theaters that screened Iranian shorts were longer than the lines for foreign films. I watched some 20 foreign short films in the TISFF’s international section, and I wondered on more than 10 occasions about the point of the story: a daughter goes missing and the mother walks the streets at night in search of her. She finds out a girl’s body has been retrieved from the river, and the film fades out with the mother sitting on a hard plastic chair in a morgue, waiting to identify the body. Although the plot incorporates the elements of tragedy which are all-too-familiar with the Iranian film industry, it fails to deliver that punchline that was supposed to make a point. The film leaves you strangely dissatisfied as the credits roll.

If the story lacks a punchline, technique needs to come to the rescue. A number of short films at the international section had made good use of special and eye-catching techniques, which made you forgive the film for its unoriginal story.

Four days since the 35th TISFF kicked off in the capital, and the enthusiasm and love for watching more and more short films have not died down. According to the festival director, approximately 5,100 films had been submitted this year, mostly from France and the US. He said the festival’s panel in charge of selecting the lineup was especially interested in films that moved beyond what’s perceived as “ordinary”, and as such, only 64 films made it into the international section.

With a lineup of over 100 films, 40 foreing guests, 20 specific sessions on cinema, and an international short film market launched for the very first time, the 35th Tehran International Short Film was a successful attempt at bringing back the focus of the filmmaking industry on a genre that is, regrettably, overshadowed by big silver screen productions, and allowing the audience to witness the artists’ play with various cinematic styles and creative experiments in a stimulating environment.

The festival’s main competition grants a total of $13,000 to films in Best Fiction, Best Documentary, Best Animation, Best Experimental, and Video Art categories, and the Grand Prix for the best film of the main competition receives $5,000 in cash prize.  

Presided over by Sadegh Mousavi, the 35th Tehran International Short Film Festival is underway in the Iranian capital from 9-13 November 2018.

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