Iran’s Cinéma Vérité: Pulsing heart of ‘truth’ among the debris

TEHRAN, Dec. 21 (MNA) – Iran hosted the ninth International Documentary Film Festival ‘Cinéma Vérité’ from 13-19 Dec. 2015, screening the greatest film productions that revealed the best and the worst of our human life.

Iran’s International Documentary Film Festival ‘Cinéma Vérité’ is truly a special event, unlike any other film festivals hosted by the country. The atmosphere surrounding the whole event as it buzzes with excitement and happy energy puts you right in the middle of a very exhilarating experience. Now enjoying its ninth year, Iran’s Cinéma Vérité was underway until December 19 in Felestin and Sepideh cinemas, two old but otherwise in excellent shape movie theaters located in downtown Tehran, possibly chosen because of their ease of access to subway and other forms of public transport.

Cinéma vérité, literally meaning ‘truthful cinema’, regardless of how truthful it really is, if it actually mirrors or constructs reality, has gained wide-spread popularity among filmmakers across the globe. It has its own kind of audience, those who are looking for something beyond the chroma key, in search for a light that would be shed on their own limited perspectives.

The opening night was quite a sensation, although returning to Felestin Cinema on the following days did not seem to have taken away much of the original enthusiasm and thrill from the attending crowd. 124 documentaries by Iranian filmmakers and 113 titles from other countries were screened during the seven-day cinematic event. 27 of the foreign films from 25 countries including Germany, Poland, Hungary, Italy, Finland and Switzerland were chosen to participate in the main competition section. 

The themes were diverse, ranging from cultural ones such as the story of a mannequin, traditional ceremonies and carpets to socio-political ones focused on the lives of Syrian refugees, war, and terrorism. One of the Iranian documentaries that attracted a lot of attention was ‘A157’ directed by Behrouz Nouranipour, with a story of war and life in a refugee camp on the Turkish border with Iraq. “This documentary narrates nine months of dreadful and challenging lives of three girls aged 10, 13 and 15 years old at a camp on Iraq-Turkey borders,” said Nouranipour, noting that A157 referred to the number of the girls’ tent in the refugee camp.

The 'A157' director explained that the ISIL violence depicted in the film is merely just one aspect of the grim picture of war in the Middle East.

The 57-minute documentary ‘Alone among the Taliban’ directed by Mohsen Eslamzadeh was another successful documentary on the adverse impact of war and violence on the lives of people. The film directly depicts the story of an Iranian documentary maker’s adventures in the Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan.

“In recent years,” said Eslamzadeh, “Taliban-related news have surfaced on different media outlets. But what was always missing was a first-hand story from the group. That’s why I went on several trips to Afghanistan and eventually managed to spend 15 days among the Taliban to document the way they think and govern their state.”

Richard Pettigrew, Board President and Executive Director of The Archaeology Channel International Film and Video Festival, who was also participating at Cinema Verite festival was also quite taken with Eslamzadeh’s documentary.

“Watching this film is essential not only for me but the world in general,” he said, “Afghanistan is a country wrought with war and has always been the center of attention for counties such as the US which are involved in Afghanistan’s affairs.”

He called ‘Alone among the Taliban’ a courageous production, saying participation in various festivals such as Iran’s Cinéma Vérité would allow the world to get a glimpse into the cultures of other countries.

The highly-acclaimed German filmmaker Wim Wenders also participated in the festival with ‘The Salt of the Earth’ which he co-directed with Juliano Ribeiro Salgado. The documentary which runs like a 40-year diary of photographer Salgado, frames various aspects of the recent human history from international conflicts to the discovery of pristine territories and grandiose landscapes as part of a huge photographic project, which is a tribute to the planet's beauty.

But perhaps the most controversial screening was of ‘I Am Nasser Hejazi’, directed by Nima Tabatabaei and produced by Amir Rafiei that was screened on the eve of the late legendary goalkeeper’s birthday that coincided with Cinema Verite’s opening night. The documentary soon after its first night screening was banned due to a personal complaint filed by former Esteghlal of Tehran coach Amir Ghalenoei, who was upset about his black and white portrayal in the film. The documentary 'I Am Nasser Hejazi' looks upon the life of the former goalkeeper and head coach of Iranian football in five chapters, namely I Have a Dream, The Last Man Standing, Killing Sohrab, Esteghlal to Esteghlal and the Eagle’s Flight.

The ban was finally lifted a few days later once the film was edited and certain scenes were removed.

The festival this year had a special section titled ‘American Documentaries’ that had a look at the contemporary American society through the eyes of 7 different filmmakers. Notable among them were 'Killing Time' (2015, Lydie Wisshaupt-Claudel) and 'Of Men & War' (2014, Laurent Becue-Renard) which narrate the story of American soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering PTSD due to combat experiences.

The documentaries ‘The Seventh Fire’ (2015, Jack Riccobono) and ‘Cartel Land’ (2015, Matthew Heineman) dealt with inevitable addiction among American Indians, the indifference of the US government towards them and the huge drug cartels across the US-Mexico border.

The ninth edition of International Documentary Film Festival ‘Cinéma Vérité’ came to a graceful close on December 20, announcing its winners in different sections of short, mid-long, and long documentaries. In the international section, Francesco Dongiovanni’s ‘Giano’ with its fleeting visions from an unfinished film about time won the Special Jury Award, while Iranian ‘Bard’ directed by Hamid Jafari and the Argentinian production ‘The Chechen Family’ by Martin Sola won the top prizes in the 30-60 minute long section.

The powerful documentary ‘A157’ was indeed deserving of being awarded the Special Jury Award. Behrouz Nouranipour’s latest production which follows three Kurdish girls who fell pregnant after been raped by members of ISIL terrorist group, paints a bleak and devastating picture of a suppressed and suffering people whose trembling voices can hardly reach the world over the buzzing white noise of mundane and indifferent daily life in clean, wealthy veins of Western countries.

‘My Love, Don't Cross That River’ directed by South Korean filmmaker Jin Mo-Young took home the top prize and $5000 for its beautiful and touching portrait of a couple who had lived together for 76 years and now were facing the last moment of their marriage.

Iran’s Cinéma Vérité is much loved among the younger generation, the university students studying arts and cinema and other film enthusiasts as they crowd the lobby of Felestin Movie Theater to talk to the filmmakers and freely exchange ideas and watch films that they would not be able to see on normal occasions. The festival wrapped up its ninth edition on a Sunday afternoon and the people of this huge metropolis pulsing with life and energy, poured into the cold streets in the middle of downtown Tehran, contemplating the meaning of truth and reality in a world of ever-shifting concepts and constructs. 



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