27th Fajr International Film Festival (Jan. 31- Feb. 10, 2009)
A Good Year
by Mehrzad Danesh

This year’s edition of Fajr International Film Festival was more diversified than before both in terms of sections and prizes because it coincided with the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Therefore, it also reflected 30 years of post-revolution cinema. On the other hand, this is the last year of President Ahmadinejad’s term and the 27th edition of the festival was also a good opportunity to review cinema record of his four-year government. Like last years, the festival was held in two parts: the first five days was special to screening international films and the next six days to domestic films. This division has been in effect for two reasons. Firstly, moviegoers will have more time to spend on foreign films and, secondly, since Berlin Film Festival is concurrent with Fajr Festival, it would be possible for some Iranian films to be present in both festivals. However, this policy has not been generally welcomed by the audience because most analysts maintain that it leads to heavy traffic of Iranian films in the last six days, thus, making planning quite difficult.
Like previous editions, there were controversies about some films which had not been accepted to the festival. The Fireman (Mohsen Amir-Yousefi) and Book of Law (Maziyar Miri) were mostly rejected for political reasons. The most controversial film, however, was Asghar Farhadi’s About Elli. The main problem was not with its theme or political issues, but it pertained to one of its actresses: Golshifteh Farahani. The 24-year-old actress, who has had brilliant appearances in such films as Pear Tree, M for Mother, The Dulcimer Player, Boutique and so on and is among famous young Iranian actresses, played a supporting role in Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies and this upset some politicians because they believed that appearance of a young Iranian girl in an American film could have negative political consequences. The opposition became hotter when Farahani appeared in opening ceremony of Scott’s film without her Islamic dress and her photos were published by different media. Although according to the Iranian law, Islamic hijab is only obligatory inside Iran’s borders, some people and circles bitterly criticized Farahani. Even minister of culture and Islamic guidance indirectly denounced her. It was then that Asghar Farhadi presented his About Elli, which he had made before controversies about Body of Lies, to the festival. The board in charge of screening films, however, turned down his film as a result of those controversies. This elicited reactions from Iranian journalists and film circles because both Farhadi and Farahani are among popular Iranian film figures. In the meantime, Javad Shameqdari, president’s advisor in arts who had frequently slammed management of Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance especially the Cinema Department, wrote a letter to President Ahmadinejad asking him to lift the ban on About Elli. Ahmadinejad ordered minister of culture, Saffar Harandi, to lift the ban, but doubts about screening continued until the beginning of the festival. Finally, it was screened with the least possible prior notice and this was an end to one of the most challenging parts of this year’s festival. There are still doubts about public screening of the film and some circles still denounce Farahani and the film.


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