Les États généraux du film documentaire 2005 Doc highway: Iran

Doc highway: Iran

The outcome of the recent Iranian elections provides a fairly special tone to this new Doc Highway – the perception we have of films is inevitably modified by the shock of the return in strenght of the ultra-conservatives. The future will quickly say whether the great breeding ground of talents and inspirations which feed the current documentary production will resist that new deal. That cinema is a survivor.
It is a long story. The historical and political ups and downs of the last thirty years are a major element of the intensity of the questioning which haunts the approach of the independant filmmakers.
Those ones come within the framework of an old tradition (end of the sixties) and the quasi-impossibility to distribute the films to national theatres. Of course, you can shoot – as long as you have enough money and you are brave enough. But it is out of the question to dream of a national distribution. Hence the major influence of the western mermaids’songs which entail a formating imposed by the demands of both festivals – bonus if they include a small piece of ethnographic music, and the demands of television channels – bonus if they include a subject which is politically correct in the West, like burka, dissidents, the fate of women and so on…

We should also say that, in Iran, it remains very difficult to have access to foreign films. For want of confrontation with the approach of their peers, filmmakers run the risk of closure. What is at stake is less a matter of film-making than the necessity to stand in precise genres which are clearly defined but sometimes very prescriptive. Each film requires its own writing, indeed,
but they will choose a pre-established writing corresponding to the genre and the subject tackled.

The Iranian cinema is still mainly famous for its fictional side which is emblematically highlighted as a learned dialectic between documentary and fiction. Obviously, this tradition stems from La Nuit où il a plu by Kamran Shirdel and La Maison est noire by Forough Farroukhzad, screened at Lussas last year.
Particularly in the previous film, we have the invention of what is soon going to be considered as the typical feature of the production of the Iranian Young Cinema Society (IYCS, a State
production and distribution of documentaries) – a consummate artistry of film direction, a claimed poetic tone and a compassionate focus on those struck by misfortune (children and elderly people only, as required by the dikt-ats). All that takes place in the country, always in the country-usually, state-funded films are mainly centred on the past and in provincial
settings which are abandoned to ancestral rites and to an archaic way of life. That strict constraint does not prevent inspiration, it is just the opposite. (What Does He See?, Milkan, Yamout, a Home, a Tribe). Other films stray from the beaten track playing with Shirdel’s “all directed” tradition: that playing with the frontiers of genres (Candidate, The Widower, Alone in Teheran) is brought to the limit in The Wave on The Shore  where fishermen of a small village act their own story in a totally fictional language – actors direction, cuts, parallel editing, narrative devices and so on..

But what about the representation of the Real and of the Iranian society in that cinema, considering that 66 % of the population live in towns and 60 % is under twenty-five? From the independent filmmakers, a priviledged observation site remains Teheran, which is a huge capital whose uncontrollable and even anarchic development brings out some of the most striking characteristics of the Iranian society. On the front line: accomodation which is a symbolic place where public and private life are inextricably entangled (It’s a Sony, Un court rapport, Our Times). Filmmakers film characters in real conditions of survival, hence the weaving of a relationship based on a new approach which is printed on the final work. In the middle of Our Times, the narrative takes off again with the meeting of a young woman that we will never leave. That meeting will make Rakhshan Bani-E’tamad (Sous la peau de la ville) revise the framework she had first written.
It should be added that the filmmaker uses the first-person narrative to express her point of view. As soon as filmmakers allow themselves
to have a personal enunciation, it entails a confrontation with the Real whose dynamic is much more important than the outcome. What matters is young Mona Zahed’s experience (Something Like Me), more than the information collected and the initial aim – interviewing Talibans in just-invaded Afghanistan. The ident-ity of this “first person” may be changing: the director of Paint! No Matter What invents a device allowing the painter / main character to claim the status of narrator. It entails a blurring of the frontiers and of the status of author. The contamination of the filmmaker by his Real or by his character is an important landmark of an as deep as new documentary dimension. The Diary could be its symbol: a window opening out onto the world, indeed – a fixed shot of the town from the window of his flat – but with a resetting of various elements which alter the initial setting to extract something like the spirit of the times.
The reconquest of a personal voice by film-makers is also the condition of a new opportunity for the other’s words. The staging of this voice is one of the major stakes of some films. The confiscated words of young secondary school female students caught through both a physical and liberating logorrhoea (Rêve de soie), words as symptoms of a traumatic war collected in the course of a slow approach (Mères de martyrs), constrained words of a bakthiari father that the film will see to put into circulation (Hide Your Words, an eloquent title).

Within this review, we have chosen to grant a special position to the work of Ebrahim Mokhtari who has lived through genres and times of the Iranian cinema like nobody else. Ethnography (Saffron), direct cinema (Tenancy, paving the way to Our Times twenty years before), an unnatural yet mischievous direction of
colourful female characters (Molla Khadijeh et ses enfants, Mokarrameh), all that tells a certain history of forms which will unroll within the context of always tense relationships with the political world out of shot. Above all, Mokhtari tried a unique experiment twice filming the life of Zinat, a liberated young woman after an interval of seven years first as a complete fiction (Zinat) then as a documentary (Zinat, a Special Day, probably his most beautiful film). Contrary to the tradition, the filmmaker does not entangle fiction and documentary which are separated without any formal continuity: a token of a personal cinema moral that he keeps on advocating in other fights with the filmmakers association he has cofounded – Defence of royalties in Iran, acknowledgement of the status of document-aries in the same way as fictions, end of the seizure of the production by the State. Obstinately, despite all the traps , Mokhtari has never left his country, defending aesthetic views – that is to say political views – renegociating again and again, hence their constantly living feature. He has always been capable to sound out this so threatened but so cherished country.

Coordination : Coordination: Gaël Lépingle

Guests : Remerciements à l’IYCS (M. Eghdami, Mme Naderi) et au MAE (M. Houdayer, Mme Mouroux)