IRANIAN FILMS HAVE GARNERED RENEWED CRITICAL acclaim at international festivals this year and an innovative film festival in London will premier the best of a diverse new crop of contemporary Iranian talent to British audiences, writes Alexa Dalby.
On 5 August, as more conventional filmgoers in London head home after an evening out, people carrying their blankets and pillows will descend on a cinema in the West End, its entertainment centre-not for a mass sleep-in, but to watch an all-night screening of Iranian movies. The show will start with traditional Iranian music and then--fortified by nonstop coffee throughout the night--the audience will settle down for a varied programme of shorts, documentaries and feature films. This is just one of the events in My Persian Nights, a season of twice-monthly screenings of Iranian films in London, which starts in July and runs through the summer months, building up to the 2nd London Iranian Film Festival in November.
This innovative--and, it's hoped, also fun--way of engaging with Iranian cinema is the brainchild of Pejman Danaei, the director of both of these film festivals. "It will bring us closer to our audience," he told me, "like a weird bonding experience. It gives them an alternative to the traditional screening experience--to see films in a different setting and enjoy them in comfort."
Pejman grew up in Tehran and came to the UK in 2000 to study film, gaining a BA in directing and an MA in feature film. He has worked with various organisations in Britain such as the Arts Council, has over 50 documentaries and short films to his credit and is now developing feature films. He conceived the idea for the festival, and it bore fruit in last year's debut. He travels to Iran regularly: there's a Tehran office for submissions to the festival. "I wanted a platform for Iranian filmmakers to showcase their talent and culture to world audiences," he says.
To offer the UK's most diverse Iranian film programme was his objective in founding the London Iranian Film Festival, and to attract as many people as possible to view it. Last year, over two and a half thousand people attended film screenings and networking events at six venues around London. A total of 46 films were screened, in categories ranging from short films, documentaries to feature films selected from 471 submissions. The media enthused: "The festival certainly lived up to its promise to showcase valuable, moving...