One of the best ways to find out about another country’s culture is to watch the films that are the product of that country. We know that there is great lack of representation in mainstream Western media, and what exists presents only stereotypical storylines of ethnic minorities. These stereotypes create the idea that certain countries are lacking in creativity, which is just untrue.
As an Iranian there is very little or no representation of my culture in British media, which causes a lot of misunderstanding for people when it comes to my culture. This is something that most people of colour encounter, for example people mistake my culture for Indian or Arabic, because those cultures have had more of a chance of being represented in the western media, which is great, however to mistake a culture for another is pure ignorance and harmful to the people of that culture who may be living in the west as an ethnic minority. This particularly doesnt bother me much, however recommending films to people so they learn about my culture seems like a good way forward.
The House Is Black
This short film/documentary was made in 1962 by the 20th Century Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad. A film full of very powerful imagery of the lives of people suffering from leprosy disease and were sent to live in a leper colony hospice. This film has been described as a poetic essay film and has been attracting more and more attention in recent years.
The White Balloon
This film is an old classic. It follows a story of a little girl who wants to buy a fish for Nuroz (Iranian new year’s) celebration. Like many of other Jafar Panahi’s films, it looks at class and economical issues that people face. It is very much a film about real people, and will give an audience some understanding of our traditional values.
This film was made by the renowned director Abbas Kiarostami is another docu-fiction style film following the lives of 10 Iranian passengers in a Taxi. The characters are mostly women, which provides a diverse range of stories and provides various dimensions to the lives of Iranian women.
Another Jafar Panahi classic, a film about the ban of female audiences in football stadiums in Iran. In Iran women are not allowed to go to football stadiums, even after many protests lead by women. This film explores this topic amongst looking at sexism ingrained in society. Panahi served an eight long sentence in prison because of his political activities and the nature of his film making.
10 + 4
This film is a follow up to the film 10 by Kiarostami, who encouraged Mania Akbari to direct and star in this documentary. The story follows Mania Akbari’s journey throughout Iran whilst she suffers from breast cancer and the stigmas around the disease as it affects women whose bodies are rarely talked about. Akbari’s aim was to break down these stigmas and open up a conversation about body politics for women in Iran.
No One Knows About Persian Cats
This film is a combination of documentary and fiction, it looks at the struggle of a band to stay in the country, because there are many laws that complicate freedom of speech for creatives, especially musicians. It documents a vast variety of music that is made in Iran’s underground scene.
This film was the first Oscar win for an Iranian film. Asghar Farhadi’s film The Separation, like many of his other films is a raw reality of the struggle many Iranians face with immigration, many flee from home with hopes of creating a better future for their children. This movie also explores very raw family drama as well as commentary on the state’s law and policies. If you like this film you should also watch The Salesman, another Oscar winner by Farhadi.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
The first and probably the only Iranian Vampire thriller ever made. Through a feminist lense, this film looks at class issues, misogyny and female power amongst many other topics. The lead actress and the hero of the film is a woman in a chador which is very interesting considering that it was made in the UK amongst a very islamophobic view of women in Hijab. The main character Shirin is a symbol of female empowerment for both Iranian and non Iranian women.
Under The Shadows
Another Iranian horror film that was made outside of Iran. Horror is not a genre that is made often at all inside of Iran, maybe because of the many laws around censorship that are in place. The story resonates with many Iranians, as it paints a picture of the effects of the 1980’s Iran and Iraq war, as well as it being a story about evil spiritual spirits called Djins which any Iranian would know about because at some point in their childhood someone would have scared the life out of you by Djin stories.
Another film made outside of Iran and the first ever that follows the story of a bisexual Iranian woman. It is a romantic comedy about heartbreak, queer interracial relationships, issues around cultural differences in relationships and the diaspora. Desiree Akhavan wrote, directed and starred by Desiree Akhavan.
Written by Katy Jalili
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