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3-year old festival focuses on Iran

By Rebecca Missel
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
April 27, 2000
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Unique Middle Eastern cinema will be showcased this weekend

The Center for Middle Eastern Studies will begin its third-annual film festival, starting today with a program devoted entirely to cinema of Iran.

"In and of itself, Iranian film has something to offer people who love movies," said Anne Bennett, assistant director for the UA Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

There are five movies in the festival that will be shown at the Screening Room, 111 E. Congress St. All films feature Iranian directors and have English subtitles.

Though none of the films are in English, they focus on universal themes of children and families.

"On a cultural level, (the festival) should humanize a very unfamiliar and unfairly stereotyped part of the world for Americans," Bennett said. "On a cinematic level, Iran has a very vibrant and creative film industry."

Some within the Middle Eastern community said they hope the festival will motivate Americans to discover a new culture.

"Iranian moving pictures can provide an impetus to go out and try to learn more about this country, its culture and its agonizing moment between the forces of modernity and tradition," said Kamran Talattof, a lecturer in the Department of Near Eastern Studies.

"Iranian cinema in particular provides us with a different type of movie - it gives us chance to explore a different way of seeing things," added Talattof, who is also the faculty advisor for the Iranian Students Association.

Bennett also said the media portrayals of people from the Middle East are often wrong.

"Americans have spent more than 20 years demonizing Iran and Iranians," Bennett said. "Film is helping to erode these negative stereotypes and feelings, because it shows the lives of people who deal with similar basic problems that we face."

Talattof said one of America's misconceptions is that like others in the Middle East, Iranians are Semitic, which in reality they are not.

"Iran means the land of Aryan," he said. "Its language - Persian - is Indo-European and is structurally and grammatically close to English. Iranians, however, are similar to Arabs in terms of religion."

The center has presented a film festival for the last three years, but this is the first year they have focused entirely on Iranian cinema - they receive federal funding for this and other projects during the year.

"A good portion of this money is meant to be used in designing and running programs that have the potential to reach beyond the confines of the university and out into the community - thus, outreach," Bennett said.

In addition to the federal money, the amount raised from admissions will go to help students in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies.

"Depending on how much profit we make at the film festival and our annual music concert, we can sometimes offer two $1,000 scholarships to undergraduates that they can use in whatever way they want to help defray the cost of being a student," she said.

Besides holding these events, the center's purpose is to accurately reflect the culture and life in the Middle East.

"Our mission is to further understanding and knowledge of the Middle East through education, faculty and student support and community outreach," Bennett said.

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