LEARN FROM HOME: STAND-OUT IRANIAN NONFICTION
This week we're joining cinemas and organisations around the world for a joint online screening of Taghi Amirani's Coup 53.
In honour of this groundbreaking film about the Anglo-American coup in Iran, we're looking back at stand-out Iranian documentaries over the last 50 years.
This list of docs to watch gives a flavour of the landmark nonfiction films made alongside the country's (better known) rich, fiction cinema.
[Caveat: we've stuck to films that are available to view in the UK, which sadly means there are some notable exceptions.]
So, moving chronologically, we'll jump in with -
The House Is Black / Forough Farrokhzad / Iran / 1962 / 26 mins
Known first and foremost as one of Iran's most important female poets, Forough Farrokhzad directed only one film, 1962's The House is Black.
Focusing on life in an Iranian leper colonly, Farrokhzad's lyrical film essay is considered to be an important precursor to the Iranian New Wave, which started more officially in 1964.
You can watch The House is Black on 4:3
HOMEWORK / Abbas Kiarostami / Iran / 1989 / 86 mins
Arguably Iran's most famous auteur, and bastion of Iranian New Wave cinema, Abbas Kiarostami made a host of documentaries throughout his career - as well as infusing nonfiction elements in all of his work.
Homework features interviews with the boys of Shahid Masumi school, discussing the titular subject - and the worlds of school and home life which it opens up.
Through these conversations, the film addresses issues of illiteracy amongst the boys' parents, as well as poverty and the long shadow cast over 'normal' life by the ongoing Iran-Iraq war.
We can't find Homework available to watch online in the UK at the moment, but you can by a DVD here.
Féminin Masculin / Sadaf Foroughi / Iran / 2007 / 9 mins
Farahnaz Shiri, the first female bus driver in Tehran, has made her own little society in her bus.
Like much else in Iran, bus travel is segragated, with men at the front and women behind - but not on Mrs Shiri's bus. Here, everything is deliberately switched around.
But how effective is a small act of resistance in challenging gender stereotypes in Iran?
Persian Carpet / Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi, Rakhshan Benietemad / France / 2007 / 117 mins
This anthology film, produced by Iran's National Carpet Center and Farabi Cinema Foundation, brings together fifteen renowned Iranian filmmakers to contribute a short film on the subject of the Persian carpet.
With segments by Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi and Majid Majidi amongst other notable names, Persian Carpet's filmmakers cover all aspects from historical and cultural importance to intricate designs and weavers at their looms.
You can watch the film on Amazon Prime.
THIS IS NOT A FILM / Jafar Panahi / Iran / 2012 / 76 mins
How do you make a film when your government has imposed a twenty year directing ban on you? This clandestine documentary is Jafar Panahi’s brilliant and brave answer – filmed whilst under house arrest in his Tehran apartment.
A key figure in Iran's New Wave film movement, Panahi spent 2010 being arrested, released, arrested again and finally sentenced to six years in jail and given a twenty year ban on filmmaking. And yet, since then, he has made a total of four feature-length films - including This Is Not a Film, which he famously smuggled from Iran to the Cannes film festival on a USB drive hidden inside a cake.
The film is rich and thought-provoking on the nature of filmmaking and confinement; a warning flag of what will be lost if filmmakers like Panahi are silenced.
You can watch it on Amazon Prime.
SONITA / Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami / Iran, Germany, Switzerland / 2015 / 90 mins
Sonita Alizadeh, a strong-willed teenager who idolises Rihanna and Michael Jackson, is an aspiring rapper, in spite of all the obstacles she confronts in Iran and from her conservative Afghan family. She is an undocumented Afghan refugee in Tehran, and her family has other plans for her.
Sonita's dream of living abroad is about to come true just as her family plan on sending her back home to get married to a much older man. While she must now attempt to overcome numerous personal and bureaucratic hurdles to avoid what seems inevitable, the film's director, Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami is also confronted with a dilemma: should she interfere to help her or let things unfold in front of her eyes and of the camera?
As much about the blurred lines of the filmmaker/subject relationship as about Sonita herself, this film ruffled feathers and showed Ghaem Maghami to be a complex and important voice.
Starless Dreams / Mehrdad Oskouei / France / 2016 / 76 mins
It took seven years for veteran documentarian Mehrdad Oskouei to get permission to make a film in a rehabilitation centre for 'juvenile delinquent' women in Iran.
The result is an emotionally charged masterpiece which paints a thoughtful and complex portrait of young women at the extreme margins of Iranian society.
Oskouei's latest film, the brilliant Sunless Shadows, has its UK premiere online from 9th September in the selection for the 2020 Open City Documentary Festival. More details here.
In the meantime, you can watch Starless Dreams on Kanopy.