Cinema | 'Paternal House': A Challenge to the Government
by AVINAR RAJABI
05 Sep 2012 23:45
[ dispatch ] Paternal House (Khaneh Pedari) is not the first Iranian film to be shown in a European festival while banned at home, but it will be the first to seriously challenge the new, more stringent laws of the Islamic Republic regarding foreign film festivals. That is, if its director, Kianoush Ayyari, decides to ignore the threats against him and premiere the film this Friday, in Venice.
Ayyari, a veteran filmmaker who has been a calm and resilient presence in Iranian cinema for more than three decades, directed Paternal House almost two years ago. But the film, whose screenplay had been approved by the Ministry of Islamic Guidance, was never allowed a public screening. Its appearance on the list of films selected for this year's Venice Film Festival came as a general shock. It must have found its way to Europe in the same way as most underground Iranian films do: as a DVD, tucked away among a traveler's belongings. Until a few days ago, there were speculations that the festival's copy might not even be up to the minimum quality standards for screening.
Paternal House is an episodic film. The story, we know so much, revolves around an honor killing -- an adolescent girl killed by her father and brother and buried in a corner of the house. The girl's sister grows up in that house, knowing the place where her sibling is buried. The few people who have seen and spoken to me about it, all critics and filmmakers, say it is a strong film. They also say Ayyari manages to avoid the kind of moral breast-beating that is the intellectual bane of most films addressing issues of social justice. Ayyari has an impressive resume of pictures that handle shocking subjects with a straight face.
The behind-the-scenes story of the film has shock value of its own. Pulling off a marketing miracle, Ayyari managed to get -- of all state institutions -- the cultural arm of the Iranian State Police, Naji Film, to invest in Paternal House. They now own 50 percent of the film, and the more direct threats of legal action have come from their quarters.
The head of Naji Film had previously said that his institution regretted having invested in Paternal House, which he believed "was not beneficial to either the police or the people." He demanded that Ayyari withdraw from the festival. The Ministry of Islamic Guidance echoed the demand, but in characteristically more self-confident tones: its representative suggested that, as a response to the recent sanctions, Iran was considering boycotting Western festivals altogether. The statement assumed that Ayyari would rejoin the fold to take part in this official protest.
The director took the clamor in stride. "Since I don't have access to the Internet these days," he said in an interview, "I don't keep abreast of what's been happening with the festival.... I intentionally try to keep away from all that, as much as I can."
"The best policy," said Ayyari when asked about the possible repercussions of the film's foreign premiere, "is silence. I don't want to say anything that would cause a misunderstanding. I have no responsibility in regard to these things. I'm sitting in a quiet corner, living my life." He declared that he would not travel to Venice, even in the event that the film wins an award.
Meanwhile, police and ministry officials' rhetoric grew increasingly harsh. Naji Film has threatened to prosecute if the film is publicly screened. The announcement came after brochures for Paternal House had already been distributed in Venice.
The story of films that receive a production permit but are denied a screening permit is an old one. It includes more than 200 films since the 1979 Revolution. More than 80 of these hit the censor's roadblock during Ahmadinejad's tenure in office. What is new, in particular, is that the Ahmadinejad administration has once and for all clarified the state's position on films of which it does not approve. Its list of threats against underground films or films sent abroad without permits have grown dramatically. The perpetrators, says the state, will be banned, for at least a year, from cinematic activity. The ministry has also closed the House of Cinema, the only independent institution protecting the rights of filmmakers.
Jafar Panahi, the embattled Iranian director who faces a six-year prison sentence and a 20-year ban from all "cultural activity," threw down the gauntlet to the regime when he released his homemade feature, This Is Not A Film, to foreign festivals and distribution companies. The government did not react.
Panahi's action, however, came after he was already marked as a pariah and punished with a severity befitting Stalin's Soviet Union. Ayyari, however, is a quiet figure whom state media have always treated with reserved respect. Any action against him will also likely have repercussions for the government. It remains to be seen what cost the state is willing to pay to maintain the stern(er) face it has turned toward cinema.
Avinar Rajabi is a pen name for a Tehran Bureau correspondent.
Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau