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Interview: Iranian filmmaker Bahram Beyzaie discusses “Downpour,” his newly-restored, pivotal classic of Iranian cinema, screening at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival, Sunday, April 28, 2013

Iranian film director and playwright Bahram Beyzaie will appear at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival for a screening of “Downpour,” (Ragbar, 1971), a classic of Iranian cinema, newly restored by the World Cinema Foundation. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society.

Iranian film director and playwright Bahram Beyzaie will appear at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival for a screening of “Downpour,” (Ragbar, 1971), a classic of Iranian cinema, newly restored by the World Cinema Foundation. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society.

Over the years, the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF 56) has showcased some remarkable Iranian films and this year is no exception.  Bahram Beyzaie’s Downpour (Ragbar, 1971, 128 min), poetic and executed in a neo-realistic vein, was pivotal in shaping Iranian new wave cinema.  It hasn’t been screened in the Bay Area publicly for years but the newly-restored classic screens twice at SFIFF—Sunday, April 28 and Sunday, May 5.  Beyzaie, one of Iran’s most esteemed filmmakers, playwrights, and scholars of the history of Iranian theater, will attend on Sunday, April 28, participating in a post-screening Q&A with the audience.   This event almost immediately went to rush sales but, so far, tickets are available for the second showing.

Beyzaie, currently teaching at Stanford, is part of the generation of filmmakers referred to as the Iranian New Wave which emerged in the late 1960’s.  Blurring the boundaries between fiction and reality, and transcending the realism of Iran’s pre-revolutionary era with a highly poetic approach to editing, dialogue and context, Downpour, was an early pillar of the new wave.  Remarkably, it was Beyzaie’s first feature film.   He was heavily into theatre at that time.  Despite being regarded as one of the best and most influential Iranian films ever made, Downpour was nearly considered lost as it screened so rarely.  Beyzaie had the only known surviving copy and was reticent to show it.  All other copies had been seized and presumably destroyed.  Thanks to Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation, the surviving print, badly damaged with scratches, perforation tears and mid-frame splices, was restored in 2011 at Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna/ L’immagine Ritrovata laboratory.  Over 1500 hours went into its repair.

Downpour’s story revolves around Mr. Hekmati (Parviz Fannizadeh), an educated and progressive teacher who is transferred to a school in the south of Tehran, a poor conservative area.  When his pupils become unruly, he expels one young boy. The boy’s older sister, `Atefeh (Parvaneh Masoomi), comes to the school and protests the expulsion, speaking to Hekmati in private.  Another student sees them together and spreads rumors that Mr. Hekmati and `Atefeh are having a love affair.  As Hekmati tries to set the record straight, he suddenly finds he really is in love with her.  Caught between the overactive imaginations of his students and the idle gossip of neighborhood busybodies, the idealistic Mr. Hekmati quickly finds himself at the center of controversy.  Soon all eyes in the community are on him.  A rich story that explores love as much as it does control and morality, Downpour addresses Iranian society in a way that reveals what is intimate and poignantly familiar in our human condition.

I spoke with Bahram Beyzaie last week. He has been at Stanford for three years now and teaches courses in Iranian cinema, Iranian contemporary theater, and cinema and mythology.  His career as a filmmaker has spanned four decades and he has made ten feature and four short films and has more than thirty-five plays and fifty screenplays to his credit.  He is also quite active in theatre and his latest theater work, “Jana & Baladoor: A Play in Shadows,” was produced by Stanford University’s Iranian Studies Dept. and performed at Palo Alto’s Cubberly Community Center in 2012.

To what does the title “Ragbar” or “Downpour” refer?  It is about intellectual life in Iran at that time?

Bahram Beyzaie: It refers to intellectual life in Iran in general and not just at that time. The appearance of the main character in Downpour is very short, like a flash of a lightening.

A scene from Bahram Beyzaie's “Downpour” (1971), hailed as one of the greatest Iranian films,  restored by World Cinema Foundation in 2011, screening at SIFF 56 with Beyzaie in attendance.   Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

A scene from Bahram Beyzaie’s “Downpour” (1971), hailed as one of the greatest Iranian films, restored by World Cinema Foundation in 2011, screening at SIFF 56 with Beyzaie in attendance. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

What was it like to make a film in Iran in the 1970’s?  You worked with few resources but produced a beautiful film.

Bahram Beyzaie:  Downpour was an independent film, and had no official or commercial sponsor.  It was spontaneously made with no prior planning.  I wanted to create something that went against Iranian commercial cinema and its affected/ pseudo-intellectual films.  For the first time in Iranian cinema, the protagonist is an educated person who is not ridiculed or humiliated by the filmmaker.  In those days, Iranian traditional thinkers were in the position of humiliating the intellectuals.  This film, as well as my third film, addresses the very common educated figure without exaggerating their intellectualism.

What was it like to make a film in Iran in the 1970’s?  You worked with few resources but produced a beautiful film.

Bahram Beyzaie:  Downpour was an independent film, and had no official or commercial sponsor.  It was spontaneously made with no prior planning.  I wanted to create something that went against Iranian commercial cinema and its affected/ pseudo-intellectual films.  For the first time in Iranian cinema, the protagonist is an educated person who is not ridiculed or humiliated by the filmmaker.  In those days, Iranian traditional thinkers were in the position of humiliating the intellectuals.  This film, as well as my third film, addresses the very common educated figure without exaggerating their intellectualism.

Who is the most interesting character in the film to you and why? And has that changed any over time?

Bahram Beyzaie:  In this story, the central characters are the most interesting to me.  The main male character, Mr. Hekmati, is misplaced and certainly a stranger.  As for the female character, `Atefeh, this was the first time a female central character was not a prostitute, singer, dancer, or a villager who was seduced by rich figures.  Instead, she is a young woman who has a job and tries to find her position to help her family.  In Downpour,`Atefeh is presented in a traditional appearance, but in her hidden self, she wishes for change and independence.

A scene from Bahram Beyzaie's “Downpour” (1971), hailed as one of the greatest Iranian films,  restored by World Cinema Foundation in 2011, screening at SIFF 56 with Beyzaie in attendance.   Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

A scene from Bahram Beyzaie’s “Downpour” (1971), hailed as one of the greatest Iranian films, restored by World Cinema Foundation in 2011, screening at SIFF 56 with Beyzaie in attendance. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

What more can you add about Iranian women in at that time?

Bahram Beyzaie:  There was a diversity of female figures in the 70’s—from deeply religious and fanatic, to traditional, to very sophisticated women who were university professors, painters, writers, poets, theater activists, some filmmakers, administrative personalities, nurses and medical doctors, and so forth.  For example, Downpour’s composer, again for the first in Iranian Cinema, was a woman. It is a great sorrow that Iranian cinema clung so to outdated clichés and portrayed women either as low class singer/dancers, prostitutes, or, if they were educated, as silly, rich, or negative figures.

 How did you select the actors in Downpour and were they well known at the time? Did their participation in the film have any significant impact on their careers and did you ever work with any of them again?

Bahram Beyzaie:  Some of the actors, including the two main male characters— Parviz Fannizadeh (Hekmati) and Manouchehr Farid (the butcher) were my friends and colleagues in theater, talented but not as successful in their careers as they deserved to be.  Before Downpour, they had one or two film experiences with very short parts.  The central female character `Atefeh (Parvaneh Masoomi) was unknown to the audience at that time. We discovered her from a TV commercial, maybe her first and last.  Later, I acknowledged that she had a film experience in a supporting role.  All the boys were my neighbors and had parts in my first short film. I worked with a couple of these boys in my next short film.  I worked with Parvaneh Masomi and Manouchehr Farid in three other movies, and Parviz Fanizadeh won his life’s sole acting prize for his performance as Mr. Hekmati in Downpour.

How would you describe the storytelling style you employed in “Downpour,” other than allegorical?

Bahram Beyzaie:  Poetic maybe. A poem about daily life.  Most of Iranian artistic language is allegorical, metaphoric, or poetic. More or less, you can find metaphors in other countries’ artistic languages as well, but it may be the core of Iranian artistic expression.  So is mine in my own way. You know, my father and grandfather were poets too, but their styles were different from mine.

Bahram Beyzaie in the 1970’s, a pioneer of Iranian new wave cinema.  His father, uncle and grandfather were famous poets.

Bahram Beyzaie in the 1970’s, a pioneer of Iranian new wave cinema. His father, uncle and grandfather were famous poets.

What are the characteristics of a great story?

Bahram Beyzaie:  I don’t have a good short answer for all tastes.  I wish you could watch my last theater work “Jana & Baladoor: A Play in Shadows” which was produced by Stanford University’s Iranian Studies Department —it had music, poetry, puppets, myths, and was a legend of the four mythic siblings representing the four basic elements of earth, water, air, and fire, who battled to redeem the world.

You have written a book about Hitchcock; tell me about your early cinema experiences in Iran. What did you like and was anything restricted?

Bahram Beyzaie:  After watching Chaplin’s “City Lights” I began to discover serious cinema by watching three black and white films: Hitchcock’s “Spellbound”, Ophüls’ “Letter’s from an unknown woman” and Carol Reed’s “Third Man”. Later Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” was a shock to discover oriental culture and cinema and great heritage of theater forms. In addition, I loved the great films of German expressionism, work of French masters, Italian neo-Realism, Russian epic cinema, Nordic classic films, British iconic films and American classic cinema. Tehran had a Cine-club and a very important film center which showed all these films on the big screen. Furthermore, the Italian, French, German, American, and USSR cultural centers were active as well in screening their classical films and they were all open to the public.  I remember watching Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin in the Russian cultural center.  I will never forget the joy of watching Satiyajit Ray’s “Paterpanchali” in the Indian Cultural Center. I remember the Americans had three weeks of American Classical Cinema and I watched all of them. It was usual and normal to watch international films in Tehran at that time – when I was twenty.

How did you eventually become the chairman of Dramatic arts at Tehran University?

Bahram Beyzaie:  It was the subsequent of my theater background. In high school I discovered Shakespeare and Greek masters of tragedy, and then suddenly I returned to Iranian traditional theater forms to research the Oriental theater — Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and Indonesian. I started to write plays and became a stage director. Because of my works I was invited to teach theater at the Tehran University.

What was your involvement in the restoration?

Bahram Beyzaie:  It happened by the kindness of others. One of my colleagues attending a film festival met someone from the World Cinema Foundation and they spoke of Iranian films and me. My colleague was asked about my films and she explained that Downpour was the only film that was here and had English subtitles but could not be screened due to being the only subtitled copy of the film that existed. Hearing this, the World Cinema Foundation agreed to restore it and they did all the work in Bologna and it took about a year. Thanks to their hard work!

A scene from Bahram Beyzaie's “Downpour” (1971), hailed as one of the greatest Iranian films,  restored by World Cinema Foundation in 2011, screening at SIFF 56 with Beyzaie in attendance.   Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

A scene from Bahram Beyzaie’s “Downpour” (1971), hailed as one of the greatest Iranian films, restored by World Cinema Foundation in 2011, screening at SIFF 56 with Beyzaie in attendance. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

What are you teaching at Stanford?

I’ve been at Stanford (visiting lecturer in comparative literature) for three years now, teaching Iranian cinema, Iranian cinema diaspora, Iranian contemporary theater, and cinema and mythology, which is an analytic view on numerous great films in general from the angle of mythology.

To view a 10 minute trailer of the unrestored Downpour click here.

Downpour/ Ragbar (1971): Directed by Bahram Beyzaie, Screenwriter: Bahram Beyzaie. Cast: Parviz Fannizadeh, Parvaneh Masumi, Manuchehr Farid.  DigiBeta, b/w, in Persian with English subtitles, 120 min.

Bahram Beyzaie Films: Vaqti hame khābim (When We Are All Asleep) (2009), Qāli-ye Sokhangū (2006), Sag-Koshi (Killing Mad Dogs)(2001), Mosaferan (The Passengers)(1992), Bashu (The Little Stranger)(1989), Shayad Vaghti Deegar (Maybe Some Other Time)(1988), Marg Yazdgerd (Death of Yazdgerd)(1982), Tcherike-ye Tara (Ballad of Tara)(1979), Kalagh (The Crow)(1976), Gharibe va Meh (The Stranger and the Fog)(1974),  Safar (The Journey)(1972), Ragbar (Downpour)(1971); Amoo Sibilou (1969)

(Other restored films which have screened at SFIFF in recent years include Federic Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (Italy, 1960) SFIFF 54; Satyajit Ray’s The Music Room (India, 1958)

DETAILS:  Downpour Screens Sunday, April 28, 12:15 PM, Kabuki AND Sunday, May 5, 3:20 PM BAM/PFA).  Check ticket availability here.

SFIFF56: April 25-May 9, 2013.  5 Screening Venues: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post Street, San Francisco; New People Cinema, 1746 Post Street, San Francisco; Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street, San Francisco; Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive Theatre, 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley. Tickets: $15 for most films with a variety of multiple screening passes. Special events generally start at $20  More info: (415) 561-5000, www.festival.sffs.org

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April 27, 2013 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 56th San Francisco International Film Festival opens Thursday night with a captivating family drama and continues with 14 days of film from all corners of the globe

A scene from Joshua Oppenheimer's “Act of Killing,” a documentary executive produced by Werner Herzog, that paints an extraordinary portrayal of the Indonesian genocide.  In Indonesia, a land ruled by gangsters, death squad leaders are celebrated as heroes and the filmmakers challenge them to re-enact their real-life mass killings in the style of the American movies they love.  Playing at SFIFF 56.  Photo: courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

A scene from Joshua Oppenheimer’s “Act of Killing,” a documentary executive produced by Werner Herzog, that paints an extraordinary portrayal of the Indonesian genocide. In Indonesia, a land ruled by gangsters, death squad leaders are celebrated as heroes and the filmmakers challenge them to re-enact their real-life mass killings in the style of the American movies they love. Playing at SFIFF 56. Photo: courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

The 56th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF56) opens Thursday and runs for 15 days, featuring 158 films and live events from 51 countries—67 narrative features, 28 documentary features, 63 shorts, over a dozen juried awards, and over 100 participating filmmakers present.  Organized by the San Francisco Film Society, this is THE premiere festival for film in the Bay Area and is well-known for its emphasis on experimental storytelling, its support of new filmmakers and for championing independent films that are unlikely to screen elsewhere in the Bay Area.  One of the joys of attending SFIFF is getting to see these films the way they were meant to be seen–on a big screen, in digital projection—and, in many cases, getting to participate in Q&A’s with their directors and actors, most of whom reside in other countries.  SFIFF also distinguishes itself with excellent live onstage special events that feature filmmakers in enthralling moderated discussions.  While its parties are great, this festival is all about film.  In addition to this festival overview, stay turned to ARThound for coverage of Iranian films and art-related films.

BIG NIGHTS:

This year both opening and closing night films address relationships and family and the dirty little secrets that can drive huge wedges in supposedly sacred bonds. OPENING NIGHT  (Thursday, April 24) kicks off with Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s emotional drama What Maisie Knew (USA 2012) starring Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan and Alexander Skarsgård.  The film explores the collateral damage

Juliette Moore and Onata Aprile in a scene from Scott McGehee and David Siegel's “What Maisie Knew” which opens the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 25 - May 9, 2013. Photo: courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

Juliette Moore and Onata Aprile in a scene from Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s “What Maisie Knew” which opens the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 25 – May 9, 2013. Photo: courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

 of divorce through the eyes of six year-old Maisie (Onata Aprile) who is silent but, like a sponge, soaks up all the toxic waste her negligent parents put out.  When they do succeed in splitting, they re-partner rapidly. Maisie attaches quite readily to her mother’s new husband, Lincoln, a bartender (Alexander Skarsgård) who has no obvious child-rearing skills but rises to the occasion.  Not surprisingly, this crushing portrait of affluence, indifference, self-absorption, hope and innocence shows that you can’t choose the family you are born into but you’d be better off if you could.  (opens SFIFF56 on Thursday, April 25, 2013, 7  p.m. Castro Theatre, followed by a gala party at Temple Nightclub )

This year’s CENTERPIECE is Saturday, May 4, and celebrates Jacob Kornbluth and his insightful Inequality For All (USA 2013), featuring local UC Berkeley economist Robert Reich, one of the world’s leading experts on work and the economy, Clinton’s former Labor Secretary and named one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last decade by Time magazine.  This powerful documentary, winner of the Special Jury Award at this year’s Sundance festival, makes the argument that capitalism has fatally abandoned the middle classes while making the super-rich even richer.  Based on Reich’s bestselling Aftershock (2011, Vintage Press) which explores the roots of American economic stagnation and blames lack of middle class prosperity and spending, the highly entertaining film is billed as An Inconvenient Truth of the economy.  (Screens Saturday, May 4, 6:30 PM, Kabuki, followed by a party at Roe nightclub from 8:30 -11 PM)

A scene from Richard Linklater's “Before Midnight,” which follows Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy), who first met on a train to Vienna (“Before Sunrise”) and reconnected in Paris nine years later (“Before Sunset”), and now another nine years have passed and they are navigating the complications of careers, kids, a long-term committed relationship and unfulfilled dreams. Closing night film at SFIFF 56.  Photo: courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

A scene from Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight,” which follows Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy), who first met on a train to Vienna (“Before Sunrise”) and reconnected in Paris nine years later (“Before Sunset”), and now another nine years have passed and they are navigating the complications of careers, kids, a long-term committed relationship and unfulfilled dreams. Closing night film at SFIFF 56. Photo: courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

CLOSING NIGHT: The festival closes with a live on-stage discussion featuring celebrated indie director Richard Linklater (Bernie, SFIFF55 2012) and actress Julie Delpy in conversation about their latest film Before Midnight  (USA 2013), the third film in Linklater’s romantic trilogy starring Delpy and Ethan Hawke.  The film was raved about at Sundance.  It’s now eighteen years later and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Delpy), the couple who met on that train from Budapest to Vienna in Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995), are vacationing in Greece and living in Paris as a middle-aged couple with two twin girls, and negotiating all the minefields of a committed long-term relationship.  He’s got a young son living in the States with his remarried ex-wife and the pressure of holding it all together and remaining true to their own creative drives has left them exhausted. Before Midnight catches the couple in random conversation that oscillates between clever banter and passive-aggressive swipes and then, suddenly, takes the plunge to full-on below-the-belt game-changing blows.  All unfolds as they are vacationing in Greece—beautiful, troubled, ancient, modern—it too becomes a character in the film.  Before Midnight screens as the Closing Night film at the Castro Theatre on May 9. The screening and conversation will be followed by a celebration party.

ARThound’s top picks: 

Below are capsule reviews of my top picks from this year’s line-up.  Thematically, you can go in any direction your taste takes you.  This festival has something for everyone.  I am focusing on films that tell great and important stories that you aren’t likely to see screened anywhere else.   Stayed tuned to ARThound for full reviews in the coming days.

Jem Cohen, recipient of the 2013 POV Award at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 25 - May 9, 2013.  Photo: courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

Jem Cohen, recipient of the 2013 POV Award at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 25 – May 9, 2013. Photo: courtesy of the San Francisco Film Society

Museum Hours (Jem Cohen, (2012, USA 107 min) New York based filmmaker Jem Cohen, who over the past 30 years has made over 60 films, will be presented with this year’s POV Award (2013 Persistence of Vision Award). Cohen will appear in conversation before a screening of his latest feature film Museum Hours, a delicately-paced but psychologically vivid film where ideas and environment are as important as the actors.  The story captures a random encounter between Johann (Robert Sommer) a middle-aged museum guard at Vienna’s grand Kunsthistorisches Art Museum, who, over the years, has nearly melded into his splendid surroundings and watches the visiting crowds looking at art works with detachment, and Anne (Canadian songwriter Mary Margaret O’Hara), a woman of roughly the same age who’s visiting Vienna out of duty—she tending to her dear ill cousin and coping with grief.  Sensing Anne’s isolation in the big city, a physically overwhelming sensation that reflects her inner turmoil, Johann breaks from his normal detachment and quickly bonds with her and keeps her company around Vienna.  The museum itself also becomes a character, revealing itself and its rich treasures and, in turn, stimulating a rich dialogue between these two seemingly very ordinary individuals who have a remarkably palpable rapport.  In much the same way that one can pass by or become completely engrossed in a painting, Johann and Anne come into sharp focus as individuals, discussing an accumulation of topics best summarized as the art of living life.  (POV Award, conversation and screening Sunday, April 28, 2013, 5:30 PM Kabuki)

The Act of Killing:  (Joshua Oppenheimer, Denmark, Norway, England, 2012, 116 minutes) In this chilling and highly-inventive new documentary, executive produced by Errol Morris (The Fog of War) and Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man), the filmmakers give us Indonesia, like it’s never been seen before.  In 1965-66, Suharto’s anti-communist purge following a failed coup attempt led to the slaughter of an estimated 500,000 people, alleged to be communists.  The pretext for this mass genocide was the assassination of six army generals on the night of October 1, 1965 by The Thirtieth of September Movement made up of some disaffected junior Indonesian Armed Forces Officers. Suharto launched a counter-attack and drove the Movement from Jakarta and then accused the Communist Party of masterminding the Movement.  He then went on to orchestrate a purge of all persons deemed Communists.  Under Suharto’s rule, anti-communism became the state religion, complete with sacred sites, rituals and dates and a sophisticated campaign of controlling the media and planting false stories presenting the opposition as murderers collectively responsible for exaggerated crimes against the State.  The mass killings were skipped over in most Indonesian history books and have received little introspection by Indonesians and comparatively little international attention.   Until Now.  The filmmakers brazenly invited the death squad leaders who carried out these killings, and are now celebrated heroes, to reenact the real life mass killing in the style of the movies they love best.  The result—“An extraordinary portrayal of genocide.  To the inevitable question: what were they thinking, Joshua Oppenheimer provides an answer. Its starts as a dreamscape, an attempt to allow the perpetrators to re-enact what they did, then something truly amazing happens.  The dream dissolves into night mare and then into bitter reality.” (Errol Morris)  (Screens Sat, April 27, 9:15 PM, Kabuki AND Thursday, May 2, 8:55 PM BAM/PFA)

A River Changes Course (Kalyanee Mam, Cambodia/USA 2012, 83 min, GGA Documentary Feature Contender):  If you’ve been to Cambodia, chances are you landed in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap via a transfer from Hanoi or Thailand and hit the breathtaking Angkor Wat, one of the most spectacular sites on earth, and then left.  No matter how little time you spent there though, it’s impossible to overlook the pace of development that is displacing traditional culture and the life and work patterns of the vast majority of Cambodians.  Kalyanee Mam’s new documentary, shot in gorgeous cinéma vérité style, is a moving and intimate portrait of the rapidly vanishing world of rural rice farmers and fisherman told through three Cambodian families who are struggling in the face of rapid and uneven modernization.  

A scene from Kalyanee Mam's award-winning documentary “A River Changes Course,” playing at SFIFF 56.  In a small village outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Khieu Mok must leave and find work in a garment factory to support her familyʼs mounting debt. But life in the city proves no better and Khieu finds herself torn between her obligations to send money home and her duty to be at home with her family. Photo: Courtesy of San Francisco Film Society

A scene from Kalyanee Mam’s award-winning documentary “A River Changes Course,” playing at SFIFF 56. In a small village outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Khieu Mok must leave and find work in a garment factory to support her familyʼs mounting debt. But life in the city proves no better and Khieu finds herself torn between her obligations to send money home and her duty to be at home with her family. Photo: Courtesy of San Francisco Film Society

Mam spent many months deep in the Cambodian countryside capturing the daily rhythms of life there.  She built trusting relationships with and then filmed two female breadwinners and a fishing family, all challenged by the plight of diminishing yields and increasing costs of living.    Her thoughtful film was the first by a Cambodian to have its premiere at Sundance, where it was won the World Cinema Grand jury Awrd.  The Yale and UCLA Law School-educated cinematographer for the Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job, does not believe the answer to her native country’s problems lie in retaining all old traditions though.  This child of refugees who escaped Pol Pot’s hellish regime and ultimately landed in the U.S.. gives the path forward thoughtful consideration.   (Screens Saturday, April 27, 7 PM, Kabuki AND Monday, April 29 6:30 PM, BAM/PFA AND Sunday, May 5 1 PM, New People) 

Downpour (Ragbar): (Bahram Beyzaie, Iran, 1971, 128 min)  Every year SFIFF screens a recently restored classic of world cinema and this year it’s acclaimed Iranian filmmaker, playwright, stage director and producer Bahram Beyzaie’s 1971 debut feature Downpour. The film was the first Iranian feature to cast a woman in a role other than a prostitute or cabaret girl and ushered in a new filmmaking movement in Iran.  The story revolves around Mr. Hekmati, an educated teacher who is transferred to a school in the south of Tehran, a poor conservative area.  His pupils are unruly and he is forced to expel one of them.  The next day, the boy’s sister, `Atefeh, comes to the school and, thinking that Mr. Hekmati is the headmaster, protests the expulsion.  Another student sees them together and spreads rumors that Mr. Hekmati and `Atefeh are having a love affair.  While trying to set the record straight, he suddenly finds he really is in love with her.  Caught between the hyperactive imaginations of his students and the idle gossip of neighborhood busybodies, the idealistic Mr. Hekmati quickly finds himself at the center of controversy.  Soon all eyes in the community are on him.

A scene from Bahram Beyzai's “Downpour” (1971), hailed as one of the great Iranian films for its poetic approach to editing, dialogue and context.  Restored by World Cinema Foundation in 2011, the film screens at SIFF 56 with Beyzaie in attendance.   Photo: courtesy of the San Francisco Film

A scene from Bahram Beyzaie’s “Downpour” (1971), hailed as one of the great Iranian films for its poetic approach to editing, dialogue and context. Restored by World Cinema Foundation in 2011, the film screens at SFIFF 56 with Beyzaie in attendance. Photo: courtesy San Francisco Film Society

“The tone puts me in mind of what I love best in the Italian neorealist pictures,” writes Martin Scorsese, “and the story has the beauty of an ancient fable—you can feel Beyzaie’s background in Persian literature, theater and poetry.” This screening presents the film as restored in 2011 by the World Cinema Foundation at Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna/L’immagine Ritrovata laboratory.  (Screens Sunday, April 28, 12:15 PM, Kabuki AND Sunday, May 5, 3:20 PM BAM/PFA) Bahram Beyzaie will attend and participate in a Q&A following the April 28th screening.

The Daughter (Alexander Kasatkin, Natalia Nazarova, Russia, 2012, 111 minutes)  Life in the unforgiving provinces is a well-explored theme in Russian literature and film.  Russian duo Natalia Nazarova and Alexander Kasatkin, (Listening to Silence, 2007) throw a serial killer into a provincial village to liven things up for naïve 16 year-old Inna (Maria Smolnikova) who’s strict widowed father (Oleg Tkachev) keeps her on a tight leash.  Enter the rebellious and fun vixen Masha (Yana Osipova), a girl from a slightly larger town, who quickly educates Inna about alcohol, sex and how to have fun.  Also new to the village is the family of an Orthodox priest, brimming with traditional Christian virtues and values, and Inna falls for the priest’s son, Il’ia (Igor’ Mazepa).  Meanwhile a serial killer is on the prowl and the suspense builds as those close to Inna are killed and implicated.  Filmed in Elat’ma and Kasimovo, two small villages in Russia’s Riazan’ region, the film’s evocation of the slowed rhythms of rural life, lingering traditions and modern impingements create a bleak post-Perestroika commentary, with the lingering question of what the role of the Orthodox church should be.  (Screens Friday, April 26, 6:15 PM and Sunday, April 28, 1 PM both at Kabuki AND Monday, May 6, 9 PM at BAM/PFA)

SFIFF56 DETAILS:   SFIFF 56 runs April 25-May 9, 2013.  5 Screening Venues: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post Street, San Francisco; New People Cinema, 1746 Post Street, San Francisco; Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street, San Francisco; Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive Theatre, 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley.  Event Venues (all San Francisco): Bimbos 365 Club, 1025 Columbus Avenue; Roe, 651 Howard Street; Rouge, 1500 Broadway; Ruby Skye, 420 Mason Street; Temple Nightclub and Ki Restaurant, 540 Howard Street

Tickets: $15 for most films with a variety of multiple screening passes.  Special events generally start at $20
More info: (415) 561-5000, www.festival.sffs.org

April 24, 2013 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment