Fajr's importance has diminished

Tehran’s 26th Fajr International Film Festival, organized by the state-run Farabi Cinema Foundation, wrapped on Feb. 11 with awards for national cinema contenders after an edition plagued with more than its usual share of difficulties.

Disorganization reigned at both public shows and Feb. 2-5 private market screenings for international guests. Late starts and cancellations marred nearly every showing.

Twenty-three titles competed in the national cinema category, which used to be, but is no longer, important as a barometer of what international fests might showcase. Filtered through various levels of bureaucracy, this year’s entrants were, apart from a few notable exceptions such as “The Song of Sparrows” and “As Simple as That,” works designed for domestic television, lacking in export value for theatrical or fest markets.

Most Iranian producers of commercial product did not enter their films, finding Fajr of little value to them. Tahmineh Milani, whose “Ceasefire” was the biggest box office hit of 2006, found her latest, “Pay Back,” banned at the last moment. The pic follows a gang of women criminals intent on revenging themselves on men.

Manijeh Hekmat (“Women’s Prison), another interesting female helmer, chose to world preem her new title “3 Women” in Berlin’s Panorama.

Directors with a world rep such as Abbas Kiarostami (whose latest, “Shirin,” is rumored to world preem at Cannes), much of whose funding may come internationally, now have international sales agents and can afford to sidestep Fajr entirely.

Frustrated by lack of interesting product on official offer (as well as the absence of any set screening schedule), the international guests found more to be excited about at various secret screenings of banned films and works-in-progress organized by private sales agents outside the market setting.

In the national competition, best film went to Reza Mir-Karimi’s “As Simple as That.” Pic also nabbed gongs for script and leading actress.

Majid Majidi’s “The Song of Sparrows” (also in Berlin’s international competition) took director, editing, original score and makeup prizes.

Cinematography kudos were captured by Hossein Jafarian for Mohammad Ali Talebi’s “The Wall.”

Best actor went to Amin Hayayi for Rasoul Sadr-Ameli’s “The Night.

Historical epic “The Green Fire” by Mohammad Reza Aslani scored for production design, costumes and sound.

Kamal Tabrizi’s “It’s Always Matter of a Woman” claimed the audience award.

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