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Israeli Oscar Entry ‘Baba Joon’ Features Iranian Actors, Farsi Language

As the U.S. and Israel continued their spat over a looming nuclear deal with Iran, a tiny Israeli film bowed at Toronto to an audience packed with proud Iranian expats. “Baba Joon,” the freshman feature from Israeli helmer Yuval Delshad, made its world premiere in TIFF’s Contemporary World Cinema section, and in doing so made a little bit of history — the pic is the first-ever Israeli film in Farsi, and one of only a handful on record to feature dozens of Iranian actors.

Navid Negahban, the Iranian-born, L.A.-based actor best known to American audiences as terrorist mastermind Abu Nazir in “Homeland,” stars.

Delshad, whose own parents were born in Iran and belongs to the 200,000-some strong population of Iranian Jews in Israel, penned the semi-autobiographical script. The supporting cast includes Iranian-born actors David Diaan and Viss Elliot Safavi as well as several Iranian-Israeli non-pros.

Delshad says that the film’s trailer has been viewed by Iranians living around the world, and Toronto’s Iranian community has been vocal in its support for the film. “We’ve gotten tons of comments, and (the Iranian community) is so excited to come see this film,” he says. “They feel that the film is Israeli and made by Israelis, but it is something that makes them proud. Art is separate from war. The film gives respect to the Persian culture and the Iranian people.”

Baba Joon” is a Metro Prods.-United King production. The film tells the story of Yitzhak, a Jewish-Iranian immigrant who ekes out a living on a turkey farm. He wants to pass both the farming trade and his Iranian heritage down to his precocious 13-year-old son Moti (newcomer Asher Avrahami), but the arrival of Moti’s flashy uncle from America threatens to upend the family for good.

Pic, which was shot in a dusty farming community in Israel’s south over five weeks last summer, has also earned eight nods at the Ophir Awards, Israel’s equivalent of the Academy Awards.

Its Toronto screening was followed by a Q&A with Delshad and the cast on hand. Nearly 50,000 Iranian expats live in Toronto, and Delshad says he fielded many questions from them long beforehand.

“We are not enemies, because I am Iranian too,” he says. “My mother and father’s culture is from Iran. But really, there is no enemy. It’s just between the governments, not the people.”

Negahban, who fell in love with Israel while shooting “Homeland” in Tel Aviv, agrees. He told Variety from the on set last summer, “I could understand Yuval when I read the script. … It felt like he has been working on this story forever, and struggling to find himself. And I called him and told him that ‘I remember when I left Iran, that’s how it was.’”

Delshad admits he has a few jitters over the world premiere of his debut film, but the opportunity to bring Iranians and Israelis together over cinema has him most excited.

“With any film going to a festival, a director looks forward to it,” he says. “But for me, the fact that this film is in Farsi and it’s something that connects people — I’m thrilled.”

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