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A Preview of the 2024 Iranian Film Festival New York | Festivals & Awards


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Some of those had to do with conditions in Iran. When I started reporting on Iranian cinema in the early ‘90s, the tensions between the country’s government and other nations, and between the regime and its filmmakers, made each cinema year one full of suspense, surprise and off-screen drama. Remarkably, even when hardliners were in control, the ingenuity and dogged determination of Iran’s filmmakers kept a steady flow of masterpieces rolling into the world’s film festivals and art houses.

But the last few years have brought new waves of change and turbulence to both the country and its cinema. Most notably, the massive nationwide protests that followed the 2022 death-in-detention of young Mahsa Amini—an outburst of pent-up political passions led by women under banners emblazoned “Woman! Life! Freedom!”—provoked a brutal government crackdown that resulted in numerous deaths and summary executions and impacted the film community in countless ways, from the disruption of productions to the further suppression of dissident filmmakers such as Jafar Panahi to the arrest of female movie stars who removed their head covering in public protests.

Given all this flux and turmoil, it’s hardly surprising that some of Iran’s most famous directors and stars stepped back from production in the last year and half, as if to wait out the storm and see what remained after it passed. (Though the possibility of revolution has apparently receded, the protests and the changes in Iran’s political culture they produced are ongoing.) Meanwhile, all the difficulties notwithstanding, movies are still being made.

Indeed, when Miladi and I started looking at possible films to include in this year’s festival, I was surprised at the number, variety and quality we found. We included nearly a dozen titles in the 2024 Iranian Film Festival New York, which runs Jan. 25-30 at the IFC Center, but that number could have been two or three times greater. The line-up includes some exciting works by new or emerging filmmakers, as well as proof an underground cinema that is skirting the strictures of government oversight. This year’s festival also includes a couple of special events that add to the display of new cinema.

Guest of Honor: Mani Haghighi

Cinephiles who attended the 2019 IFFNY will recall that the event’s biggest hit was “Pig,” a riotous satiric comedy about a serial killer who’s killing directors in Tehran’s film community and carving the word “pig” into their foreheads. It was hailed by Richard Brody in The New Yorker and proved so popular that the IFC Center gave it a week’s run after the festival.

That film’s writer-director, Mani Haghighi, is one of Iran’s most acclaimed and original directors of the post-2000 generation. If his name doesn’t mean much to local cinephiles (apart from those who caught “Pig”), critics who cover international festivals can tell you how many important directors and films don’t make it into American cinemas. Haghaghi surely deserves the kind of attention in the U.S. that he gets in festivals like Toronto and Berlin (where his provocative press conferences sometimes equal the entertainment value of his films). 

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