By Orly Minazad
Farhang Foundation’s 8th annual short-film festival took place Saturday night at LACMA’S Bing Theater to a sold out, and ridiculously well-dressed, enthusiastic crowd.
Despite the talent in this year’s submissions, the winner was obvious. In just a few minutes, Ali Delkari’s Fan, a portrayal of unconditional maternal love, moved the crowd to seriously consider calling their mothers in tears, pledging their undying love, a feat even Hallmark would envy. Delkari, who currently lives in Iran, was not there to accept his award and $10,000 cash prize in person. Accepting the honor was actress Gohar Kheirandish, visiting from Iran. Her voice full of emotion and pride, she addressed the audience, speaking on the importance of art, and the power it can have over violence in our global quest for peace.
Farhang Foundation is a non-profit organization who, since 2008, has been the fountainhead for exhibiting Iranian culture in Los Angeles, home to the largest population of Iranians outside the motherland.
A non-religious, non-political organization, Farhang focuses its efforts on the exploration and cultivation of works by upcoming Iranian artists worldwide, showcasing their stories and voices to mainstream audiences who know little of Iranian culture outside a handful of kabob joints lined by black BMWs in Westwood’s Persian Square.
This year’s festival received more than 180 submissions from around the world.
If you’re familiar with Iranian culture, it’s no surprise that music and poetry were at the center of most these films. Winner of the $5,000 second prize was an animated short written and directed by Yashin Nahani titled The Last Star, a poignant piece about an elderly man’s relationship with his instrument the tar, and the memories its music conjures up. The $3,000 third prize went to Director Sarah Tabibzadeh, for her love story From Eastern Lands, which is largely driven by its music.
The pre-show highlights included living legends of Iranian cinema, including Apick Youssefian, who was the first woman producing TV shows and features in Iran. “I was on multiple magazine covers, in a bikini!” she said, regarding her pre-revolutionary film career before she went into exile in the States. Her 60-year career includes appearances in films, television, and most recently, a play written by her daughter, actress Mary Apick, Beneath the Veil. “The important thing is to show the Americans,” she added, regarding the artistic contributions by Iranians to the community and Hollywood. Though she lamented that she’s no longer able to visit Iran, it has not stopped her from working and speaking actively about the merits of events like this, which showcase the true nature and passion of Iranians.
As something of a first-generation American — I moved here from Tehran when I was eight — I’m more familiar with the Hollywood goings-on of Brangelina’s tragic break-up than I am about the filmmakers from my homeland, especially those who thrived before the 1979 Revolution when strict restrictions were placed on artistic mobility in the region.
Thankfully for me, and for others here in the Southland, Farhang Foundation is changing that, along with the handful of artists doing their part to make sure the Iranian story is heard throughout Los Angeles. It is a unique and important narrative, integral to America’s story.
A couple of those artists, Navid Negahban (American Sniper, Homeland, The Stoning of Soroya M) and Mary Apick (I Am Neda, 1979 Revolution: The Game) — expats and darlings of Hollywood’s Persian-American community, were also present at the festival to offer their support. Negahban and Apick co-star in director Dylan Bank’s upcoming feature, Price for Freedom, based on the book by Dr. Marc Benhuri, an Iranian Jew who worked to counter oppression after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Mark Amin, a member of Farhang’s Board of Trustees and CEO of Sobini Films, noted how the festival has matured over the years, both in attendance as well as the depth and complexities of the films submitted. Since the festival’s inception, Farhang has awarded $120,000 in cash prizes while introducing Los Angeles film audiences to new, international talents.
The screening was hosted by stand-up comedian and filmmaker, K-von, a first-generation mixed Caucasian-Iranian American from Reno, who won the festival’s top prize in 2014 for his hilarious journey exploring his paternal Iranian heritage in NOWRUZ: lost and found. He nailed it as emcee, and is definitely a comic worth following.
The night kicked off with a red carpet arrival, which, unlike your typical Hollywood ceremonial carpet strut, included a lot of kissing on the cheeks and catching up on well-being of family members — and plenty of shame-on-you’s if you didn’t recognize the legends among us. Men in suits and women in cocktail dresses shared generously large bags of lavashak, a traditional Persian fruit leather snack, before the show. “It’s from Iran!,” they’d insist, if you dared reject the offer.
This is what I love about Persian events in LA — the unabashed familiarity between strangers, the obsolescence of a favorite American standard called “personal space,” and being admonished by people I’ve never met for not speaking Persian, my native tongue, properly. It’s a sentiment extended to the non-Iranians who, though sometimes caught off guard by the forwardness, come to terms with the fact that for the next few hours, they will be part of this crazy, big family, subjected to lots of unsolicited and occasional match-making.
Like any proper Persian event, the night ended with more partying, music, drinks, food, and even more kissing.