The Building Legacy of Farsi Cinema at Busan
by Juhi Dhingra
The 24th edition of Busan International Film Festival wrapped up on October 12 and was nothing short of a celebration of Farsi-speaking cinema. With 12 Farsi titles in its lineup this year, the festival has continued to serve as a beacon of hope for indie filmmakers across Asia hoping to make a splash in the highest rungs of the international film circuit. As one of the continent’s most prestigious festivals, BIFF is a popular platform for international and world premieres. This year, the festival presented 145 world and international premieres, representing cinemas spanning the globe.
Farsi cinema was highly championed in 1998 when the 3rd edition of BIFF kicked off with Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Iranian-Tajik-French co-production The Silence. Another milestone was reached in 2003 when Makhmalbaf was honoured as the Asian Filmmaker of the Year for his outstanding efforts to improve and develop the Asian film industry.
Shahbazi won the FIPRESCI Award for a Deep Breath, and Siddiq Barmak won the Audience Award for his Afghan-Iranian-Dutch-Japanese co-production Osama. Barmak’s win, while personally significant, also signalled Afghan cinema’s first win at Busan.
Then, in 2010, the festival board published a book on Makhmalbaf and his works, titled Salaam Cinema!: Films of Makhmalbaf Family. His wife, Marzieh Meshkini’s, debut feature The Day I Became A Woman won the New Currents Award that same year. The most recent decade saw continued success for the Farsi film industry, with Mourning (Morteza Farshbaf, 2011), Sonje (Nikan Nezami, 2012), What’s the Time in Your World (Safi Yazdanian, 2014), Immortal (Seyed Hadi Mohaghegh, 2015), and Blockage (Mohsen Gharaei, 2017), all taking home awards across FIPRESCI and New Currents segments. Shortly after his passing, Abbas Kiarostami was awarded Asian Filmmaker of the Year for his extensive contributions to world cinema in 2017.
This year, the legacy of Farsi cinema lives on through the strong presence of Afghan and Iranian titles in the festival’s program. Afghan director Sahraa Karimi’s Venice-premiered feature Hava, Maryam, Ayesha had its Asian Premiere at Busan within the ‘Window on Asian Cinema’ category. The film offered viewers the rare opportunity to learn about Afghan women through the lens of an Afghan woman. Within the same category, Cinema Donkey (Shahed Ahmadlou, 2019) and Navid Mahmoudi’s Afghan-Iranian co-production Seven and a Half had their world premieres, while Suddenly a Tree (Safi Yazdanian, 2019) had its international premiere. Other Farsi titles in the program include Mona Zandi Haghighi’s African Violet and Shahrbanoo Sadat’s The Orphanage. Ahmadlou’s Cinema Donkey was also listed as a contender for the Kim Ji Seok Award, which was won by Iranian director Jamshid Mahmoudi for Rona, Azim’s Mother in 2018.
Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who sat on the Kim Ji Seok Jury this year, also returned to the festival with his Italian-UK co-production Marghe and Her Mother, in the Icons category. Busan newbies Mohammadreza Keivanfar and Hamed Tehrani both had their world premieres of Among the Hills and Diapason, respectively, under New Currents. Lastly, the Wide Angle section of the festival screened Roqaia (Diana Saqeb, 2019), and premiered Mullah’s Daughter (Hassan Solhjou and Mahdieh Sadat Mirhbabibi, 2019) and Dragon’s Tail (Saeed Keshavarz, 2019).
With this year’s lineup, BIFF raised the bar in terms of efforts directed at diversity and inclusion of indie filmmakers. With decades of buildup, cinema from the Farsi-speaking region has constituted a significant portion of the festival’s program, upholding its reputation as one of the most important festivals for Farsi-speaking talent around the world. Busan’s commitment to showcasing quality arthouse works from the Farsi speaking diaspora is a signal in the right direction for the global industry, and Farsi Cinema Center hopes to see other prestigious festivals promote films from Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan with the same tenacity as the team behind Busan does.