still from Retouch by Kaveh Mazaheri

Still from Retouch (Kaveh Mazaheri, 2017), Source: Short of the Week

The Overlooked Talent of Short Filmmaking

by Marisa Sittheeamorn

When cinema was born, all the films were short. Introduced to the public in 1894, the first films consisted of one shot, usually of celebrities or scenes from everyday life. As the 19th century came to an end, recording and editing technologies improved, allowing for longer, multi-shot films to be produced. Feature films were able to depict more complex narratives, rose in popularity and created a culture of cinema-going among the middle to the upper class.

While short films faced a demise in commercial theatres, the continued expansion of affordable recording equipment and the introduction of digital production lead to an explosion of independent filmmaking. The rise of the internet, in particular, coupled with the affordability of digital production, created an upsurge of short film production in recent decades.

Still from The Bread and Alley (Kiarostami, 1970), Source: IndieWire

Short films produced in our current day find a home on online channels hosted on Youtube and Vimeo, with the most popular channels attracting millions of viewers every week. Despite being overshadowed by feature films, film festivals also serve as major catalysts and promoters of short films. With special competitions in the most prestigious of festivals, new and emerging filmmakers are able to experiment with innovative storytelling and make a name for themselves in the increasingly competitive film industry through short filmmaking.

The history of short filmmaking in the Farsi-speaking region follows a very similar trajectory when compared to the rest of the world. The region’s most renowned filmmakers, such as Abbas Kiarostami, created short films before tackling more layered long-form narratives. Notable titles from the pre-revolutionary era include The House is Black (Forough Farrokhzad, 1962), Bread and Alley (Abbas Kiarostami, 1970), Uncle Mustache  (Bahram Beizai, 1970), and Wooden Pistols (Shapur Gharib, 1976). For Abbas Kiarostami and Bahram Beizai, these titles were the first films they ever created and were the titles that launched their long and highly-rewarded filmmaking careers.

Needle scene

Still from Needle (Anahita Ghazvizadeh, 2013), Source: Culture/Nature/Structure

In our current day, the Farsi region continues to build its rich portfolio of shorts – with Iran alone, producing hundreds of titles every year. The Circle (Mohammad Shirvani, 1999), which tells the story of an old man chasing his dream, premiered at Cannes in 1999, and set the standard for more contemporary short filmmaking following the revolution. Since his debut with The Circle, Shirvani has gone on to direct multiple shorts and features, winning multiple awards along the festival circuit. In 2013, Iranian-born Anahita Ghazvizadeh wowed audiences at Cannes, making history for being the first Iranian filmmaker to take home the main prize in the Cinefondation section of Cannes for her US produced short, Needle. While the film was her second directorial, she has since gone on to direct two features, one of which is currently in post-production.

Another recent masterpiece from Iran is Retouch (2017) by Kaveh Mazaheri. The film, which won the Best Short Fiction Film Award at Fajr Film Festival in 2017, tells the story of a woman who watches her husband die in front of her own eyes. In addition to winning domestic recognitions, the film also won three Oscar-qualifying festivals, including Tribeca, Palm Springs Shortfest, and Krakow Film Festival. Mazaheri’s most recent film, Funfair (2019) premiered at BFI London earlier this fall and is currently gaining traction playing at other Oscar-qualifying festivals in Albania, Ireland and Talinn.

While the films highlighted above make up some of the most significant works in the cinematic history of the Farsi region, there are still hundreds of films that remain overlooked every year. FCC hopes to empower all filmmakers and acknowledges the immense amount of talent and creativity that goes into producing high-quality short films. We stand by film festivals dedicated to showcasing short films and are proud to the same on our own. Stay tuned for our announcement of shorts for ÍRÁN:CI 2020 in the coming weeks!

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