Still from Mehrdad Oskouei’s Sunless Shadows, 2019, Source: Variety 

IDFA 2019 To Showcase Nine Farsi Documentaries

by Marisa Sittheeamorn

The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) kicks off today and will be screening more than 300 films over the next 11 days. Known as the world’s largest documentary festival, filmmakers and industry affiliates flock to the Dutch capital to experience the latest non-fiction masterpieces from around the world. With films from over 72 countries, this year’s lineup features nine titles representative of the Farsi-speaking region.

Most exciting of all is Mehrdad Oskouei’s Sunless Shadows (2019) which has been selected as the festival’s opening night film. Premiering worldwide, the film is set in an Iranian juvenile detention center and follows a group of adolescent girls as they serve a sentence for murdering male family members. The film is a contender in the feature-length documentary competition and is one not to be missed.

Still from The Unseen (Behzad Nalbandi, 2019), Source: The Hollywood Reporter, Photo: Iranian Independents

The Luminous category of the festival showcases films that immerse viewers through character-, story- or author-driven cinematic experiences that “redeem the beauty of human relationships, expression, and empathy.” Including only premieres, this category introduces The Unseen by Behzad Nalbandi, The Absence by Fateme Zolfaghari Koohi, and The Forbidden Strings by Hasan Noori. In The Unseen, Nalbandi creates original stop-motion animations to accompany recorded accounts of the “invisible” homeless women who reside in detention centers after being cleared from the streets of Tehran. The Absence, on the other hand, contemplates the aftermath of an earthquake that killed over 630, and displaced more than 70,000 people from their homes in 2017. The film follows Azita and her finacé Sadeq, as they try to salvage their belongings from the ruins, and memorialize their precious and irreplaceable memories. The only Iranian, Afghan, and Qatari co-production, The Forbidden Strings depicts the lives of four Afghan immigrants who have formed a rock band in Iran. As they arrive in Kabul to perform live, they are met with troubling consequences.

In the IDFA competition for Mid-Length Documentary is Anticlockwise by Jalal Vafaee. Centering around his democratic reformist father, Vafaee reveals the struggle his family endures for being politically engaged under the Iranian regime. Within the competition for Kids & Docs is Asho by Jafar Najafi, which tells the story of a young boy who herds sheep with his father and dreams of becoming an actor. Set in a rural hillside town, Asho strives to perfect his star-like qualities, while navigating his romance with Pari, his cousin who he must first marry.

Still from Asho (Jafar Najafi, 2019), Source: DOK Leipzig      

Nerd_Funk by Ali Eslami and Mamali Shafahi is the only immersive experience from the Farsi-speaking region. In creating a virtual identity that investigates the online culture of our current day, audiences are able to delve into themes emergent in digital media through virtual reality. The film was the winner of the Netherlands Film Fund Doclab Interactive Grant, and is in the IDFA DocLab Competition for Immersive Non-Fiction. 

In addition to its wide array of international premiers, the festival will also be showcasing Midnight Traveller by Hassan Fazili – a 2019 festival favorite that premiered at Sundance. Accompanying the festival’s more contemporary selection is the 1996 film A Moment of Innocence by Mohsen Makhmalbaf. 

In our increasingly polarized world, it is refreshing to see so much self-representation of the Farsi speaking region at film festivals such as IDFA. The films in selection are a needed reminder of our colliding worlds that are full of color, fear, heartbreak, love, and laughter. They make us stop to reflect on our chaotic lives, and remember how, at the core of everything, we are all simply human.

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