Dancing to Glory: Farsi Cinema at Sundance 2020
by JUHI DHINGRA
The Sundance Film Festival may be the largest independent film festival in the US and has largely acted as a catapult for Hollywood movies, but its role in propelling the renown of Farsi-related cinema is undeniable. Over the years, Farsi-language cinema has found a strong foothold in the otherwise politically distant US through Sundance.
Despite the complex situation between the US and Iran, Sundance has cemented its commitment to showcasing the strongest cinema from the Farsi-speaking region and its diaspora. In addition to frequently programming and supporting projects through its year-round institute, the festival has also praised Farsi titles with recognition in competitive sections for over a decade. In 2006, the thematically relevant Enemies of Happiness (Eva Mulvad) snatched up the World Cinema Jury Prize for Documentary. In 2010, both Kick in Iran (Fatima Geza Abdollahyan) and The Green Wave (Ali Samadi Ahadi) were nominated in their respective categories. Then, in 2011, the ground-breaking Circumstance by Maryam Keshavarz won the Audience Award in the Dramatic section of the festival. In 2015, the festival honored Iran with an installation under its New Frontier section.
The festival’s recognition of Farsi films is expansive and travels beyond Iran’s borders. Last year in 2019, Hassan Fazili’s Midnight Traveller stole the Special Jury Award within the World Cinema Documentary competition. The film follows the Afghan filmmaker with his family, on their journey for asylum in Europe, after the Taliban places a bounty on his head. This year was no different, and continued to fan the fire of the region’s booming film industry. Three titles spread across different competitions represented two films from Iran, and one from Tajikistan.
The one Iranian feature was Massoud Bakhshi’s world-premiering Yalda, A Night For Forgiveness (2019). A joint production between Iran, France, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Lebanon, the film follows 22-year-old Maryam as she attempts to evade her death sentence after killing her 65-year-old husband. The plea takes place on a reality TV show but conforms to the Iranian law that allows her to change the fate of her sentence if she is forgiven by her husband’s daughter. The film won the hearts of critics and audiences alike, winning the Grand Jury Prize in the Dramatic category of World Cinema.
Within the Short Film Competition, Sadaf Asgari took home the Short Film Jury Award for Acting in Sonia K. Hadad’s 2019 festival favorite, Exam. Asgari, who also plays the lead in Yalda, A Night For Forgiveness, was awarded for her portrayal of a school girl who’s exam day is complicated by her responsibility to deliver a bag of cocaine to a client.
Last, but certainly not least, is Daria Kashceeva’s animated short, Daughter (2019). The only title by a Tajik filmmaker in the entire festival line up, the animation tells the poignant story of a woman’s complicated relationship with her father. It was this year’s recipient of the Short Film Jury Award for Animation.
FCC congratulates the cast and crew behind all these projects, and looks forward to witnessing the growing representation of Farsi-speaking cinema in the United States.