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Reza Mirkarimi • Director, Fajr International Film Festival

“It is the right time to start co-productions between Iran and Europe”


- Iranian filmmaker Reza Mirkarimi has been working as the director of the Fajr IFF in Tehran since 2015. Cineuropa chatted to him at the gathering about how the festival has changed over the years

Reza Mirkarimi  • Director, Fajr International Film Festival
(© Amir Talaie Keyvan)

Acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Reza Mirkarimi, whose credits include Today, which won awards at numerous festivals, including Tallinn Black Nights, has been working as the director of the Fajr International Film Festival in Tehran since 2015. Mirkarimi tells Cineuropa about how the festival has changed over the years and the current situation with regard to film distribution in Iran.

Cineuropa: How was the Fajr IFF looking before your tenure, and what has changed?
Reza Mirkarimi:
 Fajr IFF used to be very successful. Some big names won their first international prizes here, like Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Godfrey Reggio. Over the last two decades, it has become a little weaker, and we are now trying to bring it back to its former glory. Politically, for the last 20 years, Iranian administrations have started to move certain fields, like the economy, into the private sector. And for a number of years, they have started to detach culture from the government. This is a government-supported festival, but they are willing to give us more autonomy. It is very difficult, but it's a good start. 

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When the new government came to power some three-and-a-half years ago, they invited me to take over as the festival director. I told them I'd do it if I had full independence and freedom to do my work. The government hasn't interfered in my work, and that's probably why you can meet many Iranian filmmakers, actors and cinematographers at the festival, watching films and hanging out. Before this, you wouldn't see that many of them coming together at an event. This is because the local industry realises that the festival is now more independent.

It is forbidden in Iran to show nudity and sex in films. How do you get around this regulation?
These regulations are more strictly enforced on TV and in the regular cinemas, but at the festival, we are cut some more slack. If we want to show a film that contains this kind of content, we get in touch with the filmmakers to ask them for permission to cut or blur the problematic scenes. On occasions it has been very hard to strike a deal with the filmmakers for this, but this year, from almost 110 films from abroad, on average we cut only about 15 seconds out of them. 

I have to say that I've been to many A-list festivals, and all of them had some form of limitation on content. We have to understand the specific conditions of particular regions. But we are trying hard to choose films that match our values so that we don't have to do this. We are also trying go step by step and slowly get the government to allow for fewer limitations.

What are your main criteria for the films in the official programme, and also the Iranian films presented at the market?
I'm a filmmaker myself, and the cinematic value of any film is the most important criterion. Next comes the variety of genre and style. Content is not that crucial. As for the market, because it is now the pre-festival season, this is a good opportunity for Iranian cinema to be shown to international buyers and festivals. What we have is the sum total of the past year’s Iranian cinema production – at least those that were submitted to us. From about 60 submissions, we picked around 30 films. Unfortunately, we are limited in terms of the number of screening venues and slots; otherwise, we would have given more films a chance.

What is the situation like for the distribution of foreign films in Iran, and what is the role of the Fajr IFF in this? 
Because of the theatre limitations in Iran, the screenings of movies from other countries is very limited, especially because of the support for local cinema. Movies from abroad are only suitable for screening in cinematheque programmes or at small gatherings. People do watch foreign movies, but at home. And of course, they want to watch them on the big screen. In Iran, we don't have a broad variety of genres, so this year we had a horror programme, which may help Iranian cinema to produce different genres for different generations and different tastes. Next year, we are probably going to focus on science fiction, or some other genre.

Can you tell us a bit about potential co-productions between Iran and other countries, especially European ones?
I think this is the right time to start real co-productions between Iran and other countries. Some co-productions have already started for low-budget films, but we don't have the exact statistics. So far, we’ve mostly had foreign productions coming to film in Iran, like the Italian film Just Like My Son, which is now shooting here in Tehran. Last week, people from Bavaria Film came for negotiations for a co-production, and in the last ten years, we’ve had Iranian crews working in Europe. We also have a crew from China now who want to shoot here, and another from Hong Kong. But co-productions in the real sense of the word are yet to start, and now is a really good moment for this. 

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