The Iranian take

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The Iranian take

There’s a tinge of bitterness in his voice when he speaks of the Academy Awards. “Of course, they pay more attention to Western problems. I can’t compete with a movie about the Jewish Holocaust (‘Son of Saul’)!” says Iranian director Hassan Nazer, whose film ‘Utopia’ was screened at the eighth annual Bengaluru International Film Festival. ‘Utopia’ was Afghanistan’s official entry for the ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ category at the 88th Academy Awards but it didn’t make the cut.

Recognising the large platform such an award can provide to independent filmmakers and their films, he doesn’t hesitate to voice his objections about the white-washed and politicised selection process. “I knew this would happen for six months. The Academy is getting more conservative with each passing year.” ‘Utopia’ was supposedly rejected on the grounds that it had too much English content.

It’s important to note where this disappointment stems from. Hassan doesn’t crown the Academy Awards as ‘King’ of all awards; instead, he sees it as a stage with a global reach, one that can give the independent filmmaker the push he needs. “From an artistic standpoint, it’s not the biggest award but for commercial films, it is,” he says. Otherwise, it’s just a statue, he adds.

Nonetheless, Hassan is irked by this move. “My movie is about Western interference in various parts of the world so it was obvious it wouldn’t get much support. But I thought it had the potential to at least make the top five. Unfortunately, even if someone liked it, they can’t do anything about it as the Academy is about following rules and politics. The movie that spends more money gets the award.” 

He notes the importance of money in the success (or failure) of a film, and says that this could be detrimental to upcoming filmmakers.

 “Filmmakers have to spend millions on advertising and campaigning, have to give away money just to get attention, and independent filmmakers don’t have this kind of money. Unless they are picked up by a distributor, their movie is unlikely to win awards or get the attention it deserves.”

Hassan also mentions that in the money a commercial film spends on advertising, an independent filmmaker could make at least five films.

This political agenda that sits underneath most film juries and committees is not something new. Although it is slowly starting to fray around the edges, the practice of pushing pro-Western agendas and financially secure films is still at large.

“I’ve seen the kind of Iranian films that are picked for the big awards — juries always pick ones that show the Iranian governance in bad light. People understand this but can’t fight it,” he says. Taking the 2012 Academy Award winner for ‘Best Film’, ‘Argo’ as an example, Hassan describes how Iran is portrayed to the West and it’s relationship with the
US.

 “Even though the story wasn’t true, it got a lot of attention. So much attention that people believed the story to be true, though it was just a parody. While the movie dramatises the ‘rescue’, what really happened was that the Iranian government let them go for things in return.”

Talking about ‘Utopia’, he says, “There are three stories in it — an Afghani woman who is trying to conceive through artificial means, a Britisher who doesn’t approve of his father’s involvement in the American-Afghani war and an old Indian man who shows that no one can change destiny.”

He adds that the trend these days is to feed a viewer drama to make up for the lack of budget. “When making films these days, people first need to think about the religious and political implications, and then the story.” This is why he doesn’t actively think about making award-winning movies, instead wants to get his story out there. These changes in the film industry don’t sit well with him but he tries to make the best of the situation.

“I’m not here to make movies that incite people; I’m here to just tell a story.”

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