Montreal's Concordia University Professor back from Iranian Film Jury
by: Barbara Black
Film Studies professor Peter Rist just returned from Tehran, where he served on the jury of the Fajr
International Film Festival.
It was a first for the expert in Asian cinema, and as he tells it, there’s nothing like starting at the top. Having
refused previous invitations from Canadian festivals, he accepted this one because of the prestige of the
event and the rare opportunity to visit Iran.
Its notoriously strict political regime contrasts with the warmth and openness of the people, Rist said.
“Everybody I met criticized the government. They make George Bush jokes, too, but they speak English as
their second language. It’s a bit like Cuba, where they embrace American culture while they oppose [the
policies]. And they’re cinemaniacs.”
Iranian films are revered by connoisseurs. Rist says their quality stems from the rich artistic culture of the
region, but it may also owe its originality to the heavy hand of censorship, which drives the filmmakers to
reach for effects in subtle ways.
“A man and a woman can’t touch on screen,” he said. “A woman seen in her own home has to wear a headscarf, even though she wouldn’t
wear it normally.” It reminds Rist of the ingenuity of the best Hollywood directors working under the puritanical Production Code of the 1930s
“Iranian directors are very good at depicting ordinary, everyday life, especially making films about children,” he said.
However, the appetite of the Iranian film buff knows no bounds. The festival included such Western releases as the George Clooney legal
thriller Michael Clayton and Redacted, a brutal depiction of the war in Iraq. Fajr is also an industry marketplace, where international television
series as well as films are bought and sold.
Rist was on the jury for the Asian section of the filmfest, which included work from China, Korea, Vietnam, Iran and Iraq. As the only academic,
he found that his taste differed from that of his fellow jurors, who were filmmakers, but this didn’t mar the experience.
“The people’s choice award [for the whole festival] went to an American horror movie made from a Stephen King story called 1408,” he said
with a laugh.
Rist’s visit benefited from his contacts among Concordia students of Iranian background. One of them went with him to Ottawa to help get his
visa, and a former student now teaching film in Iran was his guide there, introducing him to key people in film world.
As a result of his participation, Rist was contacted by a Canadian diplomat. He has conceived an idea for a joint film project, and plans to
discuss it with her.