Iran’s Fajr Film Festival is a Window Into The Past, Present and Future of Artistic Cinema

Between the 19th and 27th of April, Tehran will host the 36th Annual Fajr Film Festival. The festival is one of many international festivals of cultural exchange presented by Iran throughout the year. One of the reasons that Iran remains a unique and captivating country to people around the world is that it is one of the longest continually existing civilisations in the world. While many of the empires that ancient Iran interacted with have fallen or been absorbed by other sovereign entities, Iran’s historical continuity remains intact. In today’s Iran, one finds a land whose streets were carved by ancient figures of historical acclaim, while a modern  Revolutionary government has brought Iran into the 21st century by preserving traditional Islamic values while embracing modernising reforms in education, infrastructure, and information technology.

Cultural exchange is one of the most effective ways of gaining knowledge of new cultures because unlike a scholarly work or a news item, cultural exchange conveys not only the essence of a society, its history and its values,  but also the emotional elements of a culture that are otherwise difficult for a newcomer to apprehend.

This is one of the many ways that the Fajr Film Festival is exciting – it presents the world a window into the world of Farsi language films, while also giving an opportunity for international film makers to screen their original works before audiences of film enthusiasts in Tehran.

Iranian cinema is among the fastest growing and most consistently acclaimed national cinema canon’s in the world. Beginning in 1982 the, Fajr Film Festival became one of the most important showcases for these films before they were released to the general public in Iranian cinemas and globally via an ever expanding home video market in the 1990s. Today, the internet allows the films that will be screened at Fajr to reach an ever wider audience.

New feature length films will complete for the Golden Simorgh, an award named for a mythical bird that has long played a role in Iranian literature and folklore. In addition, the festival will feature the following categories for both new and classic films:

— Cinema Salvation (International Competition)
— Eastern Vista (Panorama of Films from Asian and Islamic Countries)
— Festival of Festivals
-Parallel Sections:
–Restored Classics
— Docs in Focus
–Special Screenings (retrospectives and memorials)
–Midnight Screenings (innovative overview of different genre in
–Bayt Al- Moqadis (Revolution of the Islamic World)
— World (other countries) Cinema
–The Seventh Bell (Specially screening for student)

Additionally, the festival features educational forums, question and answer sessions with film makers and a showcase of new digital cinema technology.

In an age where many film festivals seek to provoke with the latest outrageous trends, the focus of the Fajr Film Festival is on artistry, the human condition, questions of faith and spirituality and a wider understanding of the contemporary world with an emphasis on global interconnectivity. This years festival features documentaries exploring the human loss in the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan as part of a series called Broken Olive Branches.

While many prominent films in western countries try to reduce the Islamic world to a monolith, the films at Fajr allow the world to understand the reality of a vast set of nations and peoples whose common thread is the Islamic faith and culture.

During his recent trip to India, Iranian President Rouhani spoke of the need to develop greater intra-communal understandings, cooperation and charity throughout the Islamic world. The films which will feature in Broken Olive Branches, will likely reflect various aspects of these shared values which are central to Iran’s political and social system.

Great art is one part escapism and one part reflection of the realities of our shared world. Art which has the most long lasting impression on its viewers is that which is able to both hold a mirror up to the virtues and vices of one’s present reality, while offering inspiration for that which might be if the high ideals of virtuous art were to become a reflection of a collective future experience. In Iran, a place where ancient history comes face to face with modern progress, it is as appropriate a forum as any to hold such a festival.

This is the ethos of the Fajr Film Festival along with all the joy, contemplation, entertainment and inspiration it has brought film lovers since 1982.

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