Page last updated at 11:10 GMT, Saturday, 18 February 2006

Iran films return to Berlin festival

By Ray Furlong
BBC News, Berlin

The scenes are desolate, snow-covered, and often dark: under a motorway bridge, in a back alley, on a construction site.

Director Rafi Pitts and his costume designer Malak Khazai
Rafi Pitts says Berlin offers oxygen for cinema
It's Winter (Zemestan), one of two Iranian films in the competition at the Berlin Film Festival this year, offers a bleak view of life in small-town Iran.

"The film is about the working class, the struggle to survive, and the emergency life that they live," says director Rafi Pitts. "There are so many reasons for this film to exist."

The film tells the story of a woman who works in a factory as a seamstress after her husband leaves her to look for a job abroad. Later she meets a mechanic - but he also wants to leave.

Pitts says it is hugely important that with It's Winter and another film called Offside, Iranian cinematography has returned to the Berlinale competition after a break of 30 years.

"These festivals are a podium which help these films exist. They're a podium that enable you to show a problem that might exist in a certain section of the world - to reflect that place. It gives me the right to talk to you as we speak. So Berlin is oxygen for cinema."

Window on Iran

Iran's film tradition is well known, but in the past the Berlinale has missed out because it has clashed with a major Iranian film festival.

Iranian football fans
Football is a matter of high passion in Iran
This year, as well as the two competition films, several other Iranian movies are also showing.

Verena Lueken, film editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, says it is a fortunate coincidence - coming at a time of tension with Iran.

"The cinema is actually a picture of countries that we only know from the news. We don't know the people who live there or how they live, we only hear about what their government does," she says.

"I think that the worse the government does, as now in Iran, the more we have to try to keep interest in the people who live there."

Emigre complaints

The second competition film, Offside, is about teenage girls who are arrested by the army after trying to sneak into a football match.

Jafar Panahi
Panahi has had films banned in Iran

It is a humorous film: showing them celebrate that Iran have scored a goal while their guards, half-hearted conscripted soldiers, stand-by powerless to stop them.

While both films are critical of Iranian society, there have been protests from Iranian exiles in Berlin - because there is no clear condemnation of the Iranian regime in them.

But Rose Issa, the Berlinale's adviser for Asian film, defends both Rafi Pitts and Jafar Panahi, the director of Offside.

"Jafar Panahi's two previous films were forbidden in Iran. Raffi Pitts had to sell his flat in Tehran to finance his film," she says.

"All the current issues of daily life in Iran are reflected in their work. Those who go and see the films will have a better view of what life is like in Iran today."

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