NOV. 1-3

With its venerable tradition of calligraphy and illuminated manuscripts, Iran is a logical place for animators to thrive. But don’t expect much Disney or Japanimation influence in the three programs of Persian ‘toons that make up George Mason University’s Iranian Animation and Film Festival. Iranian animation is more like the Eastern European variety, although without the ironic edge. One of the longer entries is derived from the ancient Book of Kings, but many of the films use nature imagery and cycle-of-life themes to convey moral lessons. Birds, trees, and apples are in, spaceship-piloting vixens out in these beautifully rendered movies, which often look like children’s-book illustrations come to life. Each day offers a different lineup of shorts and features, with Sunday’s program devoted entirely to the work of stop-action master Abdollah Alimorad (whose Bahador is pictured). Also included are five live-action features, including two that have had relatively recent commercial runs: Babak Payami’s Secret Ballot and Majid Majidi’s The Color of Paradise. The rarer offerings are Abbas Kiarostami’s first feature, 1974’s Traveler, in which a 12-year-old heads for Tehran to watch a big sporting match, and Rakhshan Bani-Etemad’s Nargess, the story of a thief who tries to leave his older lover (and fellow criminal) for the beautiful young title character. Although Traveler’s technique is rough, it clearly prefigures the style and themes of Kiarostami’s later films. Bani-Etemad is the anti-Kiarostami, rejecting the new Iranian cinema’s Brechtian approach in favor of underclass melodramas whose plots could have come from ’30s Warner Bros. pictures. The series opens at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 1, at George Mason University’s Johnson Cinema, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax. Free. (703) 993-8898. (Mark Jenkins)