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25th DC Festival of Films from Iran

The Smithsonian museums may be closed due to the pandemic, but that isn’t stopping the Museum of Asian Art from hosting its 25th annual Festival of Films from Iran. The festival is now online with a slate of eight films which explore how people cope with subjects including environmental destruction, terminal cancer, the 1953 coup in Iran, and the death penalty. When the museum introduced the Iranian Film Festival in the 1990s, the event focused on what was referred to as the second new wave of Iranian cinema. The museum’s current film curator Tom Vick told City Paper in 2016 that second wave directors like Abbas Kiarostami found “creative ways” to “work within a very restrictive [Iranian censorship] system, using strategies that, in part, stem from the Persian poetic tradition of using allegory and allusion to address taboo topics.” For this year’s event, some directors have adapted and transformed those older approaches with more recent topics. Bandar Band involves a young music trio’s attempted day-long road trip through the horrific 2019 Iran floods to a battle of the bands in Tehran. The Manijeh Hekmat-directed movie is notable for its dramatic visuals as the musicians’ bus moves past flocks of sheep on deluged highways, refugees, and a literal fiddler on a roof. Although the movie’s ending may be too mysterious for some, as a whole it cleverly conveys how the musicians use music to deal with the grim reality of the destruction outside the bus windows. Soroush Sehat’s Dance with Me is the story of a divorced, depressed professor now living on a farm with his daughter when friends show up to celebrate his birthday and learn he’s dying. Described by some as an Iranian The Big Chill, the film also uses surrealism—roving musicians only seen by the professor performing on circus trapezes or on cliffs—to tell a tale of living life fully, even in the face of death. The films are available at iranfestdc.eventive.org to Feb. 7. Free for viewers in D.C., Maryland, or Virginia.