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UCL Mellon Programme: Interdisciplinary Seminar 2008-2009

Seminar: 5 March 2009 (Chair: Dr Saeed Talajooy, more ... )

Logo and link: Iran heritage Foundation Iranian Cinema: Gender, Nation and Narration
(with the generous support of the Iran Heritage foundation, more ...)

A screening and discussion of:

Me, My Room and My Friends (English sub-titles)
and
(Dir. Manijeh Hekmat, 2004)
Women Come Out of the House (English sub-titles)
(Dir. Manijeh Hekmat, 2006)

with the director present

This event is supported by the Iran Heritage Foundation

Abstract:

Although it led to some very radical changes in the country and it deprived women of some of the legal rights that they had enjoyed for decades, the revolution and the events that followed the radical Islamization of the country put a number of socio-political and cultural factors into motion that intensified women movements and women’s presence in the economic, cultural and social life in Iran. Among these the most important was the psychological impacts of the revolution itself. Women of various cultural, economic and educational backgrounds had widely participated in the revolution and were unwilling to leave the results of the revolution to men and return to their houses. The second factor came from the severity of the economic problems during the 1980s. With the west turning its back to Iran with economic sanctions and supporting Saddam Hussein to invade the country, Iranians went through a period of severe poverty in which women had to work in order to support their families. The cultural revolution of the early 1980s created another factor in this process. With the Islamic hejab becoming compulsory and political activities prohibited, many conservative religious families began to feel safe to send their female children to universities, particularly because the war had reduced the rate of marriage. These young women soon developed various professional and social specialties that allowed them to compete in the job market, participate in cultural debates and improve their own families. Soon the Islamicized cinema industry and other cultural scenes began to observe a marked rise in the presence of women, as participants, actors, producers and directors. Women who were no longer afraid of being ostracized as promiscuous or corrupt, if they participated in these forms of activities, rushed in to fill the huge gap and the image of women became the central figure of many cultural products, propagating, reinforcing and providing role models for women’s presence in society. These economic and cultural facts brought women face to face with the patriarchal attitudes within their society and the country’s political structures and a grassroots movement began to take shape in which religious and secular women, each in their own ways, tried to improve the condition of women.

Furthermore, during the 1980s, the severity of the economic problems forced a type of seriousness on the Iranian culture that diluted the mimicry of the western over-feminine stereotypes that had become another plight for Iranian women’s movements prior to the revolution. If before the revolution, a typical women’s rights activist had to confront radical religiously-defined patriarchal attitudes and the blind mimicry of western over-feminine stereotypes, during the 1980s, the latter had so weakened that the only point of conflict was the former. If before the revolution one major alternative to the traditional ways of life was the un-negotiated over-feminine homeliness of western housewives of the 1960s and 1970s who appeared in various western films shown in Iran, after the revolution that alternative had been diluted or replaced by the image of revolutionary women from all over the world. The level of tension, of course, changed with the wave of global media and satellite communication during the 1990s, but by the time this over-feminine stereotype returned, the lives of Iranian women had been so politicized that even this over-feminine type had no desire to limit itself to being a beautified, well-dressed, gym-going housewife.

Manijeh Hekmat’s documentary, Women Come out of the House (2004), builds on the history of this gradual development to examine the activities of NGOs in Iran, reflecting on the process that makes women engage with the government in order to depoliticize their activities to be able to continue improving the condition of people around them. Me, My Room and My Friends (2006) on the other hand, follows in the footsteps of Forrogh Farrokhzad’s The House is Black — which depicted the lives of people in a lepers’ asylum in the early 1960s — to portray the lives of the inmates of a mental asylum. The film allows the inmates to make their own film and projects an implicit critique of the condition of the men and women who live in that space.

Suggested Reading and Links

Alavi, Nasrin, (2005), We Are Iran. London: Portobello Books Ltd.

Azam Zangeneh, Lila, (2006), My Sister Guard Your Veil, My Brother Guard Your Eye: Uncensored Iranian Voices. Boston, Mass: Beacon Press.

Dabashi, Hamid, (2006), ‘Forugh Farrokhzad: The House Is Black’ in Masters and Masterpieces of Iranian Cinema. Washington DC: Mage. 39-70.

Ebadi, Shirin, (2007), Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope. London: Rider & Co

Esfandiari, Haleh, (1997), Reconstructed Lives: Women and Iran’s Islamic Revolution Washington D.C.

Links

Payvand Iran News: Women at http://www.payvand.com/news/women.html offer links to a variety of articles on women movements in Iran.

Biography

Manijeh Hekmat was born in 1962 in Arak, Iran. During the 1980s, she worked as an experimental filmmaker and since then she has worked as an assistant director for 25 and as production manager for 10 feature films. In 1995, Hekmat founded her Bamdad Film Company which established her as a major producer for women-related films. Since then she has been the producer of 6 feature films and the producer and director of 8 documentaries. Among her famous production works are such award-winning films as Dokhtari ba Kafshhai-e Katani (The Girl in the Sneakers, 1999) and Yek Mosht Alaf (A Bunch of Grass, 1999). Her directorial debut feature, Zendan-e Zanan (Women’s Prison , 2002) has been screened at more than 120 international film festivals and received numerous prizes. Between her first feature film and the second, Seh Zan (Three Women, 2008) Hekmat made several documentaries, including Man, Otagham va Doostanam (Me, My Room and My Friends, 2004) Zanan az Khaneh Biroon Miaiand (Women Come out of the House 2006). The first documentary deals with the condition, desires and dreams of women in a mental asylum and the second with the impediments and aspirations of NGOs in Iran. Manijeh Hekmat is married to the director Jamshid Ahangaran and their daughter Pegah Ahangarani is a successful actress who has appeared in some of her films.

This page last modified 26 September, 2012 by UCL Mellon Admin

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