Dornsife screens Middle Eastern films

(Mia Islas | Daily Trojan)

Watch a film, learn and eat snacks. Department of Middle East Studies aims to educate students about Persian culture and language through screenings of critically-acclaimed Iranian films. The Persian Film Series is part of the department’s Iranian Studies Initiative for Spring 2020. 

The second film in the series, “The Song of Sparrows,” directed by Majid Majidi, was Iran’s official submission to the Foreign Language Film category of the 2009 Academy Awards. The Department of Middle East Studies screened the accoladed film with English subtitles Tuesday in Taper Hall.

Last month, the department screened “Bashu, the Little Stranger” directed by Bahram Beizai, which follows a young boy violently displaced by the Iran-Iraq War. It is hailed as “The Best Iranian Film of All Time” by Persian movie magazine Picture World.

Assistant professor of Iranian Studies Hani Khafipour, who organized the event, is teaching a class called “Politics of Film and Literature in Modern Iran” this semester. The course explores contemporary Iranian society as it is reflected in Persian literature and films. 

“[Khafipour] chose all the films based upon films we had here at USC that had good themes but also that are really great for Persian language students to practice the language,” said Renee Almassizadeh, program specialist for the department of Middle East Studies. 

Although the film series was designed to complement Khafipour’s course, the screenings are open to all. In particular, students enrolled in Persian language courses are encouraged to attend.

Kaveh Mahdavi, a sophomore majoring in biology and Middle East studies, hopes that by attending these screenings, he will develop a stronger connection to his heritage.

“I really want to learn the Persian language because I’m half Persian,” Mahdavi said. “I can’t really speak it, I’m very disconnected from all that. So, something like this is just a good opportunity for me to practice.”

“The Song of Sparrows,” screened Tuesday in Taper Hall, juxtaposes rural farm and bustling city life in Tehran, Iran. (Mia Islas | Daily Trojan)

Mahdavi did not attend the first film in the series but learned about “The Song of Sparrows” screening from his “Persian IV” professor, Peyman Nojoumian. 

The film follows protagonist Karim as he navigates the transition from life as a rural ostrich farmer to a taxi driver in the city. With this transition comes a loss of spirituality toward an obsession with material gain, and he must learn to balance the corruption of capitalism with his community of loved ones back home. 

Mahdavi thought that although the film was “reasonable,” the character development could have been more comprehensive.

“I felt like if it spent more time showing how much of a good person he [Karim] was at the beginning, the change would have been more significant,” Mahdavi said. 

Associate professor Peyman Nojoumian, who presented the screening to students, appreciated the film’s authenticity. He found that the unique usage of amateur actors and traditional Persian music reminded him of home. 

“The actors are not so well-known,” Nojoumian said. “[Majidi] sometimes uses real families to play in the movies, and that was one of the good things. That was so natural, that his family was all together. I was able to connect with some of the scenes because I lived [in Iran] half of my life, so a lot of things for me [were] just very sensible and I could resonate with those experiences.” 

After the screening, attendees had the opportunity to speak with Nojoumian about their impressions of the film. Nojoumian highlighted the film’s symbolism and noted that Majidi drew a stark contrast between the beautiful simplicity of the countryside and the ugly disarray of urbanization.

“Iranians like to make symbolic movies, especially directors like Majidi,” Nojoumian said.

There are two more films left in the Persian Film Series, both by director Abbas Kiarostami. They will be screened March 24 in Taper Hall.

Students can revisit or catch up on the selected films of the Persian Film Series through USC Libraries.