The Fruit House

Gorgan home - NYT
The New York Times Home & Garden section goes to Gorgan.

Persian Cooking Videos

A few weeks ago I spent some time with a reporter writing about Persian food in LA for a really big national publication. And lately I’ve been noticing Persian food popping up more in blogs and media. Is our awesome cuisine finally going mainstream?

Either way, I am pleased to share these really lovely and to-the-point “Persian Food Tutorials” from Cyrus Dowlatshahi’s Fatty Productions. Cyrus has done a great job condensing Persian recipes into how-to videos that are under two minutes long. And he’s working on more of these, which I’m really looking forward to seeing!

Here’s one on how to prepare jujeh kabob (i.e., chicken kabob):

And one on how to prepare mast-o-khiar (cucumber yogurt):

You may remember Cyrus from our post on the film Kabob Guy. Check out more of his work at the Fatty Productions Vimeo page.

7 Questions for Shaghayegh Azimi, Founder of Willow Films and Iran Inside Out

Shaghayegh Azimi is the 27-year-old founder of Willow Films, a film sales and distribution company focused on Middle Eastern films, and originator of Iran Inside Out, a project “dedicated to promoting the development and distribution of online film and video in Iran” (see a short trailer about Iran Inside Out above). Azimi is also the driving force behind American screenings of the acclaimed, avant garde documentary, Tehran Anar Nadarad (Tehran Has No More Pomegranates), which finishes up its national tour in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. on March 4 and 5 (see the bottom of this post for more details).

1. Tell us about your background in film. When and how did you start your company, Willow Films, and what are you working on?

Shaghayegh Azimi: I have always loved movies, and as a kid, I wanted to be part of the film world somehow, but I never thought of pursuing a career in it until much later on. I got into film by chance. I come from a business-oriented family and it has been a natural part of my upbringing. But my heart wasn’t in it, and after graduating from business school at NYU, I wasn’t sure if I would be happy taking the corporate path. Not only did I not want to wear a suit to work, but I also felt geographically unsettled. I had been far from my family in Iran for too long, and the idea of committing to a corporate job in the U.S. scared me. I feared that I would get too lazy to move back to Iran, where my heart really was.

During the summer after business school, while I was deciding what to do, I met a guy who wanted to make a movie about finding his father in Iran. It was called Calling from Tehran, and he needed a producer who could work in both America and Iran. It seemed like such an exciting offer, and it was! It also allowed me time with my family in Iran and time to decide on what I wanted in life. So I ended up in film.

I started Willow Films about a year ago, but I had been thinking about it for a while. After Calling from Tehran, I began to think of a career involving not just film, but Iran and the Middle East in general. I traveled to Syria for a few months and learned Arabic, and then did a Masters in Middle East Studies. Willow Films allowed me to combine my experience in film, business, and the Middle East.

2. How did you become involved with Tehran Anar Nadarad?

SA: I was in Iran in 2006 and worked on selecting films for the first International Documentary Film Festival in Iran called CINEMA VERITE, run by the Documentary and Experimental Film Center. Massoud Bakhshi, the director of Tehran Anar Nadarad, was one of the key people behind the festival and this way I was introduced to his film. At this point, my idea for a distribution company was only hypothetical, but when I saw the film, I had found my first project… It’s a great film and I’m lucky to have started with it.

3. You started Iran Inside Out to help Iranian film development and promotion, specifically using the online medium. How have Iranian filmmakers responded to this project?

SA: The goal of Iran Inside Out is to open up opportunities for the hundreds of talented and passionate young filmmakers in Iran whose films are rarely ever seen outside of small festivals inside Iran. The project also aspires to show a different side of Iran to the rest of the world (i.e., a view from the INSIDE).

Online video is not very popular in Iran yet, because of a lack of high-speed Internet access and also because the Internet is not as much a part of people’s daily lives as it is here in the U.S. I also think that Iranians prefer to watch media in social settings with their family and friends rather than alone on their personal computers. But DSL is becoming more common in Iranian households and I see a change about to take place. Iran Inside Out hopes to provide information and resources for media makers to make the most of the online space.

The response from filmmakers to Iran Inside Out has been positive, but the project has some obstacles: first, I am not in Iran, and second, Iranian filmmakers are still catching on to the idea that online distribution could lead to recognition and distribution opportunities. Some participants do like the idea of showing a different Iran and they care enough to make videos for free, but others are not interested because there’s no financial incentive. Another major obstacle is that aside from a very small grant from Rising Voices, I have chosen not to pursue other funding for Iran Inside Out because I don’t want any strings attached. My wish is that Iran Inside Out will grow organically, on a grass-roots level.

4. Considering widespread censorship in Iran, including online, how do Iranian filmmakers mitigate for this to get exposure for their work?

SA: So far there haven’t been any issues with Iran Inside Out, mainly because the project is too small. Besides this, there is an informal selection process and I am very careful to comply with the so-called “red lines.” Filmmakers are also careful themselves, as they live in Iran and are in no way going to jeopardize their careers for a few minutes of online exposure.

Our intention is to contribute to a more positive and personal story of Iran. I am staying away from any political or analytical stories because I think those should be left to real experts. That said, whether a story is “negative” or “positive” is a subjective matter. For example, a few Iranians were disappointed by Tehran Anar Nadarad because they thought it didn’t show enough of the “nice places” and “good-looking people” of Iran. I think these kinds of expectations rise as a reaction to the negative media about Iran in the US and Western countries, but that they limit artistic and human expression because it makes us more concerned with proving ourselves than just simply telling a story.

5. As a distributor, what’s your advice to filmmakers, particularly Iranians, who are trying to get their films picked up for distribution?

SA: Tehran Anar Nadarad has been my first experience in distribution, so I’m still very new to the industry. But from what I have seen thus far, it is as hard as they say it is to get your film distributed, especially when the market is small, as it is for Middle Eastern films. I have had a very hard time working on this film because the market for an Iranian film is limited, and the cost of advertising and creating buzz far outweighs the profits. Online distribution is changing the industry, but so far it is still only benefiting a few; iTunes, for example, only accepts films from a handful of well-established distributors.

The most successful independent filmmakers are those that do the majority of the marketing themselves and who are able to create a small community of fans around their work. When this is in place, it’s easier to sell a film, even if it means releasing the film only on DVD to a limited audience.

My advice to Iranian filmmakers is to make the best film they can make – from the heart, without thinking of the audience too much – and to send it to as many film festivals, online platforms, competitions around the world as they can. Often times, filmmakers are discouraged by the festival circuit because they hear how tough the competition is or simply because they lack the language skills to research festivals and fill out applications. So another word of advice is to find someone who knows English to help you. After that, the art will speak for itself.

Another note I’d like to make is that filmmakers often worry that they need connections to get into a film festival or to get recognition. My input on this is that it’s true for most filmmakers around the world, but the competition for Iranian filmmakers in particular is not as fierce, because not as many Iranian films are submitted (as compared to American films, for instance). If an Iranian filmmaker has a good film and gets it out to festivals, it’s bound to get attention. So in a way, coming from an underrepresented country has its advantages. I think it must be much harder for a first-time filmmaker in the U.S. to make a name for himself/herself than it would be for a first-time Iranian filmmaker.

6. A lot of Iranian-Americans are creating films that explore issues of multiculturalism and identity. What issues or trends do you see surfacing in Iranian films made by filmmakers in Iran?

SA: I see a lot of short documentaries given to me by various filmmakers, but I haven’t watched that many fiction and feature-length films from Iran in a while, so I’m not sure how to answer this. My guess is that there isn’t a very definitive trend, but I am probably wrong. One thing I can say is that when it comes to documentaries, the majority are too serious, heavy, and often depressing to watch. I am not against documentaries for social causes and understand that these films do reflect on really important issues. But I also think that somewhere down the line, Iranian filmmakers started to think that sadness sells – and for me it doesn’t sell. So I would really love to see more lighter, colorful, and funny documentaries. Simply because it will help everyone’s mood, including my own.

7. What’s next for Willow Films and Iran Inside Out?

SA: When I look back to last year when I began Willow Films, I am amazed at how little I knew about the industry and that I decided to create my company anyway. Film distribution is very difficult, and I am making a lot of mistakes and learning from them as I go along (I hope). For now, Tehran Anar Nadarad is moving on to DVD distribution and I am planning a unique campaign for marketing the DVD and online downloads of the film. I’m also looking for a partner for Willow Films.

As for Iran Inside Out, I’m really passionate about it and cant wait to have more time to spend on it.

Tehran Anar Nadarad is ending its U.S. tour this week – catch it in SF or DC:

March 4 & 5 - 6:15, 8:00, 9:45 p.m.
The Landmark E Street Cinema
555 11th Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
CLICK HERE for tickets.

March 4 & 5 - 6:15, 8:00, 9:35 p.m.
Embarcadero Center Cinema
1 Embarcadero Center
San Francisco, CA 94111
CLICK HERE for tickets.

Arusi Persian Wedding – Screening in LA

I’ll be speaking on a panel at the screening of the new doc “Arusi Persian Wedding” later this month… details below:

Community Cinema
Independent LensPBS Watch a Preview

Free Screening


Tuesday, February 24, 2009 at 7:30 PM

Blue Conference Center inside Pacific Design Center
8687 Melrose Ave. • West Hollywood


Set against the turbulent relationship between the United States and Iran, Iranian-American filmmaker Marjan Tehrani captures the struggle and excitement of Alex and Heather as they plan a Persian Islamic wedding in Iran. But when Alex’s Iranian-born parents and Heather’s conservative American father meet for the first time, cultures clash and test the couple to their limits.

For more information about Community Cinema series, visit:

City of West Hollywood
pars arts
KodoomShortFuzed Ironweed
Cinema is a groundbreaking public education and civic engagement
initiative featuring monthly screenings of films from Independent Lens.
Every month between September and May, Community Cinema brings together
leading organizations, community members and public television stations
to learn, discuss and get involved in today¹s critical social issues.

location in over 50 cities, Community Cinema brings local impact to big
cities and small towns alike, using the hottest independent documentary
films to frame the social issues they present for local audiences.

interactive workshops and forums, to live performance, art
installations and discussions featuring award winning filmmakers and
local experts, Community Cinema creates fun new ways for people to
connect with one another on today¹s most important issues.

My Source ITVS Corporation for Public Broadcasting National Endowment for the Arts

Cyrus Dowlatshahi’s “Kabob Guy”


Enjoy this sweet, heartfelt, thorough, and delicious family docudramareality film by aspiring auteur Cyrus Dowlatshahi. It’s all about Majid, a kababi, the guy who shows up to your Perzhian party to make kabob, capturing him in his element at a real mehmooni. Highlights from the video include: baby’s first taste of kashk-e bademjoon (at 2:30), an authentic Persian dad’s description of noon-e zir-e kabab (at 4:27), and any shot of the kababi. Noosh-e-jaan!

Nasim Pedrad

Every dorky Iranian girl will relate to this great stand-up bit by comic and actor Nasim Pedrad, who has appeared on ER and performed at the Upright Citizens Brigade. Also check out her fairly accurate mockumentary about the A.I.B. – aggressive Iranian bachelor:


Pictures of You: Images from Iran

Tom Loughlin is a Colorado-based artist whose portraits of Iranians in Iran are being shown in a groundbreaking and thought-provoking installation across the United States. We asked Tom how his show, Pictures of You: Images from Iran, came about, how people have reacted so far, and where the show is going.

Pars Arts: In your artist’s statement, you write that the idea for Pictures of You started when you were taking photos in Isfahan. What drew you to Iran in the first place?

Tom Loughlin: The first time I heard of Iran was in 1979, when I was in middle school in St. Louis, Missouri. I clearly remember an intense mood of anger and disbelief about the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Every night on the network news, we would be reminded of how many days the “hostage crisis” had gone on. I don’t recall hearing anything about the history of U.S./Iranian relations, and the only explanation offered for the actions of the Iranian hostage takers was that they were religious fundamentalists who hated the United States.

The whole thing made quite an impression on me, and as I grew older, I couldn’t stop wondering what had motivated those Iranian university students. In high school, I was lucky enough to be able to take a course on Middle Eastern history, which helped me understand the roots of the Iranian revolution, and put Iranian concerns about U.S. intervention in a new light.

Although my history class helped to explain what had happened in Iran in 1979, it raised important questions for me about the United States. For example, our government’s participation in the 1953 coup was not part of our national conversation about Iran in 1979. What does that say about our own representative democracy? How can citizens engage in informed debate about foreign policy decisions if they lack the most basic historical facts?

Western demonization of Iran is not a new phenomenon – it dates back to the time of Herodotus. What’s fascinating to me is that we in the United States can’t seem to move away from that narrative. Of course there are many, many Americans who understand the world in a more nuanced way, but the puzzle for me is why with all of our prosperity, freedom, and commitment to education, so many of us have a simplistic, polarized view of U.S./Iranian relations.

PA: How did you find your subjects for the portraits in the installation? How did they react to the project?

TL: The show has evolved fairly rapidly over the past two years. When I first traveled to Iran in October 2006, the project didn’t even really exist. My main interest was in seeing Iran with my own eyes, and finding out what life was like for people in Iran. Not surprisingly, I was welcomed with Iran’s legendary hospitality, and I quickly came to believe that the United States would be a better place if all Americans could see the humanity of the citizens of Iran.

On my most recent trip to Iran, I was able to show renderings of what the completed installation would look like, and talk in some detail about where the work would be shown. Everyone I spoke to about the project seemed to understand it right away – both my desire to show Iran to Americans, and the variety of responses that we were likely to get in the United States. I found people to be very supportive, and quite interested to see how Americans would respond.

PA: The photos in Pictures of You are printed on translucent silk. You’ve written that the silk is intended to allow viewers to see each other as well as the photographs, and to remind them that “something beautiful is in jeopardy.” How have viewers reacted to Pictures of You?

TL: There have been a wide variety of reactions. In fact, the one commonality seems to be that no one is indifferent. Everyone seems to have a powerful response to the show.

So far, the overwhelming majority of responses have been positive. Viewers thank us for putting a human face on Iran, and many of them have powerful emotional responses. It’s quite amazing for me as an artist to see people emerging from the installation in tears, or emptying their pockets into our donation boxes because they want to see the show travel to other venues.

We have had a variety of negative responses as well. At our installation in Denver, we were picketed by a Christian group that wanted to express the view that Muslims were going to hell. Interestingly, they all agreed that the subjects of my photographs looked like very nice people. At the same installation, we had a visitor tell us that he wanted to go and get dynamite and destroy the artwork. One of our staff members engaged him in conversation about the show, and within ten minutes he had changed his mind completely! He told us he supported what we were doing, and thanked us for being there.

A lot of the negative responses have appeared on weblogs and news sites. Several bloggers came through our installation without sharing their opinions with anyone staffing the show, but went home and posted their negative feelings on their websites. In some cases, those posts drew hundreds and hundreds of comments within a day of being posted. There was also extensive commentary in response to mainstream online newspaper coverage of the show – frequently quite negative.

It’s fascinating to see how people make use of the new media that are available today. In this case, online forums have allowed debate about the show (and about U.S./Iranian relations) among people from very different backgrounds and points of view. Of course, we have also seen person-to-person debate and dialog happening at the show, too.

PA: Your website notes Pictures of You will be traveling throughout the U.S. in 2008/2009. Where have you shown thus far, and where are you headed?

TL: So far we have shown the work in my hometown of Crested Butte, Colorado, and at the Democratic National Convention. My wife and I agreed that we would build the installation and show it at those venues so that people could see what it looked like and how it worked. Let’s face it: this is a project that’s difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t seen it. Now that we’ve shown it a couple of times, and people have begun to talk about their experience of seeing the show, we think it will be easier for people to understand what we’re trying to do.

We are currently in a period of fundraising. It’s not a cheap show to put on, and we are absolutely committed to the idea that it has to be free for people to come see it. We want as many people as possible to have a chance to walk through the installation, so we feel the need to travel with it and to keep admission free.

We’ve put together a list of venues – we’ve narrowed it down to fifteen places we would like to travel to – beginning in Los Angeles this spring. But it’s all contingent on financial support. We’d be interested in hearing from your readers about where they would like to see the show, and whether they would be interested in supporting our fundraising efforts. [Ed. note: see the end of this post for tentative cities/dates.]

PA: Were you able to show this installation at the DNC and RNC? How did viewers at each convention react?

TL: In some ways, the most interesting responses we got were from the Democratic and Republican National Committees that put on the conventions. The DNC had a designated “free speech” zone in a beautiful city park right in the heart of downtown Denver. The DNC helped groups who wanted to put on a display in the park, or march from the park to the auditorium where the convention was being held. We had a rather large, unorthodox installation to put on, but with help from the DNC and officials working for the City of Denver, we were able to pull it off.

We had a different experience with the folks planning the Republican National Convention. We applied to put on our installation in their designated free speech zone – a large, grassy island across the Mississippi River from the convention site. After we submitted our application, we were told that our installation couldn’t go in the free speech zone, so we had to start over again. After months of going back and forth, we were offered a spot just a few weeks before the convention. The proposed location was under a bridge next to a highway, and had no parking lot and no way for pedestrians to cross the highway. We elected not to put on the installation there.

Draw your own conclusions about what those distinctions might mean.

PA: What are your future plans for Pictures of You?

TL: We want to travel broadly with the installation, and we want to record how Americans respond to it. I think the variety and the intensity of viewers’ responses to the show present an opportunity to document where we are as a nation right now. We’ve made a short film about the first two installations, and it’s been a great way to illustrate how people respond to the artwork [Ed. note: see top of this post for the video]. We would like to do a longer film about the reception we get as we travel across the United States. But, as I mentioned, this is all dependent on financial support.

Pictures of You will have tentative showings in the following cities in 2009:

  • Los Angeles, early April
  • Las Vegas, mid April
  • St. George, UT, mid/late April
  • Phoenix, early May
  • Santa Fe, early/mid May
  • Colorado Springs, mid/late May
  • St. Louis, 4th of July
  • Cheyenne, WY, mid July
  • Chicago, mid August
  • Minnesota State Fair, late August
  • Kansas State Fair, mid September
  • Texas State Fair, late September/early October
  • Oxford, MS, mid October
  • Oklahoma City, mid/late October
  • Louisiana State Fair, late October/early November
  • East Coast trip starting Spring 2010

Love Sent to Iran

Bri Olson in Meydaneh Azadi


Bri Olson in Tehran - photo by Michael Pope


Bri Olson is an American artist who wrote about her project, Send Love to Iran, on Pars Arts several months ago. She was recently able to achieve her goal of visiting and seeing the real Iran. Here’s what she saw:

After a year or so of saving up and several months biting my finger nails while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs considered my visa request, I flew, arm-in-arm with my better half, to Tehran to experience Iran firsthand. Having only a general idea of what to expect, Michael and I felt a bit like we were exploring uncharted territory when we stepped off our Emirates plane at Imam Khomeini International Airport.

Two years ago, I never would have considered that Tehran might have a contemporary art scene worth mentioning, until my new Iranian friend Raam (of rock band Hypernova) started to tell me stories of the “real” Iran: Basement shows, desert festivals, and private parties that gave artists and socialites outlets to express themselves. Cut to: Me; covered in hijab, guidebook in hand and ready to see for myself a world whose media and images are filtered by both U.S. and Iranian governments. 

Owing to Persian hospitality and our unique foreign status, we were given the diplomatic treatment for the entirety of our stay. Though our time was limited, I’m particularly pleased with the spectrum of artists and curators we were able to meet and the ground we were able to cover. For the sake of brevity, I’ll give you the short short-list. 

The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art
The Tehran MoCA is definitively an “institution,” therefore subject to governmental supervision (after the revolution, Dali, Picasso, Warhol and others where relegated to the basement) and bureaucracy. That said, it’s always telling to see what sort of creative things the humans on the inside can do to keep people in their wings. When we went to meet with the International Director, they were showing works from instructors at Tehran’s art schools. The place was full, a testament to how much art education is happening in the city. After touring the museum, my favorite find was actually a Magritte’s Le Therapeute, a sculpture from their permanent collection – ironically, it’s neither Iranian nor contemporary. 
Vahid Sharifian, Art Star
I first saw Vahid at an opening at Artist’s Forum (Khaneh-ye honarmandan). He and his posse, looked like they were lifted right out of the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn (is there such thing as Iranian Apparel?) and I tried to sneak a candid picture of them (unsuccessfully, when I reviewed the snapshot – it was clear they were all posing for me). The next time we ran into him was at Silk Road Gallery – a worth-the-search photography gallery in North Tehran – and from there we spent over an hour in a taxi to see his current solo exhibition at Ave Gallery. The show, entitled “My father is a democrat and through his chimney there are always hearts flying to the sky,” was a collection of holographic prints, an unveiled Sophia Loren in a series of instructional cooking poses. He even showed us the two prints the gallery wouldn’t hang (showing too much sternum), and I delighted in how tame they seemed compared to most things I’d find in a Manhattan gallery. Vahid is so clearly Lower East Side material but for now can’t leave the country, owing to his refusal to serve in the military. 

Pariyoush Ganji, Painter and Lecturer, Tehran University
Whereas Vahid is very much “new school,” Pariyoush is clearly “old school.” The instant I stepped into her home studio was the first time I truly relaxed while in Tehran, and in no other meeting did I feel the power of the moment so intimately. At 63, her matriarchal presence was soothing and we sipped tea surrounded by the traded works of her contemporaries. 

Guts // Pariyoush in Tehran from brianna olson on Vimeo.

Pariyoush studied painting in Tehran and across Europe in the 1960s, where students witnessed Che Guevara’s revolution, resisted the Shah, and constantly debated and studied political ideas. It was no wonder then, that she expressed concern to me that her students at Tehran University today are void of philosophy, and saw that lack in the exhibitions they held. We discussed the absolute importance of my generation and she lauded me for my willingness to take risks and “move through narrow doors.” By the end of our lunch, it was clear that I had made almost as much of an impression on her as she had on me – score one for an American girl in Tehran.

Amirali Ghasemi, Curator, Biennial Tehran
Amirali Ghasemi founded the 1st International Roaming Biennial of Tehran with Serhat Koksal because, he says, “It seems impossible to have a proper Tehran biennial in Tehran,” and with so much talent (their roster includes something like 300+ artists) it’s no wonder Ghasemi wants to take his exhibition on the road. Their first stop (opening late last May) was Istanbul, and they are slated to open in Berlin this November and continue through 2010 [Ed. note: Bri was invited to be part of the Berlin show!]. His concept of an “independent, low-budget, traveling exhibition” able to be carried “on any cheap flight” makes him the winner of my admiration and someone you should keep an eye on as a defining member of Tehran’s contemporary art scene.

More about Bri’s trip:

Tehran Has No More Pomegranates: L.A. Screenings and Q&A with Director Massoud Bakhshi

Experimental documentary Tehran Has No More Pomegranates is coming to L.A. this week, with two screenings each on Wednesday and Thursday at the Landmark in West LA, at 7pm and 9pm (details at Sociarts). Watch the film’s opener above, and find out more about the film and its director, Massoud Bakhshi, in our Q&A below: 

Pars Arts: The narrative context of Tehran Has No More Pomegranates – the “musical, historical, comedy, docu-drama, love story, experimental film” you’ve created – is a report you’re writing that explains why it’s not complete. This self-reflexivity – referring to the process of creating the film, within the film – continues throughout. Can you talk a bit about why you decided to couch the story in this context and format?

Massoud Bakhshi: Personally, I am fascinated by form in cinema, and “film in film” or “making of” has always been a wonderful plattform for any narrative film to me. And I think here in Iran, stories behind the camera are more interesting than those in front of it.

PA: The idea of a story or film not being complete or finished seems especially appropriate for a story about a big city, because they’re so dynamic. It took you five years to edit the film: how many iterations of the film did you go through, and how did you know when you were done?

MB: I am always working with a script, no matter if it’s fiction or documentary. I had the complete story of this film in my hand in 2000! And then I changed everything in shooting and especially in editing. I think a good film never ends -it continues because it remains with its audience. But this film is “unfinished” in its form because I think nobody would be able to finish a film about Tehran! 

PA: I read that you were really limited by the equipment available to you to create the film (namely, a camera that didn’t record sound), and that’s partly why even the footage that’s not archival has a retro feel. In fact, for a person that doesn’t live in Iran, it can be somewhat difficult to tell if some of the color footage is archival or not. Is that something you were going for all along? Do you think you would have approached this film differently or had a vastly different result with different equipment? How much did the limitations of your equipment help or inspire (or interfere) in shaping the story you told?   

MB: I think limits make young people more creative, especially here in Iran. I had lots of problems getting 35 mm stock, because everybody asked “Why are you making this film in 35mm and not in video?” But from the very beginning I wanted to make this film in 35mm, because I wanted to give life to dead, archival film footage and I was quasi-sure that I was making a film that captures the face of a very changing city and society and wanted to transmit this picture for future generations. The fact that we couldn’t record voice forced me not to use 25 hours of interviews I had recorded in video, blow them up in 35mm, and to make myself content in using the 35mm rushes I had in a different way.

PA: There are sizable doses of both history lesson and nostalgia in this film, particularly in the narration of Nosrat Karimi and in all the different music you used, which I imagine resonate a great deal with Iranians around the world. Have the reactions of the Iranian diaspora to this film been markedly different from those of audiences in Iran?

MB: Well, I saw different reactions in different places, but among Iranians, young people and old people both loved the film and its music. I think the different music used in this film evokes many different time periods in Tehran and that’s why people from different generations like it.

PA: You’ve said that your aim with Tehran Has No More Pomegranates is to hold up a mirror and reflect back a true image of Tehran and the country at large. The movie seems to be the most critical of the city in certain scenes that are cut off, or when your voiceover clearly contradicts the reality of the visuals on the screen – and in fact your voice seems that of the classic unreliable narrator (or at least the narrator that’s not playing it straight). In fact, the only character that does seem reliable is Jafar, who emerges throughout as a sort of protagonist. Most of the other characters are just visual portraits. How did you settle on him as the truth-teller in the film?

MB: I think he found us himself and he put himself into our film. From the beginning, I was telling myself not to shoot poverty and the poor so that I won’t be accused of making a “geda-geraphy” film (a the term invented for filmmakers focusing on those subjects so they can go to festivals with their films). But Jafar was an exception. He is not acting – he’s just telling the truth about himself and about the city, and that’s why he’s a key in the film. I shot him for just five minutes and I think I used all five minutes in the film!

I ‘d love to screen the film one day in his presence, and I know that he’s still wandering the streets of Tehran, looking for someplace to sleep and something to eat.


Tiffany Malakooti is an LA-based artist whose blog, Belog (get it?), is a visual encyclopedia of awesome Iranian art and randomness. Heavy on visuals, a recent post highlights this charming UNICEF PSA by Noureddin Zarrinkelk: