In July the BFI (British Film Institute) London presents a short season dedicated to the work of Iranian director and actress Mania Akbari. In today’s show we speak with her via a medium, her translator, discussing everything from early memories of a nascent love of film, her first moments working with a camera and which three DVDs she would take with her if she had to live on a desert Island.
The highlight of the BFI season is a Q&A with the director Mania following a screening of her debut fiction film 20 Fingers (2004) on Wed 17 July.
Here’s what the BFI have to say about it: “Akbari is perhaps best known for her leading role in Abbas Kiarostami’s Palme d’Or nominated Ten (2002), an innovative mix of fiction and documentary partly inspired by her own experiences. Since then, Akbari has become one of Iran’s boldest and most relevant filmmakers. Her concerns with oppression, gender politics and the body as a hive of suffering and constant cosmetic attention echo those of filmmakers as radical and diverse as Todd Haynes, Jane Campion, David Cronenberg and Pedro Almodóvar.
Titles screening in the season will include One. Two. One. (2007), 30 Minutes to 6AM (2011) and From Tehran to London (2012). This season offers audiences a rare chance to hear from a filmmaker with a distinctive voice, and explore the early stages of a career which has surely only just begun to flourish.
After a career as a painter for a number of years Akbari’s career took a different turn – in 2002 she took the lead role in Kiarostami’s Ten. A year later, she co-directed her first documentary, Crystal (2002), and soon after that made her first fiction feature, 20 Fingers (2004). The latter demonstrates Akbari’s fearlessness to engage directly with the politics of male-female relationships, highlighting differing attitudes towards such issues as virginity, fidelity, pregnancy and abortion. Her approach to filmmaking has meant that she found herself, like many other Iranian filmmakers such as Jafar Panahi and Mohammod Rasoulof, at odds with the Iranian authorities:
“I always faced plenty of restrictions and obstacles, and of course, my gender was a significant contributing factor too. As time went by, making films in Iran just kept becoming more and more difficult, and as evidence shows, many film-makers were threatened, and some were even thrown in jail…to escape this state of contamination, I left Iran, with grief and sorrow, despite all my love and fascination for that geographical expanse” – Mania Akbari, June 2013.
After having diagnosed with cancer, Akbari made 10+4 (2007), which is in some degree, a belated sequel to 10. Interspersing astute observations on gender politics, bodies, attitudes towards illness and other related topics with moments of dark humour and (very touchingly) song, the film impresses for its courage and honesty. Also screening will be her latest film From Tehran to London (2012), which tells the story of a bickering couple who find tensions within their marriage mounting. Akbari began producing the film clandestinely in Iran, but eventually ‘completed’ the film in London after her departure from her homeland.”