Why This Festival
My love of cinema first manifested itself during my youth in Iran.
I was fortunate enough to be able to begin working in the industry at the age of fifteen--and have been working in it ever since. I have worn many hats in the course of this career: film critic, author, lecturer, actor, screenwriter, producer, director and executive producer. I have had the honor of participating in almost every major international film festival in the world, and I established the first Iranian Film Festival for both shorts and feature films in New York in 1981--which featured a brochure in both English and Farsi.
This was a project that appealed to me particularly for the opportunity it presented in bringing together two cultures that are not only very different but also quite deliberately separate, due to a lack of understanding and the unfortunate historical and political obstacles. The aim of that first festival was to pull a curtain around those obstacles--to pretend for a little while that they didnít exist or at least didnít matter, and to hopefully build a bridge that would lead to dialogue and understanding.
Two and a half decades after that first festival, sadly, there is still tremendous misunderstanding in this country about Iranian culture. The antagonism between the leaders of the two countries has increased. But there are millions of Iranians living abroad, many in self-imposed exile. And even in Iran there is great interest in American cultureójust as there is great interest in Iranian culture here. Nowhere is this more evident than in the continued success of Iranian films in Americaís independent film market and film festivals.
Recognizing this made me want to revisit my old idea--to go back and once again try to build that bridge. To once again put aside the political problems that keep our two cultures apart.
But this time I wanted to add a new dimension: This time the festival would accept films by Iranians on any subject--while also accepting films by non-Iranians that involved Iran and its culture. This seemed an ideal way of creating exactly the kind of dialogue that had been my initial intent.
I chose to focus on short films partially for budgetary reasons, partially because New York City already has a number of fine festivals that deal with features--but also because it would allow us to accept a greater number of films and subsequently shine a spotlight on a greater number of ideas, and in a very concise form.
But my desire to establish this festival was not enough to get it off the ground. For two years, I tried to get funding, but it wasnít until I approached the Ziba Foundation that it all came together. Dr. Zia Ghavami, his wife Nia Ghavami, and their daughter Dr. Mayram Ghavami are all avid supporters of Iranian culture, and their Ziba Foundation was established expressly to fund endeavors like this one.
The result is this wonderful festival. I hope that it will be successful enough to become an annual event, and that all who attend enjoy themselves while learning more about Iran. In this spirit, I thank all the filmmakers, international juries, selection committee members, my small staff, my brother Behrouz, and all our friends who helped make this festival possible.