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Panel and Films to Examine Iranian Society, Politics, and Culture. Thursday, February 15, 2007

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY – Through a panel discussion and semester-long weekly film series, the International Studies Program at Vassar College will broadly explore contemporary Iranian history, politics, culture, and society. All events are free and open to the public.

David Kennett, professor of economics and director of the college's International Studies Program, will moderate the panel "Understanding Iran: An Axis of Evil or a Potential Democracy?" on Thursday, February 15, at 5:30 p.m., in Rockefeller Hall, Room 200. Kennett will be joined by Farzin Vahdat, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in International Studies at Vassar College, Abbas Amanat, professor of history and international and area studies at Yale University, and Sussan Siavoshi, professor of political science at Trinity University (TX). [Complete panelist bios are provided further below.]

Through May 7 the series "Films from Iran" will be presented Mondays at 7:00 p.m. in New England Building, Room 104, including internationally praised dramas, satires, documentaries, and comedies. Topics will include the human impact of war, the triumph of love in the wake of the Persian Gulf War, the struggles of an Iranian mother who also wants a career, and the aftermath of the 1990 earthquake in Iran:

Monday, February 19
Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Boycott (1985)
Mohsen Makhmalbaf's fourth feature draws upon his own painful experience as a young man imprisoned for his rebellious political actions. Majid Majidi, a respected director in his own right (Children of Heaven, The Color of Paradise), plays Valeh, an activist sentenced to death who begins to doubt the ideas for which he is condemned. "A highly energetic and troubled account of a leftist guerrilla's arrest in Iran prior to the Islamic revolution and his experience in prison…the film records Makhmalbaf's disenchantment with politics as well as his growing confidence as a craftsman" (Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader). In Persian with English subtitles.

Monday, February 26
Bahram Beyzai, Bashu, the Little Stranger (1988)
Ten-year-old Bashu (Adnan Afravian) is orphaned when his Persian Gulf village is bombed. Hiding in the back of a truck, he is taken north around the Caspian Sea, where he jumps off. The people in this alien land take a dislike to the little stranger and deride his skin and accent. Nai (Susan Taslimi), a woman whose husband is away, finds the boy and accepts him as her own son. "A pure joy in which there are absolutely no false moves" (Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times). In Persian with English subtitles.

Monday, March 5
Mohsen Makhmalbaf, The Wedding of the Blessed (1989)
One of the most controversial works of Iranian cinema, Marriage of the Blessed is a brilliant depiction of the impact of war on the soul of the individual. A veteran of the Iran-Iraq war struggles to adjust to civilian life when he returns to his job as a photojournalist. He sinks into depression as he documents the dark and desperate side of life. With his health beginning to suffer, his fiance tries to lift his spirit by hastening their wedding plans, but her family's disapproval turns the matter into yet another battle. The film's honest depiction of the personal price of war was viewed by some authorities as damaging to the public's inspirational memories of the Islamic revolution. "A deeply unsettling work which examines the legacy of war with uncommon insight" (Piers Handling, Toronto International Film Festival). In Persian with English subtitles.

Monday, March 26
Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Gabbeh (1995)
A beautiful young woman emerges from a woven illustration to tell her story of romantic longing in this visually stunning film by Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Once Upon a Time, Cinema), one of the most popular Iranian films to play abroad. Makhmalbaf's gorgeous imagery is truly captivating. "Color has rarely been used so sumptuously" (Richard Corliss, Time Magazine). In Persian with English subtitles.

Monday, April 2
Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, The May Lady (1997)
A divorced Iranian woman confronts the contradictory desires affecting her life and work in this bold examination of the universal tensions between motherhood, womanhood, and professional life. As Forough Kia, a middle-aged, documentary filmmaker, interviews women from all walks of life for a television show on "the perfect mother," she begins to question her own life, her relationship with her teenage son, who resents her dating another man, and her place in Iranian society. The winner of the Special Jury Award at the 1998 Fajr Film Festival. "Strong and heartfelt" (L.A. Weekly). In Persian with English subtitles.

Monday, April 9
Tahmineh Milani, The Fifth Reaction (2002)
From the controversial director of Hidden Half and Two Women comes another tale of the clash between modernism and tradition in contemporary Iran. A progressive, recently widowed teacher and her conservative, controlling father-in-law fight for custody of her two small children. According to tradition, Fereshteh should remain in her father-in-law's home with her children, but she refuses. Afraid of losing custody of the boys, she decides to disappear with help from her women friends. Tahmineh Milani's film captures the tumult of a nation plagued by the conflicting philosophies of hard-line religious groups and an educated, cosmopolitan population. In Persian with English subtitles.

Monday, April 16
Bahman Ghobadi, Turtles Can Fly (2003)
Bahman Ghobadi's drama was the first film shot in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, and its tough-mindedness, lyricism, and urgency assure that it will be remembered as much more than a historical footnote. Like John Boorman's Hope and Glory, Ghobadi's drama explores the humorous and heartbreaking ways in which children respond to the grim realities of war. Set in a Kurdish refugee camp on the eve of the American invasion, the film chronicles the lives of 13-year-old Satellite (Soran Ebrahim) and his friends as they disarm land mines, scavenge for food, and overcome adversity with a thirst for adventure. "It's a soaring achievement, without ever leaving the ground" (Washington Post). In Kurdish with English subtitles.

Monday, April 23
Abbas Kiarostami, Life and Nothing More (1991)
The film investigates the aftermath of a devastating 1990 earthquake that killed some 50,000 people in northern Iran. This region provided the setting for Kiarostami's Where Is the Friend's Home. Kiarostami's search for the two young actors who played central roles in that film becomes the dramatic source of Life and Nothing Moreas a father and son travel to Quoker, the hometown of the two boys, and along the way meet earthquake survivors who desperately and valiantly work to reconstruct their lives. "In many ways the most beautiful and powerful Iranian film I've seen" (Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader). Persian with English subtitles.

Monday, April 30
Kamal Tabrizi, The Lizard (2003)
This hilarious and subversive satire of Iranian society stars Parvis Parastui as Reza the Lizard, an affable thief who springs himself from prison by dressing in the clothing of a religious cleric. What at first seems like the perfect method of escape soon leads to comic complications, however, as Reza finds himself lionized by an adoring public and unable to shed his robes. Director Kamal Tabrizi effectively mixes lighthearted Sister Act comedy with a deeper investigation of religion's role in contemporary Islamic society and our shared obligation to fellow man. Persian with English subtitles.

Monday, May 7
Hamid Nematollahi, Boutique (2002)
Hamid Nematollah's compelling drama "stakes out a new path for Iranian cinema" (Variety) as it exposes key problems plaguing modern-day Tehran. Jahan is a gentle and thoughtful young man who works as a window dresser at a fashionable boutique. When a poor and very beautiful young girl enters his store, Jahan feels compelled to steal a pair of blue jeans for her. This action triggers a downward spiral that will change Johan's life forever. "Painfully real and engaging" (Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times). In Persian with English subtitles.

PANELISTS' BIOGRAPHIES

Thursday, February 15, 5:30 p.m.
Rockefeller Hall, Room 200

David Kennett's recent publications include A New View of Comparative Economics Second Edition (2005), "William S. Vickrey's Legacy: Innovative Policies for Social Concerns," in the Eastern Economic Journal, (Vol 24, No 1, Winter 1998), The Road to Capitalism: Economic Transformation in Eastern Europe and the USSR (1992), co-edited with Marc Lieberman, and Crisis in Africa (1992), co-edited with Tukumbi Lumumba-Kasongo. Kennett received his B.A. from the University of Sussex, England, and both his Master's in philosophy and Ph.D. from Columbia University.

Farzin Vahdat's best-known work, God and Juggernaut: Iran's Intellectual Encounter with Modernity (2002), discusses Iran's intellectual encounter with modernity, from its mid-19th century beginning through the present. In the upcoming panel discussion, Vahdat will address the unfolding of social and political events in Iran during the past 30 years and their impact on the contemporary political situation in the country. He received his Ph.D. in sociology from Brandeis University. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University for two years and then taught at Harvard and at Yale University.

Abbas Amanat is currently writing a survey of Iranian history called In Search of Modern Iran: Authority, Nationhood and Culture (1501-2001), a biography of the Babi leader and poet Fatima Baraghani Qurrat al-'Ayn Tahirah to appear in the Makers of the Islamic World series (2006), and in Persian, a documentary history of Qajar Iran. He has also authored Resurrection and Renewal: the Making of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1844-1850 (1989), and Pivot of the Universe: Nasir al-Din Shah and the Iranian Monarchy, 1831-1896 (1997). Amanat received his B.A. from Tehran University and his D.Phil. from Oxford University.

Sussan Siavoshi was born and raised in Iran. Her recent scholarly publications include "Islamist Women Activists: Allies or Enemies," in Ramin Jahanbegloo, Ed., Iran: Between Tradition and Modernity, and "Ayatollah Khomeini and the Contemporary Debate on Freedom", in Journal of Islamic Studies, Oxford University Press. Her current research project is "Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi: A Voice of Authoritarian Islam." Siavoshi also authored the book Liberal Nationalism in Iran: the Failure of a Movement. She received her B.S. in economics from Pahlavi University in Shiraz and her Ph.D. in political science from Ohio State University.

Individuals with disabilities requiring accommodations at Vassar should contact the Office of Campus Activities at (845) 437-5370.

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential, liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Monday, February 12, 2007