Monday, November 19, 2007

Ethnographic Film Project

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

An interview with the director from "The Birthday"

Since it was brought up in class how necessary it was for the story to know more about the director in order to understand the film more thoroughly I found an interview with the Negin Kiafar:

n 1976, Ayatollah Khomeini, imposed a fatwa to allow people with hormonal disorders to change sex if they wished, because the Koran doesn't say anything on the subject. Transsexuals don't have to fear prosecution and they even can change their birth certificates. But the challenge is the traditional, religious Iranian society in which the transsexuality is still concerned as a disease.

The Birthday follows a young man who decides to become a woman. His conservative parents try to come to terms with their son’s decision and after a lot of discussions they accept the new sexual identity of their son, who already had a boyfriend before the operation.

“The Birthday” is a film which offers a window into a world we rarely see from an Islamic society.

Shohreh Jandaghian –To begin, Please tell about you and your path towards filmmaking.
Negin Kianfar – I was born on1969 in Tehran and have studied cinema in Art university of Tehran, majoring in film direction. I work as a dubbing actress for feature and documentary projects for IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) and private section since 1367. I am also painter and had 2 years course under supervision of master Aidin Aghdashlou and participated in many exhibitions at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. Also one of my paintings is purchased by the same museum.

Shohreh – Is “The Birthday” your first documentary?
Negin – I made some short films and some more like experimental stuff but The Birthday is my first long documentary.

Shohreh – What was your motivation for making a documentary about Transsexuality?
Negin – I was working with Daisy Mohr, my partner in the film, who is a print journalist, on many different subjects and we crossed this topic and I thought not just the transexuality but the gender crises and identity crises is an issue in the whole world. And I was amazed by my first character to change his life to be able to experience the feminine side of the life in the society which is not the best for women. The other reason was that I found doing sex-change is allowed by the law but it’s not socially accepted and in general talking about sex issues is a big taboo in the society in which I live and I decided to break this taboo.

Shohreh – You mean it is legal to carry out gender reassignment surgery in Iran?
Negin – It is legal but the procedure is quiet difficult and takes long time, because the judge has to be sure that the case is not homosexual because authorities consider homosexuality as a disease and they are not accepted by the law or even the society. And that was another thing which amazed me and inspired me to work on this subject.

Shohreh – For a traditional male-dominant society like Iranians’, which case is less acceptable: male-to-female transsexual or vice versa?
Negin – Male to female is less accepted because we’ve heard a lot through the history like Mard-e-zan nama ( man with female appearance) or female like behaviour, and it’s shame and funny remark, but the other way around is more accepted because they considered as shir-zan (brave as a lion) and it’s a compliment. I think I explained this reason very explicit in the film when Afshin’s brother talks about his sister’s childhood.

Shohreh – What major problems do Transsexuals face in Iran?
Negin – They are not accepted by society, neighbores, family, relatives and etc. And they cannot get a job. Even police officers or moral police forces are not informed of their situation and rights.

Shohreh – Then it shouldn’t be so easy to get in contact with them.
Negin – we did few weeks research and found big group of them and ended up in the clinic and finally found our film characters up there.
It was difficult to persuade them to be present in front of the camera at the beginning but during the research we built up the trust and they got convinced that this film inform the society to break this taboo and send the message.

Shohreh – What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
Negin – Convincing the family to be in front of the camera the first day (just the first day), bringing out Saye and Afshin (two of the transsexuals) together because they preferred to not to come outside. And the most difficult part was getting in to the clinic and waiting room and the surgery room and all the permitions.

Shohreh – You’ve directed the film with Daisy More. Could you tell a bit about your co-directing and how it went?
Negin – It was a very good experience but more difficult for me because she couldn’t speak Farsi and I had to translate everything for her to be able to follow the lines and it was heavy job for me because I had to talk to my characters and build the friendship at the same time and sometimes it was complicated situation and no time for translation. But we agreed on everything and never had a problem during the work.

Shohreh – Could you go into a bit of detail about the production of the film?
Negin – Daisy and I paid for everything and then at the later stage Columnfilm joined us for postproduction and finding a broadcaster.

Shohreh – How about Iranian audiences’ reaction towards the film?
Negin – The film has not shown for public yet but different group of people watched it in private sessions and I received great feed backs. They all loved the film and the characters and were surprised how close camera got to their private life and how open they had been in front of the camera. I had a request from Shahid beheshti University to show the film for anthropology‘s class.
And a prestigious Iranian art magazine (The Seven) had a review and critic for 5 pages and it dragged lots of attention.

Shohreh – What about your upcoming project?
Negin – It’s going to be a film about Religion and Relationship.
Shohreh – I can’t wait to see that! Good luck with it!

Margaret Meade Film Festival

Although there is no direct link between the Judith MacDougall film, "The Art of Regret" and the Iranian film "The Birthday" there is an ethnographic quality that it embodies, being viewed at the Margaret Meade Film Festival in November.

The first film by Judith MacDougall, "The Art of Regret" was a film of how photos are method of capturing life and yet as this technique revolutionizes constantly the capturing seems to be almost becoming fictitious. MacDougall travels to Hong Kong, where not only is it increasing faster every year a technological center to catch up with its neighbors, China and Japan, it is losing the antique taste that it once had.

Photos can be easily manipulated for customers would go to the mall and want to have a good laugh. Something one would think would be taken lightly not seriously. However, as for a young boy, it was amazing to see how something simple in changing his original wardrobe and making him appear like a girl, disturbed him greatly.

Yet there is still a struggle of conserving the antique and memory of what Hong Kong once was. As can be seen in the exhibit by a photographer, there are those that want preserve this antiquity. The exhibit contained old and new photos of different years of the same spots in Hong Kong.

There was this notion of truth that photographs has a criteria of fulfilling. There was a question asked: If the image, that the camera is capturing, is falsified then does that make the image false? In my opinion I would have to say that yes, it is false. Because the photo is no longer in its original place, then this manipulation that takes place in the photo editing falsifies the true image that was captured.

As discovering the true image goes, "The Birthday" had this theme. The film takes the controversial issue of transsexuals in Iran. Two couples are followed in the film and we see how they deal with their new gender roles. It is acceptable for a woman to change to a man, but were it to be the other way, then that would be deemed unacceptable by Iranian society.

It was interesting to see just what an attraction the Margaret Meade Film Festival is, and it was pleasure to have an experience to watch an ethographic film outside of class.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Monday's viewing of Jean Rouch's "Jaguar" was an example of how easily an ethnographer can manipulate the naivete of the audience member.

The main idea of the film follows the three friends from Niger, Lam Ibhraim, Illo, Damore Zika. Some moments, especially the introduction can be rather corny and comical. One instance is when the three friends are attempting to cross the border without their passports. At the same time you can't believe the dialogue that is occurring on screen and yet the comments on the police is very true. When the character went towards the police hut what he said was very simple, something like "Ok so now I'm going to the Police hut" and then how he was thrown around the levels of authority in the mere proximity of the gate to the city. And the comment that the character gives and his idea that police are useless and can easily trick them by merely walking behind the hut.

What I found to be interesting was the choice to do voice overs rather than subtitles. The voice overs is what did not validate the film for me.

Besides the aspect that the film was a sort of message of the responsibilities that a young man owes to himself to grow up. By leaving town they go to look for food and the film makes the messages that it is a coming of age tale.

The movie trails through a sort of parody like method with story telling.

But the good thing about the film was that it didn't carry a serious tone like most of the other films that we've seen.

Ethnographic Surrealism

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Life is a madness.

Andre Breton, realized that there is that aspect that is normally ignored. In his "Manifesto of Surrealism" (1924) Breton mentions that the slight madness in our actions is in an "incarceration to a tiny number of legally reprehensible acts..." (Breton). Surrealists have a mission to reveal a "madness that one locks up" (Breton). However strange that Breton is defending the insane calling them "victims of their imagination." And with this acceptance to take this mission Breton wrote "On no account will [they] view them as his salvation."

For some reason it makes to have a surrealistic method of filming life. Most of what we see in our everyday life will oddly misconstrued into our subconscious. In James Clifford's essay "On Ethnographic Surrealism" he wrote, "An ethnographic surrealist practice, by contrast, attacks the familiar, provoking the irruption of otherness--the unexpected" (Clifford 145).This can best be expressed in the film "Un Chien Andalou." The film practically places a blitzkrieg of attacks--that within each new frame there is a new image that does not connect to the previous and will not connect to the future image. Yet in the film there is a possibility to analyze and see a plausible message of life in it. The general idea being, responsibility, love, and loss.

Continuing forth with the text Clifford wrote, "At issue is the loss of a disruptive and creative play of human categories and differences, an activity that does not simply display and comprehend the diversity of cultural orders but openly expects, allows, indeed desires its own disorientation" (140). I can agree with this according to art and in the procrastination of life. The first aspect art, was explained through the author Chuck Palahnuik, when I saw him speak once. He explained that his best writing came through sleep deprivation and moments of disorientation. For some students, in the second aspect, disorientation is when their mind can think the clearest.