Documentaries and Dialogues on a Changing Society
Globalization and advances in technology have been re-shaping societies all over the world. This presents people with new opportunities of self-realization, but also threatens the integrity of communities, identities, and cultural traditions. In providing a window on a society grappling with such changes and challenges, films, and documentaries from and about Iran have consistently captivated international audiences. This film forum showcases short films and documentaries highlighting select research foci at the Orient-Institute Istanbul in the thematic areas of “Musicology”, “Human, Medicine and Society”, and “Study of Religions”. Exploring themes from religious communities facing technological progress and modernity to shifting conceptions of masculinity in a contested gender order, it affords insights into Iranian society that so far have received little international attention. It gives center stage to films and voices that shed light on the complexity of Iran´s cultural fabric and how its many layers continue to be a source of meaning and inspiration in the contemporary context. The films are introduced by researchers of the Orient-Institute Istanbul and accompanied by dialogs with the filmmakers and experts from the relevant academic fields to bring these different perspectives into conversation.
The first edition of the Filmforum in german language took place online from November 12th to 13th, 2021. Impressions from IAC Hamburg in Nov. 21
The second edition of the Film Forum will take place in Istanbul in January 2022. You can find more information about the event here.
In Cooperation with:
Documentaries and Social Change in Iran: Between Documentation, Education, and Art
The human need to document is intimately linked to experiences of transience and change. The technology to record on film has allowed us to preserve aspects of our experience and the world around us in an especially immediate and “authentic way”. However, film is also an expressive, artistic medium. It not only preserves but also has the capacity to evoke and even create new realities. Hence, documentary films engage with both the transient and the emergent.
The films shown in this session highlight the different ways in which the practice of documentary filmmaking is entangled in processes of social change in Iran. In discussions with the two filmmakers Mina Keshavarz and Mina Rad we will discuss how the craft of filmmaking is related to developments in Iranian society. What challenges does the documentary as a specific genre encounter in Iran’s unique cultural and political situation? For example, how do technology and the institutional conditions of cinematic production inside Iran, but also internationally, impact how filmmakers work? Because male and female filmmakers face various forms of gender segregation and cultural taboos, they may also encounter challenges concerning forms of documentation and cinematic expression. How does this affect what can be represented on screen? In a globalized, technologically interconnected world, how does a filmmaker navigate the different perspectives and gazes of Iranian domestic, diasporic, and “Western” audiences that bring new, perhaps unintended interpretations to his or her work? The session will provide an opportunity to reflect on the conditions under which documentary filmmakers working in and on Iran practice their craft and to highlight the situatedness of the material shown in the film forum.
Persian Tales, Jean Rouch In Iran
2019, France, Mina Rad, WCD Production, 57 Min.
The film reflects on the deep connection Jean Rouch had with Iranian filmmakers. Jean Rouch, a French filmmaker and ethnologist, travelled three times to Iran in the 1970s. He gave several workshops and made a film in Isfahan. As the film shows, Iranian filmmakers today continue to be influenced directly as well as indirectly not only by Jean Rouch’s method, but also by his vision and his sociological work. Persian Tales shows how the young generation of Iranian filmmakers, like Jean Rouch, think about how the camera can change reality!
The Films are follwed by
Mina Rad & Shahrouz Tavakol;
Mina Keshavarz & Nahid Rezaei
Moderation: Katja Rieck
2014, Iran, Shirin Barghnavard, Firouzeh Khosrovani, Farahnaz Sharifi, Mina Keshavarz, Sepideh Abtahi, Sahar Salahshoor, Nahid Rezaei, 80 Min.
“We Iranian documentary directors have movies that can only be made in our minds. Sometimes, we tell them to each other.” These are the words of Farahnaz, one of the seven female documentary makers whose voices are heard in Profession: Documentarist. This intimate ensemble piece comprises seven personal stories that had to be left untold following the Islamic Revolution in 1979. In diary style, they raise issues that deeply impact everyday life, but are nonetheless “prohibited” in the country. The contributors also reflect on their clandestine existence and the importance of film as a medium. The soundtrack consists of music banned in Iran, by Iranian pop icon Googoosh and others.
Traditions, Vulnerabilities and
Body modifications are used not only to “repair” injuries or enable recovery after illness but also to enhance human performance. Consequently, we would like to highlight the practices and symbolic effects of such interventions. What are their empowering potentials, but also what are the emergent vulnerabilities of bodies in general? The films of this thematic block focus on the traditions, vulnerabilities, and possible futures of diverse body modifications in relation to gender as a social construct. They illustrate individual journeys of different bodily perceptions and interventions through time and space by showing the relationship between nature, culture, and the body with science-art as well as cultural and fictional contributions. In doing so, they raise questions about the relationships between socio-cultural coding of body modifications and notions of technology in science, art, and culture. In the center of the film screening stands the Iranian feature film Stepfather’s Legacy that revolves around a man who is ready to get married and undertakes techno-medical modification efforts as an investment in his corporeal capital. A series of four short films from the “BIO·FICTION Science Art Film Festival” encourages the audience to reflect on the social implications of emergent technologies. By taking a fictional look ahead, we raise the question:
Quo vadis, Modified (Hu)Man?
0:02, 2018, USA, Emma Allen [without Dialogue]
A “Grey Matters” collaboration between artist Emma Allen and neuroscientist Daisy Thompson-Lake, Adam is an animated portrait illustrating some of the underlying neurological processes and emotions associated with depression.
0:03, 2010, USA, Daniel Warner [without Dialogue]
Black and white impressions of mechanical parts in the human body.
1:07, 2015, Iran, Nima Mahdian [w. german Subtitles]
A man who is planning to marry suffers from hair loss and baldness, leading him to experiment with various forms of medical treatment and even surgery. Although his efforts are an investment to boost his position on the marriage market, they ultimately expose the vulnerabilities of his masculinity.
0:05, 2018, Deutschland, Valentin Riedl & Frédéric Schuld [w. german Subtitles]
As a child, Carlotta didn’t expect the people around her to have faces. She didn’t even recognize her own face. Years later, she learns about a rare, untreatable deficit of her brain. It was art, after all, that offered her a way to finally recognize herself.
0:08, 2018, Belgien, Frédéric Plasman, [w. german Subtitles]
Alone in front of her reflection in a collapsing world, someone desperate, feeling unfairly discredited, is going to end it all.
But who is she and why?
Science, Art and Communication: Meeting at the Crossways
with Arsev Umur Aydınoğlu (METU, Science and Technology Policy Studies), Yücel Günal (Graphic Designer), TBA
Moderatorin: Melike Şahinol (Orient-Institut Istanbul)
Wherever scientists try to describe and explain the world, artists want to recreate, question and literally de- and re-construct it from their subjective standpoint. Artists are increasingly dealing with the challenges that the bio- and technosciences pose to individuals and society. This artistic approach to technosience is important to also raise moral, religious, ethical questions and to discuss them with the public. In this panel we want to initiate these discussions. By presenting results of our sub-project "Hair:y_less Masculinities" through our newly published Science Communication book, we want to stimulate a generally understandable and dialogue-oriented communication with the public with experts from science, art and communication.
Body and Spirituality:
The Musical and Physical Tradition of Zurkhaneh
The dynamism of change in specific traditions all over the world, under the influence of globalization and digitalization, is an intriguing subject to study in the arts and humanities. In this thematic block, we focus on Zurkhaneh as a living tradition in Iran and explore how it reacts to these social changes. Zurkhaneh is a traditional Iranian gymnasium in which people practice what they call the “ancient sport”. But there is more to this place than seems at first sight: The institution has a specific music tradition, rules and rituals, and a particular architecture that all serve mystical and religious purposes. Introducing the institution of Zurkhaneh, this thematic block explores the workings and functions of this enduring tradition in the everyday life of Iranians, not only in Iran but also in the diaspora. Moreover, we shed some light on the changes in the conceptual and performative domains of Zurkhaneh and how they correlate with wider socio-cultural changes that have occurred in Iran in recent decades.
The film Zurkhaneh – The House of Strength introduces the Zurkhaneh’s fundamental concepts and practices to a general audience while exploring topics that have attracted academic interest, such as the relationship between the spiritual, musical, and physical practice of Zurkhaneh and society.
Zurkhaneh – The House of Strength
1:30, 2010, Kanada, Federico Spinetti [w. german Subtitles]
Voices, aspirations and contradictions of contemporary Iran in a journey across the nearly undocumented world of Zurkhaneh, the ancient Iranian gymnasia where traditional martial arts and music come together. The film journeys from the Iranian diaspora in Canada, across urban Iran, to the first international Zurkhaneh Olympic tournament in South Korea. Music and martial arts performances are woven into encounters with vivid human experiences. Athletes, musicians, and experts reveal a variety of subjectivities within the religious, ethical, and social world of Zurkhaneh, and their diverse engagements with its cultural history.
The Zurkhaneh Between Tradition and Change
Presentation, interview, and audience Q & A with Lloyd Ridgeon
The documentary will be complemented by a talk by Dr. Lloyd Ridgeon, Reader in Islamic Studies at the University of Glasgow. He places the material seen in the film in historical and contemporary context and explains key spiritual-physical concepts of a specific type of Iranian masculinity, such as javanmardi ("youngmanliness," chivalry) and pahlevani (heroism), which are implicitly ever-present and integral to the culture of the Zurkhaneh specifically and Iranian culture and society in general. This is followed by an interview with Dr. des. Kamyar Nematollahy (IRSSC) and an opportunity for audience discussion.
Materialities and Aesthetics of Religion in Urban and Rural Iran
When thinking of religion in Iran what first comes to mind are the rules and restrictions pervading almost all areas of life. But the country’s diverse religious practices hold much more than a set of doctrines or rules. Such practices unfold in myriads of everyday interactions between humans, materials, places as well as visible and invisible beings. By looking at local aspects of lived religion in the city and in rural areas this thematic block will consider religious traditions as a realm of creativity, an art of surviving, and as cultural, social, and economic resources. The films screened in this session pay homage to the very substances of subsistence and (religious) world-making: water, earth, bread, threads, stones, and shrines. Such places, where beloved saints have found their final resting places, are sought out as sources of blessing, protection, and help. Yet, not only ritual practices related to such places may be precarious.
Although the selected films offer nuanced insights into the persistence of local religious practices, one cannot ignore that the links between religion and the state affect how filmmakers can (re)present religious topics in their work. Because this issue is relevant to how audiences contextualize what they see, it will be addressed in the discussion following the films.
0:28, 2014, Iran, Farzad Jafari
This film is about ‘alam, the standards that are carried during the Ashura mourning rituals. It deals with the making of such standards, the master craftsmen who make them, and the customs of carrying such objects during the Ashura commemorations.
The film will be followed by an interview with director Farzad Jafari.
How Green Was Our Valley
0:32, 2009, Iran, Fereshteh Joghataei
The water is rising, and sixty-three villages spread along a green valley will be flooded. Their residents must leave. There is a holy shrine in one of the villages, and people are waiting for its saint to bring them a miracle.
The film will be followed by an interview with director Fereshteh Joghataei.
The Holy Bread
0:23, 2008, Iran, Nadia Jafari
Every February, the wedding ceremony of Pir Shahriyar is held in the village of Oraman Takht in the southwest of the Iranian province of Kurdistan. Pir Shahriyar is a revered holy man who brought Islam to this region nine hundred years ago and is said to have married the ruler’s daughter after curing her of sickness. The ceremony’s rituals, which draw on a variety of sacred traditions, celebrate their auspicious wedding.
The film will be followed by an interview with director Nadie Jafari.
IAC Hamburg 2021
Iran at the Crossways
Online Film Forum Hamburg
November 12th & 13th, 2021
Due to the unclear pandemic situation in Autumn 2021, we decided to conceptualise the Film Forum Hamburg as an online event. As desirable as personal conversations and discussions at a live event would have been, we also recognized the other possibilities open to us with this online format.
In addition to the selected films, we put together a programme of panel discussions, interviews and discussions with experts. Filmmakers, researchers, and other interested parties from Riverside to Tehran have therefore been invited to join participants to take part in exchanges inspired by the programme’s artistic and documentary impulses.
The Film Forum was hosted on a digital event platform adapted to the format, supported by the Hamburg based digital agency Synaptic Minds. The films were shown in original language with German subtitles.
All films and discussions were made accessible to the hearing impaired via live captioning in german laguage.
The Auxilary 2018, Belgien, Frédéric Plasman
Modified Human: Diskussionsrunde am 12.11.21, 21:00 Uhr mit Başak Ağın, Sümeyra Buran, Claudia Liebelt, Nacim Pak-Shiraz und Christopher Coenen. Moderation: Melike Şahinol
Abschießendes Publikumsgespräch mit den mitwirkenden Wissenschaftler*innen des Orient-Insitut Istanbul am 13.11.21, 21:30 Uhr
The Auxilary 2018, Belgien, Frédéric Plasman
IAC Istanbul 2022
Iran at the Crossways
Film Forum Istanbul
January 20th-22nd 2022
The second edition of "Iran at the Crossways" is a cooperation project with Goethe Institut Istanbul and takes place from January 20th-22nd 2022 at the cinema of Institut Français. Films and lectures will be translated into Turkish using subtitles and simultaneous translation.
To participate, a Registration is required. Below you can register for your favored programme-slots . See Programme
The film forum is free of admisson. At the entry your registration as well as a valid ID, HES-Code and current vaccination certificate will be checked. Due to pandemic regulations, we will seat the auditorium with a capacity of approx. 40%.
During the event there is an FPP2 / N95 mask requirement (except for the speakers).
The aim of the International Standing Working Group IRSSC is to explore the possibilities and limits of cooperation especially with Iranian researchers and academic institutions by collaborating on innovative research topics. Cultural, social and religious connections in the transregional continuum stretching from Anatolia to Iran and beyond to Pakistan will be in the focus of the research agenda.
Under difficult economic conditions and in the context of rapid socio-cultural change due to globalization and the demographic shift, citizens of Iran make use of their cultural resources in various ways to confront the struggles of their daily lives. In the face of globalization, migration, urbanization, and the dissemination of technically mediated forms of expression, practices of cultural expression are modified and multiplied, becoming socially differentiated. In this context, local and global patterns of cultural, religious, and bodily performance are gaining importance. Traditional forms of authenticity (such as the identities of minorities or regional music styles), global forms of expression (esotericism, new kinds of religiosity, transhumanism as a postmodern current, vegetarianism/veganism, music-related subcultures), but also advanced technological possibilities for the “conquest of the human condition” (‘Human Enhancement’) are causing profound transformations of social interaction and group identities as well as the human body. On the basis of selected research questions, mainly pertaining to the Turkey–Iran–Pakistan sphere, IRSSC investigates the efficacy of these concepts – be it in cross-border entanglements or in their parallel existence.
The creative appropriation of practices and discourses that is fostering rapid social change takes place in tension to and in dialog with currently accepted norms and practices. These are for example related to Shiite Islam, and phenomena such as those concerning body habitus, religious ritual, gender roles as well as active and passive access to music. Conditions of modern-day mediality and the resulting multiplication of social interaction lead to a larger, internally more differentiated, and hybrid repertoire of practices in dealing with public institutions as well as with an international public sphere, e.g. via social media.
These questions will be investigated with qualitative methods of social and cultural research in relation to the areas of music, religion, and (body-modifying) therapeutic and non-therapeutic medicine, topics which correspond to the three participating Orient-Institut Istanbul research fields: Human, Medicine and Society; the Religious History of Anatolia; and Music in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey.
In addition to project research, the chief aim of the IRSCC is to clarify the potential for establishing an international research network that integrates scholars from the region, especially Iran, in international knowledge communication and production.
The Orient-Institut Istanbul is a turkological and regional academic research institute affiliated with the Max Weber Foundation. In close cooperation with Turkish and international scholars, it is dedicated to a variety of research areas. In addition, the Orient-Institut Istanbul is active in the area of academic exchange between Germany and Turkey.
The Institute is located in the Cihangir district of Istanbul, close to Taksim Square, one of the cultural and transportational hubs of the city. Surrounded by numerous archives, manuscript collections, museums, and art galleries, the Institute offers unique opportunities for research on Ottoman, Mediterranean, and Turkish culture, history, and society.
The research library of the Institute, which is currently undergoing a further expansion, is open to the public. The present collection includes some 47,000 volumes and 1,525 periodicals (including 120 ongoing subscriptions) with a thematic focus on Ottoman history and studies concerning contemporary Turkey. Along with its extensive Turkish holdings, the library is a valuable resource for academic literature in German and other foreign languages that is often difficult to find in Istanbul. The Institute holds regular lectures, symposia, and scholarly conferences.
From 1989 to 2008, the Orient-Institut Istanbul was an extension of the Orient-Institute in Beirut. In 2009, the Orient-Institut Istanbul became an independent research institution affiliated with the Max Weber Foundation.
Knowledge Unbound: Internationalisation, Networking, Innovation in and by the Max Weber Stiftung
Since spring 2019 the large-scale “Knowledge Unbound: Internationalisation, Networking, Innovation in and by the Max Weber Stiftung” research project has been pursuing the aim of opening up innovative areas of research. At the same time, the project also strengthens the further internationalisation of the foundation’s activity and contributes to expanding co-operation and networking between the foundation’s institutes and external partners. The research project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and has a duration of three years.
The title reflects the project’s fundamental direction: adhering to the precept of pursuing “knowledge unbound”, attention is directed towards selected research areas – which, in addition to Europe, comprise key regions such as Africa, Near and Middle East and the Pacific region. They will be gauged again with respect to the hitherto little explored knowledge ties between them and the relationships with each other will be established.
We’d like to thank the following persons and institutions who worked tirelessly in the background to make the film forum happen:
Production Assistant, Regional Consultant
Online Venue Manager, Production Assistant
On-Site Production Assistant
Digitization and analytics for artists & cultural institutions, SynapticMinds UG
Communications Manager AUDIO2 - Datamatix Datensysteme GmbH
Somayeh Mirshamsi / Arash Sarkohi
Video and Sound Editing
AUDIO2 - Datamatix Datensysteme GmbH
We would also like to extend heartfelt thanks all those who generously participated in the interviews and roundtable discussions:
Başak Ağın, Sümeyra Buran, Christopher Coenen, Farzad Jafari, Nadie Jafari, Fereshteh Joghataei, Mina Keshavarz, Claudia Liebelt, Nacim Pak-Shiraz, Mina Rad, Federico Spinetti
We would also like to thank the following persons for offering guidance and expertise in various film- and film festival-related matters:
Omid Balaghati, Deniz Buğa, Setareh Fatehi Irani, Reza Haeri, Pouria Jahanshad, Farhad Mehrabi, Amirali Qasemi, Nahid Rezaei
Thanks also go to our partners at Goethe-Institut Istanbul, especially:
Mani Pournaghi Azar, Director; Özlem Kaymak (ÖA), Office of the Director; Petra Diehl, Officer for Cultural Programs; Fügen Uğur, Officer for Cultural Programs
Generous support was also provided by the Institut français de Turquie à Istanbul, who provided the wonderful venue. Special thanks go to our partner there Ghislain Vidal-Giraud, responsible for cultural affairs and cooperations, for his efforts in preparing the venue.
Dr. Melike Şahinol
Dr. Gülşah Başkavak
in cooperation with
„Modified (Hu)Man: Traditions, Vulnerabilities and Possible Futures“
Dr. Katja Rieck
in collaboration with
Mina Keshavarz & Mina Rad
„Documentaries and Social Change in Iran“
PD Dr. Judith I. Haug
Dr. des. Kamyar Nematollahy
„Body and Spirituality: The Musical and Physical Tradition of Zurkhaneh“
Dr. des. Esther Voswinckel-Filiz
Dr. Katja Rieck
PD Dr. Robert Langer
„Shifting Grounds: Materialities and Aesthetics of Religion in Urban and Rural Iran“