Film Forum


Documentaries and Dialogues on a Changing Society

November 12th & 13th 2021

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 three thematic blocks invite audiences to contribute their perspectives to the exchange between researchers and filmmakers and to engage with new insights into transnational and local cultural practices.



The Film Forum will take place online from November 12th to 13th, 2021 and is free of admission. Films are subtitled and discussions live captioned (ger) so they are more accessible to the hearing impaired. To participate in this event, please register here.

A similar event, the Film Forum Istanbul, will take place in January 2022. For more Information and for updates on the event in Istanbul please click here.




   Friday, November 12th, 2021

6:30 p.m.[CET]
7:00 p.m.[CET]
Modified (Hu)Man:
Traditions, Vulnerabilities and
Possible Futures

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?

7:15 p.m.

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.

Stepfather’s Legacy

Stepfather's Legacy.jpg

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.

Aphasia Mechanica
0:03, 2010, USA, Daniel Warner [without Dialogue]

Black and white impressions of mechanical parts in the human body.

Carlottas Gesicht

Carlotta's Face - BIO·FICTION Science Art Film Festival.jpg

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.

The Auxiliary

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?

The Auxiliary - BIO·FICTION Science Art Film Festival.jpg
9:00 p.m.
Round Table[EN]

Panel discussion with Başak Ağın, Sümeyra Buran, Claudia Liebelt, Nacim Pak-Shiraz and Christopher Coenen.
Moderation: Melike Şahinol [Orient Institute Istanbul]

Saturday, November 13th, 2021

2:00 p.m.[CET]
Documentaries and Social Change in Iran

Documentaries and Social Change in Iran: Between Documentation, Education and Art
A panel discussion with Mina Keshavarz and Mina Rad, moderated by Katja Rieck.

3:00 p.m.[CET]

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. Following the film, we will have the opportunity to speak with the director Dr. Federico Spinetti, Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Cologne, about the making of the film and about how academic research is relevant beyond the university setting.

3:15 p.m.

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.

Zurkhaneh 2.JPG
5:00 p.m.
Interview and Q&A
with Federico Spinetti

After the film we talk to the director Prof. Dr. Federico Spinetti, professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Cologne, on the making of the film and the relevance of science outside the university research context.

6:30 p.m.[CET]

Shifting Grounds:

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.

6:45 p.m.

0:28, 2014, Iran, Farzad Jafari [w. German Subtitles]

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.

the sign (1).JPG

The Holy Bread
0:23, 2008, Iran, Nadia Jafari [w. german Subtitles]

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.

How Green Was Our Valley
0:32, 2009, Iran, Fereshteh Joghataei [w. german Subtitles]

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.

9:30 p.m.
Audience discussion on Materialities and Aesthetics of Religion in Urban and Rural Iran and Final Q&A

In a final round of talks between the audience and researchers from the Orient Institute Istanbul, there will be the opportunity to discuss the contributions from the previous thematic block. Afterwards, with a final discussion, there is room to ask questions that remained unanswered during the two-day film forum and to take a joint glimpse into the future.


IAC Hamburg 2021

Iran at the Crossways 
Online Film Forum Hamburg
November 12th & 13th, 2021

Due to the unclear pandemic situation to be expected in Autumn 2021, we decided 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 have 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.
See Programme


The Film Forum will be hosted on a digital event platform adapted to the format, supported by the Hamburg based digital agency Synaptic Minds. The platform works via browser, so there is no need to download and instal an application or to create a user account. Once you’ve registered, we will send you the event’s link and all necessary information by email. Participation via a mobile device is possible but not recommended.

The films are shown in the original language with German subtitles. While the event language is generally German, panel discussions with international participants will be held in English.

All films and discussions are made accessible to the hearing impaired via live captioning in german laguage.

To Participate

To participate, simply click on the button below to register. If you only want to take part on either one of the two days, please fill in on which date you would like to participate. For participating in the whole event, leave the field blank. After submitting your participation details, you will receive an email with access to the event platform and all other information. If you do not receive a confirmation registration-mail within 24 hours, please contact info@filmforum-iran.org.

Participation in the event is open to all interested parties regardless of their location and is free of charge.

No upcoming events at the moment

The processing of personal data takes place in accordance with the German DSVGO. Our data protection guidelines can be found here.


IAC Istanbul 2022

Iran at the Crossways 
Film Forum Istanbul
Jan. 2022

The Film Forum will take place a second time in Istanbul in January 2022. We are currently planning this to be a live event on site.

We will inform you as soon as possible about the details of that event as the preparations are completed.




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.

Orient-Institut Istanbul

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:

Raphaela Rößler
Executive Manager

Shahrzad Irannejad
Production Assistant, Regional Consultant

Burak Taşdizen
Online Venue Manager, Production Assistant

Sercan Sever
On-Site Production Assistant

Tassia Breidenbrücker
Digitization and analytics for artists & cultural institutions, SynapticMinds UG

Tamara Dewald
Communications Manager AUDIO2 - Datamatix Datensysteme GmbH

Işıl Kocabay
Turkish Subtitles

Somayeh Mirshamsi / Arash Sarkohi
German Subtitles

Mascha Peleshko
Video and Sound Editing

Nils Poppe
Graphic Design

Patrick Romberger
AUDIO2 - Datamatix Datensysteme GmbH

Raphaela Rößler

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

Scientific conceptualization

Dr. Melike Şahinol
Burak Taşdizen
Dr. Gülşah Başkavak

in cooperation with
Biofaction KG
„Modified (Hu)Man: Traditions, Vulnerabilities and Possible Futures“


Dr. Katja Rieck
Shahrzad Irannejad

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
Shahrzad Irannejad
Dr. Katja Rieck
PD Dr. Robert Langer

„Shifting Grounds: Materialities and Aesthetics of Religion in Urban and Rural Iran“