Arts & Culture

Festival features persecuted writers

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, March 16, 2012

Art as Sin, the International Writers Project’s annual cultural festival, is packed with big names from Iranian cinema, literature and poetry in honor of the Iranian heritage of 2011-12 project fellow poet Pegah Ahmadi. The festival began Monday and culminates today with a screening of Iranian director Jafar Panahi’s “This is Not a Film” and a performance by singer and setar player Mohsen Namjoo.

In 2007, the New York Times called Namjoo “Iran’s (Bob) Dylan.” “This is Not a Film,” Panahi’s account of life under house arrest after the government labeled him a subversive influence on the state, has gained acclaim mainly for the being filmed partially on an iPhone and then smuggled out of the country in a cake.

Robert Coover, the founder of the International Writers Project and visiting professor of literary arts, said the festival, which usually only runs three or four days, was extended to five days this year in order to accommodate the large number of authors, filmmakers, journalists and translators who agreed to participate.

The project, which offers refuge to writers who face persecution in their home countries, officially began in 1989 with a grant from then- President of the University Vartan Gregorian.

Even before the project began, Coover said Brown was developing a reputation as a safe haven for Iranian authors targeted by the government in their own country. This reputation was one reason why so many Iranian nationals and other Middle Eastern literary figures participated in this year’s festival, he said.

Ahmadi, the current fellow, left Iran after facing opposition from the government because of her poetic work and involvement with the Green Movement, a series of actions by protesters demanding the removal of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from office. Ahmadi is the project’s fourth fellow from Iran.

The festival kicked off Monday night with readings of selected works by Iranian modernist poet Forough Farrokhzad and a showing of Farrokhzad’s 1962 documentary “The House is Black,” a film about life inside a leper colony.

Farrokhzad, known simply as “Forough” to her many fans in and outside of Iran, died in an automobile accident in 1967. But it is clear she continues to influence the new generation of Iranian writers.

“The next time I have permission to go to Tehran, I will visit Forough’s (grave) so that I truly feel what it is like to be in the wrong place, wrong time,” said Shahriar Mondanipour, visiting professor of literary arts and award-winning Iranian novelist.

But Art as Sin was not without its disappointments. Acclaimed director Shirin Neshat declined at the last minute to appear at the showing of her film “Women Without Men,” based on a book of the same name by former project fellow Shahrnush Parsipur. Technical difficulties during the showing of “Bashu, the Little Stranger” left no time for a conversation with director Bahram Beyzaie.

And on the whole, attendance fell from last year’s festival, according to organizers’ estimates. Coover said he believed the decrease in attendance was due to “midterms, warm sunny weather, schedule conflicts, a faculty search within my own department.” The low attendance was “a bit disappointing, but we are ending with a bang,” he said, adding that today’s film should be very good.

But the small number of undergraduates, handful of graduate students and many dozens of professors and community members who attended regarded the festival as a success. Many pointed to a Wednesday lecture by Abbas Milani, director of Iranian Studies at Stanford, and the showing of “Bashu, the Little Stranger” as the festival’s highlights.

“The shots of the countryside were so lush, so vibrant, and the story was so compelling,” said Hector Ramirez ’12 after “Bashu,” adding, “I definitely want to learn more about this genre.