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neon production

Written and directed by Maryam Keshavarz

In co-production with Marakesh films (Iran), A Space between (USA) Bago Pictures (USA)

France: AD vitam
Netherlands: Cinemien
Germany: Edition Salzgeber
Canada: Mongrel Media
USA: Participant Media
USA: Roadside Attractions
Netherlands: Film 1
Belgium: Homescreen
Netherlands: Homescreen
United-Kingdom: Peccadillo Pictures
Australia: Vendetta Films

International sales
Funny Balloons

Atafeh and Kathryn are inseparable. Like many Iranian youth, Atafeh and Kathryn rebel against the conservative authority of the Islamic republic. Faced with an increasingly repressive atmosphere in the public arena, Atafeh and Kathryn explore an underground world of secret gatherings where young people explore their sexuality, experiment with drugs, and create Western-inspired music and films.
Within the conservative political climate of modern-day Iran, social restrictions abound, the girls risk everything to follow their hearts, for love and freedom.

Release in French theaters 8th February 2012


Atafeh Hakimi
Shireen Arshadi
Mehran Hakimi


First assistant director
Director of photography
Brian Rigney HUBBARD
Heather ASKEW
Line Producer
Production manager
Production coordinator
Location manager, Scouting
Jimmy DIB
Assistant Location manager
Scott ENGE
Sound designer
Danielle GILBERT
Casting director
Sundance Film Festival 2011
37th American Film Festival, official competition
Melbourne Queer Film Festival 2011
Durban International Film Festival
Valladolid International Film Festival, official selection
Rome International Film Festival 2011
Vancouver International Film Festival
Calgary International Film Festival 2011
New Zealand International Film Festival 2011
Zurich International Film Festival
Haifa International Film Festival
Stockholm International Film Festival
Washington DC International Film Festival 2011 - official selection - USA
San Francisco International Film Festival 2011 - USA
Outfest 2011 -Los Angeles - USA
Boston International Film Festival 2011 - USA
Seattle International Film Festival 2011 - USA
Provincetown International Film Festival 2011 - USA
Nantucket Film Festival 2011 - USA
San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival 2011 - USA
Newfest 2011 - Closing film - New York - USA
Amsterdam World Cinema Festival 2011
Special screening at the university of Pennsylvania - USA
Special screening at Northwestern University, Chicago - USA
"Damn these Heels" Film Festival, Salt Lake City - USA
Special Screening at Walker Art Center - Minneapolis - USA
Montreal World Film Festival 2011
Paris Cinema Festival 2011
1st Iranian Film Festival of Australia
Hong Kong Gay and Lesbian Film Festival
Zlin Film Festival

Awards: Audience Awards at Sundance Festival 2011
Awards: Audience Award, Best Director and Best Actress at Noor Iranian Film Festival in Los Angeles 2011
Awards: Audience Award for Outstanding First U.S Dramatic Feature Film at OutFest Festival 2011
Awards: Best Film at Hamburg International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival
Awards: Best First Film at Rome International Film Festival
Awards: Jury Award at Valladolid International Film Festival
Awards: Grand Jury Award - NewFest New York 2011
Awards: Best Film - Narrative Feature at NewFest 2011
Awards: Human Rights Award at Bilbao International Film Festival
Nominated for the Audience Award of the 2011 Gotham independent Film Awards.
Nominated for the Independent Spirits Award - John Cassavetes Nomination


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Circumtstance by Robert Koehler

27 janvier 2011

Certain to be discussed more for its daring depiction of a lesbian relationship in present-day Tehran than for its artistic merits, writer-director Maryam Keshavarz's "Circumstance" suggests a new way of showing stories about young Iranians even as it stumbles and falls over myriad narrative miscalculations. The account of young Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) falling in love with fellow schoolgirl Shireen (Sarah Kazemy) -- before being pulled apart by events -- will draw invites from fests including generalist and gay-lesbian events. Pic has been picked up for U.S. release by Participant Media.

Atafeh and Shireen are first viewed as typical Tehrani high schoolers, though Shireen encounters regular difficulties with authorities, being the daughter of two famed, now-dead parents who were harsh critics of the Islamic Republic. While Shireen lives with her uncle and grandmother, Atafeh enjoys a more stable nuclear family led by worldly, Bach-loving dad Firooz (Soheil Parsa) and adoring mom Azar (Nasin Pakkho), who loves singing nostalgic songs.

The girls know their way around the city's underground party scene, where gatherings are held in private apartments or in warehouses converted into dance clubs. In these scenes, Keshavarz, shooting mostly in Beirut, Lebanon, captures contempo Iranian life more realistically than any current made-in-Iran film could: Here, when women enter a private interior, they remove their head coverings and even strip down to racy dresses.

"Circumstance" moves even further afield from censored Persian cinema when the gals grow physically intimate, including vivid Dubai-set fantasies of frequenting lesbian bars and making love in lush hotel rooms. Such scenes will likely make the pic ineligible at most Mideast fests, but will set tongues wagging in the widespread Iranian diaspora community, where the pic is already a talking point.

Keshavarz's script devolves into the ridiculous as it develops the poorly conceived character of Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai), Atafeh's long-absent, hash-addicted brother, who suddenly turns up at home and just as suddenly nurtures an affinity for fundamentalist Islam. Incredibly, and without Firooz knowing, Mehran manages to install surveillance cameras in every room in the family house so he can spy on his "infidel" clan.

This, plus everyone's astounding cluelessness about Atafeh and Shireen's actual relationship, sends the film reeling into a nonsensical latter half. As Mehran's power and influence grows over the family, "Circumstance" becomes a loopy piece of psycho-paranoia, in which all but Atafeh find no escape from the Islamic net, pushing the film further away from contempo Persian realities even as it aspires to show them.

Performances drift by the reel toward excessive melodrama, with Safai in particular saddled with an impossible role. Tech package is close to mainstream European standards, with d.p. Brian Rigney Hubbard working to modest effect in anamorphic widescreen. Gingger Shankar, great-niece of Ravi Shankar, manages some convincing Persian-style music, with a soundtrack sprinkled with such pop Persian faves as Andy.

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Circumstance by David D'Arcy

1er février 2011

Circumstance is a family drama set against the strict rules that govern public and private life in Iran. Watching it, you lose count of the taboos that its Iranian-American director is violating.

Maryam Keshavarz’s debut dramatic feature, supported by the Sundance Institute, is not the first narrative film to explore personal passion that’s at odds with Islamic rectitude. But its profile is already high, and threatens to become even more prominent, ensuring an audience wherever Iranians have emigrated (and one in Iran, where pirate dvds may already be circulating).

The political stories in Circumstance should benefit from the attention given the current ferment in Arab Islamic countries, and the forbidden lesbian plot should lure in the curious.

Winning Sundance’s audience award suggests that Americans might take to this film in a way that they have failed to with other Iranian cinema by such greats as Abbas Kiarostami and the now-imprisoned Jafar Panahi.

Filmed in Lebanon with a cast of Iranian actors drawn from all over the world, Circumstance looks at Iran through the experience of a liberal family living under an intolerant regime. Mehran, the musician son, has returned from drug rehab and is inching toward Islamic sobriety. Atafeh, 16, his sister, is exploring the Tehran underworld with her friend, Shireen. As the two girls become closer, Mehran’s resentment grows, to the point that he sets up cameras in the family home to observe them.

Keshavarz, who wrote the script based on events that she saw and experienced in Iran, situates the family’s turmoil in the broader context of other educated Iranians trying to survive in the worst of circumstances under a regime rooting out evil where it’s thought to be hiding.

Her scenes, shot all over Lebanon in lush Super 16mm, show the haven that family life provides, and the catharsis of secret bacchanals that defy the regime’s ban on alcohol and male/female dancing.

In the role of Atafeh, Iranian-Canadian Nikohl Boosheri plays a young woman willing to rebel against any rules. French-born Sarah Kazemy, as Shireen, is elegant as the more restrained half of the couple that yearns for “free” Dubai. As Mehran, Reza Sixo Safai, who grew up in Palo Alto, California, is eerily threatening as the drug addict brother who has seen the error of his ways and who’s determined to safeguard purity.

Keshavarz has succeeded in getting a consistency acting style from a cast that she drew from different continents. Cinematographer Brian Rigney Hubbard and production designer Natacha Kalfayan (with haunting music from Gingger Shankar) give the same consistency to the look of the story shot outside Iran.

It’s an auspicious beginning for a young director. Watch for the fireworks once Circumstance reaches Iran.

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The Bottom Line by James Greenberg
23 janvier 2011

PARK CITY -- (U.S. Dramatic Competition) "Circumstance" is an amazingly accomplished and complex first feature from Iranian-American writer-director Maryam Keshavarz.

Drawing on some of her own experiences, she has created an insiders look at a world few of us will ever get to see. The political, sexual and religious labyrinth of Iran today feels at once contemporary and utterly foreign. Told with a modern rhythm and propulsive soundtrack, it’s a compelling story that should attract both a young and older audience of culturally curious moviegoers.

Keshavarz’s looking glass is a liberal, well-to-do family in Teheran, and in particular 16-year-old Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) and her less privileged friend Shireen (Sarah Kazemy), whose parents were likely executed as dissidents. As any girls their age, they are testing the bonds of friendship and their sexual attraction for each other, made even more complicated by a repressive society that has little regard for women. They act out their rebellion by taking drugs and partying in hip-looking underground clubs, but their only real escape is through their imagination. Life is so stifling in Iran that they picture themselves running off to the relative freedom of Dubai.

All of Atafeh’s family has been affected by the totalitarian regime. Her once progressive, Berkeley-educated father Firouz (Soheil Parsa) is nostalgic for his glory days while compromising in the present. Her mother Azar (Nasrin Pakkho) is a successful surgeon but nonetheless reminds her daughter that we have to accept the reality we live in. Most damaged of all is her brother Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai). A crack addict recently released from jail, he is desperately looking for a way to fit in to society and not surprisingly turns to religion.

His twisted sense of holiness leads him to become a member of the morality police and from his lofty perch puts his whole family under surveillance. Atafeh’s vitality and especially her life-affirming relationship with Shireen is more than he can stand, and he sets out to crush it in a series of actions that irrevocably alters the close and loving ties that once bound the family members as allies, not adversaries. It’s within these crushing circumstances that people like Atafeh and Shireen do their best to find a modicum of peace and hope, but it doesn’t work for all of them.

For obvious reasons, Keshavarz shot the film in Lebanon, and even there she had to stretch the bounds of what was acceptable. Having grown up in the U.S. and Iran, she is able to look at the culture from the inside and has a keen eye for the telling image or subtle gesture, ably assisted by cinematographer Brian Rigney Hubbard. In one striking scene at the seaside, she frames a group of men lounging in bathing suits seated next to women in their black hijabs. On the other hand, scenes of the girls buoyantly bounding down the street and partying in the clubs are shot in saturated colors, contrasting with the drabness of everyday life.

Drawing on relatives from her extended family, Keshavarz clearly knows these people well and has managed to create distinct and individual characters on both sides of the political spectrum. In this she is aided by fine performances from relative newcomers Boosheri and Kazemy as the teenage girls, and the sympathetic grace of Iranian stage veterans Parsa and Pakkho as the parents. Together the director and her cast have managed to give the film a sense of complete authenticity.

At times, however, Keshavarz may have been too close too to these people and occasionally it feels like she is trying to squeeze in too much detail. Particularly in the early going, the film seems like it’s simmering rather than gaining momentum. Some judicious trims would help that. But overall this is an impressive debut from a filmmaker with something to say and the talent to say it.

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Turns Out Sundance Thrives on More Than Just Money by Manohla Dargis

28 janvier 2011

PARK CITY, Utah — Thirty years ago “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was riding high at the box office, and American independent filmmaking was still an anomalous pursuit rather than a community, a recognized passion, a mark of cool. That year Charles Burnett won prizes at the Berlin Film Festival and the US Film Festival for “Killer of Sheep” but was unable to secure an American distributor for that masterpiece. The US Festival moved from Salt Lake City to this Utah ski town and was soon taken over by the Sundance Institute, founded by Robert Redford to support independent filmmakers.

In the years since, the Sundance Film Festival, like the American independent film scene, was discovered by Hollywood, enduring good times and bad. Recently, though, as myriad movie-industry casualties can attest, the lows seemed to outnumber the highs, as several major studios either shut down or scaled back their art-house divisions, and smaller companies went up in smoke.

The old model of distribution, which allowed a landmark American independent like Jim Jarmusch’s “Stranger Than Paradise” (1984) to find its audience slowly, began to disappear. Filmmakers turned to the Internet not only to sell their movies directly to the audience, but also for money and support. Crisis was the name of the game, and then suddenly it wasn’t.

What happened? Put simply, filmmakers kept on making movies, if increasingly in affordable digital, and distributors, including new faces and studio veterans, found a way to put those moving pictures in front of the audience, both on the big screen and small. As it happens, viewers have developed a taste for noncorporate cinema. And despite the hard economic times they have continued to seek out movies like “Winter’s Bone” and “The Kids Are All Right,” two Sundance breakout titles from last year that went on to find public and critical love and recently picked up a few major Oscar nods. Times are still tough, but American independent cinema turns out to be a movement defined by stubborn true belief and survival.

It’s impossible to know if the brisk sales this year were due to the new optimism or, as one distribution veteran suggested, a fear of missing out on the next “Winter’s Bone.” No film was as collectively adored as that 2010 favorite, but as title after title hit screens, the festival affirmed that independent cinema remains a pursuit of hearts and minds and not just a business opportunity or tabloid filler. With the crowds that sometimes gave Park City an unsettling frat house vibe now happily gone and the celebrity circus having pulled up stakes, both the streets and screens seemed newly revitalized and welcoming. Goodbye, Paris Hilton; hello, Brit Marling!

It’s a sure bet that you will be reading more about Ms. Marling, a promising new talent and fashion-magazine-ready beauty who stars in and, with the director Mike Cahill, helped write “Another Earth.” (She also stars in and helped write “Sound of My Voice,” one of several movies here about cults.) A story about parallel alien worlds, those interpersonal as well as interplanetary, “Another Earth” centers on Rhoda (Ms. Marling), a bright young thing headed for M.I.T. who, on the same night that a new planet called Earth 2 is discovered, plows her car into a family, killing a pregnant woman and her young child.

Four years later Rhoda emerges from prison and reaches out to another survivor: the husband she made a widower (William Mapother as John). Out of this initially unlikely relationship, one that strains at reality even as it feels true, Mr. Cahill and his appealing leads create a lived-in, absorbing world. For all the far-out space talk — true to its name, Earth 2 turns out to be a kind of mirror to the big blue marble where Rhoda has become somewhat of an alien presence — the movie has the delicate and rough texture of real life. Even as Earth 2 hovers next to the Moon, either as threat or promise, yet more mysteries remain on Earth 1.

There’s a suggestion that the end might be nigh in “Another Earth,” one of a large number of movies that, obliquely or directly, solemnly and sometimes irreverently, took on questions of faith. One such title is “Red State,” a crude misfire about homophobia and religious fanaticism from Kevin Smith, that high-profile Sundance alumnus (“Clerks”) turned one-man entertainment brand.

The story pivots on a trio of high-school boys who end up prisoners of an extremist religious sect that plans to eradicate homosexuality one cold body at a time. After warming up the story with his usual raunchy comedy, complete with the familiar gay-friendly jibes and sexist yuks, Mr. Smith loses his way amid a swamp of horror and action-flick clichés, all but turning the movie over to his charismatic villain (Michael Parks as the pastor).

(The character is based on Fred W. Phelps Sr., the pastor of a Kansas church that stages protests at military funerals to publicize its anti-gay campaign. Not surprisingly, they brought their pickets and invective to Park City for the first screening of the movie but didn’t bother to stick around for the second.)

That old-time religion and some of its newer-age alternatives were central to films as dissimilar as “Higher Ground,” about a woman who, after evading a tragedy, joins a fundamentalist Christian group, and the amusingly eccentric “Septien,” about a family that drives out its demons with the help of a preacher. Making the most of his conspicuously modest budget, Michael Tully, who directed “Septien” and plays the family’s newly returned youngest brother, creates a plausibly human if outrageous story in which belief is an occasion for comedy and dread. Vera Farmiga, meanwhile, working on a larger canvas as both the star and director of “Higher Ground,” manages to hold your attention through some awkward narrative turns with a character who loses and then finds both God and herself.

Whenever a strong theme emerges at a festival as sprawling and diverse as Sundance, with selections from around the globe, it can be attributed to the programming (or journalists grasping for a hook). Religion has long played a part in some national cinemas, so it’s no surprise that fundamentalism has a role in the likeable, earnest Iranian lesbian love story, “Circumstance.”

But the number of religious-theme American selections this year suggests that a minor cultural shift might be under way as filmmakers take one of the most important and, certainly in our mainstream cinema, under-addressed truths in people’s lives: their struggle with God and issues of belief. If nothing else, a decade after Sept. 11 and the wrenching, discordant attention on the faith of other people, some Americans filmmakers have shifted their gaze closer to home.

This isn’t to say that more traditional Sundance struggles were underrepresented, as the usual sampling of coming-of-age stories made clear. Two of the best were also my favorites in the festival: “Terri,” from Azazel Jacobs, who first showed up at Sundance in 2008 with “Momma’s Man”; and “Pariah,” from the talented comer Dee Rees, making her fiction feature debut. With a sensitive eye and an even more perceptive heart, Mr. Jacobs brings new life to the outsider’s ordeal with a story about a large, lonely high-school boy (beautifully played by Jacob Wysocki) who discovers a sense of self-worth with the help of some charming oddballs. The outcast in Ms. Rees’s movie (Adepero Oduye, in a heart-melting turn) travels an even more lonesome road as a lesbian high-school student finding her way against the odds.

This year’s crop of documentaries didn’t generate the noise or controversy that last year greeted “Catfish” and “Exit Through the Gift Shop” (which also snared an Oscar nomination), but there were films with voluble defenders and detractors. Audiences were left reeling by the emotional twists of “Project Nim,” a shocking movie from James Marsh (“Man on Wire”) about an experiment — involving a chimp, some dubious science and a heroic Grateful Dead fan — gone horribly wrong. Those lucky festivalgoers who accidentally wandered into the unannounced short “Red Shirley,” by the musician Lou Reed, were delighted by the pocket-size portrait of his then 101-year-old cousin, as well as the Q. and A. session with Mr. Reed that followed the screening.

That said, though no documentary dominated, one feature did generate a great deal of chatter: “Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times.” Directed by Andrew Rossi, who shares the writing credit with Kate Novack, this unexpectedly engaging if disappointingly superficial peek inside the newspaper covers a great deal of ground, some of which — like the impact of the Internet on dead-tree journalism — should be familiar to readers of the movie’s improbable star, the media columnist and culture reporter David Carr. Nicely described in the movie as “the most human of human beings,” Mr. Carr, with his tough language and sense of journalistic honor, puts an irresistible, personal face on an institution that for many remains its own mysterious force.

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Sundance films expose secretive lives in Iraq, Iran by Bob Tourtellotte

28 janvier 2011

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - A fictional account of the egomaniacal son of Saddam Hussein and a film about two Iranian teenage girls experimenting with sexuality are among the many foreign films winning over audiences at Sundance.

The Sundance Film Festival is still largely known for U.S. dramatic features and documentaries but has steadily increased its emphasis on foreign films, even starting a world cinema contest six years ago to raise overseas filmmakers' profile.

Officials with the Sundance Institute, which backs the festival, say 30 percent of its work year-round is dedicated to international outreach, and the festival's programmers have increased their globetrotting to find top-notch films either made overseas or dealing with subjects in foreign lands.

"Sundance is so American at its core that it has been a continual challenge" to expand globally, festival director John Cooper told Reuters. "(But) it's added a lot to the festival."

This year's foreign films, as well as those with U.S.-born directors who set their film in foreign lands, have hailed from countries including Spain, France, Italy, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Belgium and many others. But two films -- one about Iraq and the other set in Iran -- especially are winning raves.


"The Devil's Double," a riveting gangster action drama that is a fictional imagining of an Iraqi army lieutenant's true tale of becoming the body double for Saddam Hussein's notorious eldest son, Uday Hussein, has drawn critical acclaim.

Set in the late 1980s, the movie opens with sweeping images of an Iraq undamaged by war and shows Latif Yahia, being summoned to become Uday Hussein's body double, or "fiday", forced to undergo plastic surgery and discard his former life.

Yahia shadows Hussein and discovers the unstable eldest son of Saddam constantly consuming cocaine and alcohol, partying in nightclubs, and arrogantly having sex with any woman he picks, including school girls and a bride on her wedding day. He often rapes them -- all while protected by an army of bodyguards.

"The reality was far more grim than anything we could do," director Lee Tamahori, who first made his mark with "Once Were Warriors" before turning his attention to Hollywood movies, told the premiere night audience.

Britain's Dominic Cooper scored a standing ovation for his performance in both roles, the unstable Hussein and the morally challenged Yahia, who lives in a decadent world of designer suits while being surrounded by violence and torture.


"Circumstance," has also earned high praise for its take on sexuality, personal expression and cultural barriers in Iran as two affluent teen girls experiment with music, underground clubs and eventually their sexual feelings for each other.

Director Maryam Keshavarz, said she to hoped to break new ground in Iranian cinema.

"It deals with a lot issues that haven't been dealt with in Iranian cinema before, primarily looking at sexuality, looking at religion, fanaticism, obsession," she told Reuters.

The film, which deals with an affluent Iranian family that starts to break apart when the brother and sister move in different directions, is entered in the U.S. dramatic competition here at Sundance because it was partially financed in the United States and the director is U.S. born and raised.

Still, Keshavarz said the movie reflected her experiences with strong, young Iranian women, "their struggle and their incredible strength," when she regularly traveled to Iran until three years ago. The movie was made in Lebanon and, if it is ever seen in Iran, would likely be controversial.

"It won't be probably looked on as favorable (in Iran), because it shows the resilience of young people and their desire to get around all the restrictions," she said.

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Sundance '11 Day 4: Girls, women, God by Wesley Morris

23 janvier 2011

Dear Park City restaurant community: If I make a habit of walking through your doors, be afraid. Every restaurant I love here closes. Last year, my favorite chicken place vanished. Today, I left Maryam Keshavarz's "Circumstance" desperate for food and discovered that China Buffet is no more. Honestly, its days were numbered. Most of my afternoons there were spent alone. "Circumstance" is not recommended for the hungry, anyway. The appetites in the film are big. They're a little bit for freedom but mostly for sex. Which is understandable. The movie's two progressively reared Iranian students -- Atafeh and Shireen (Nikohi Boosheri and Sarah Kazemy) -- are outrageously sexy.

But lest you mistake their inability to keep their hands off each other for cheap erotic provocation, Keshavarz, an American making her feature debut, throws in a surveillance plot that gives the movie allegorical heft. It's a cheap erotic provocation with political wrapping. She gives us a look us at Tehran's druggy, hormonal (and affluent) youth culture (she filmed in Beirut), and with every shot of a swinging booty and every pill popped, you feel like someone involved with this production could, at any moment, lose her life -- or at least have her freedoms severely curtailed. That, of course, is what the movie is about: how to thrive amid cultural suppression.

Keshavarz sends the camera up and down the bodies of her stars. She throws in an incest plot, lesbian nightclub fantasies, and Atafeh and Shireen's lip-synching "Total Eclipse of the Heart" along with an "American Idol" contestant. At some point, the girls and two male friends hit the video store and discuss the point of Gus Van Sant's "Milk," which is available only in a state-censored version: It's not about sex, one says. A lot of the film is overblown -- ungently ridiculous -- but in a scene like that and another that follows, in which they re-dub the right dialogue for the movie and restore the sounds of orgasms to "Sex and the City," Keshavarz establishes herself as a smart, insightful voice who can be didactic and very funny at the same time. That's not a quality I need in a filmmaker but she's quite good at it. The sex, meanwhile -- that's stuff you can see, with no problem, almost anywhere. Except, of course, in Iran.

"Circumstance" contains a sexualized foot. Incredibly, so does Vera Farmiga's first film as a director, "Higher Ground." (Her movie's foot features cake icing.) She plays a 1960s housewife who discovers that she might not be as devout a Christian as she thought. The movie take its sweet time getting to its most interesting ideas about chauvinism in the Christian church. Before that, the movie, which Carolyn S. Briggs co-adapted from her memoir, "This Dark World," chugs along, first as a coming-of-age movie, then as a film about how tough young marriage can be. Finally, a portrait emerges of the limitations of a tight-knit spiritual community. But it's all episodic, like watching the highlights from a life mis-lived -- or a movie mis-made.

None of the characters quite makes sense. Farmiga and the rest of the cast -- Donna Murphy, John Hawkes, Joshua Leonard, Norbert Leo Butz -- play emotions but not complete characters. So the acting tends to swerve all over the lane. The performance with the most personality -- Dagmara Dominczyk's -- is cut short then abandoned. A friend pointed out that actors are drawn to the outsize nature of preaching -- Robert Duvall's "The Apostle" being the apex of such an attraction. Even as it feels unfinished, "Higher Ground" also feels like it's up to something about feminism and freedom and equal spiritual access to God. Farmiga just seems to nervous to tap into the power and clarity necessary to dramatize it. Maryam Keshavarz doesn't seem nervous at all.

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Sundance 2011: Happy, Happy Reflections on a Queer Year by JenniOlsonSF

26 janvier 2011

Fresh off the whirlwind opening weekend of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, here are my admittedly skewed impressions of this year’s cinema extravaganza — which seemed queerer than ever despite (or perhaps because of) my being unable to see many of the LGBT films on view. Fear not. I have a well-developed facility for chiming in relevant commentary on films I’ve never seen, and at least one worthy observation on the presentation of the LGBT films at this notoriously queer “straight” festival. So here from the perch of January is a glimpse at the queer year in film ahead.

On the “Queer with a capital Q” end of the spectrum sits Madeline Olnek’s spectacularly titled Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same (which caused great philosophical reflection amongst one group of lesbians at this year’s Outfest Queer Brunch who concluded that, truly, aren’t we all space aliens when you really think about it?).

Also sharing that end of the scale is Dee Rees’s unapologetically lesbian opening night film, Pariah (a similar label for us to claim?) conveying the struggle of a closeted butch African American lesbian torn between her conservative family life and the pleasures of community amongst her friends.

The other out and proud films of the year include: Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s reality TV-style portrait of Chaz Bono’s transition from female to male, Becoming Chaz (acquired by the Oprah’s OWN Network, look for it in May); David Weissman’s devastating portrait of the early days of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco, We Were Here; the French-Algerian drama, A Few Days of Respite following a gay Iranian refugee couple who arrive in France where they are helped by an older woman (played by legendary French actress Marina Vlady); and Gun Hill Road, Rashaad Ernesto Green’s La Mission-esque tale of a macho ex-con (Esai Morales) coping with his newly transitioned daughter Vanessa (formerly Michael) on his arrival back home to the Bronx. The film was enthusiastically described by one industry exec after the premiere as “the most accessible trans film ever made.”

These films aside, there was a notable absence of the LGBT words in many festival catalog descriptions, which one might attribute not so much to some strain of homophobia as to the festival programmers’ desire for a film to be seen on its complete merits.

Case in point (and not tagged in the LGBT genre category on the Sundance website) is the terrifically entertaining Norwegian drama, Happy, Happy. And now, how to convey the tremendous gay resonance of this film without ruining the plot? Let me just say the film forcefully depicts the consequences of societal homophobia and living in denial. Plus it’s exceptionally well acted and has irresistibly quirky acapella interludes, which are a stroke of genius. Of the innumerable LGBT-themed stories I’ve seen depicted in hundreds of LGBT films over the past twenty-five years, I’ve never seen this one. Whatever your sexuality or gender, you must see this movie.

My other top pick of the festival (also not described as lesbian in the festival catalog) is Maryam Keshavarz’s Iranian drama, Circumstance (which was acquired by Participant Media just a few days after the premiere). Here is a film that both embodies and transcends the label: “lesbian film.” All the elements are here — great script, an enormously talented and confident director and a skilled cast that includes the charismatic young actresses Nikohl Boosheri and Sarah Kazemy (who will soon be swooned over by teenage girls across the globe). The film effectively immerses us in the experience of two teenage girls navigating the wild Iranian underground scene as they grapple with their attraction for one another against the backdrop of an impossibly homophobic society (and an increasingly fervent fundamentalist brother). Again, truly a must-see movie.

One of the biggest films of the festival, Kevin Smith’s Red State also (with good reason) sidesteps the gay mention in the Sundance description — though it was included in the official Sundance list of films with LGBT themes. See the full list here.

A scan of Red State’s mainstream reviews, in the afterglow of its Westboro Baptist Church protested premiere, reveals that the “gay” angle is in fact the film’s depiction of rabid homophobia and hypocrisy amongst the film’s religious fundamentalist characters. While garnering mixed reviews on the film itself, Smith successfully grabbed the attention of attending media and touched a timely resonant chord amongst filmmakers with his on-stage diatribe against traditional film distribution models and his announcement that he will release the film himself. Movieline critic Alonso Duralde pretty much summed up industry sentiments with his observation that, “Whether or not Smith is a visionary or a lunatic remains to be seen.”

The last film in the “gay relevance arising out of the thoughtful portrayal of homophobia” category is the sure to be cult classic, Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure — in which two straight guys eavesdrop on the rantings of their neighbors (a gay man and his homophobic roommate) in San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighborhood. Sadly, another LGBT film I was unable to see at Sundance — and yet can confidently proclaim to have had the best promotional campaign in town with their series of quote-bearing buttons including such tremendous dialogue from the film as: “If you wanna talk to me then shut yer f--kin’ mouth” and, my personal favorite which I proudly sported on Main Street: “Don’t call me ‘Goodnight’ you c--ksucker.”

I spent the whole (f--king freezing cold) long weekend in Park City trying to develop some meaningful analysis on this observed phenomenon of euphemisms and creative phrasings around LGBT content — to no avail. Maybe it’s just understandable that filmmakers would like to have larger audiences see their work, and to have industry buyers in attendance at Sundance not pigeonhole them before actually seeing their films. Here’s hoping they ALL get distribution and are coming soon to some kind of screen near you in 2011.

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[Sundance Review] Circumstance by Dan Mecca

26 janvier 2011

Circumstance walks the line of a revolution for two hours, never once tripping over its feet. Directed by Maryam Keshavarz, this star-crossed romance features two of the strongest performances of the festival in Sarah Kazemy and Nikohl Boosheri. The two play young, liberated women living in an Iran determined to be socially repressed. Shireen (Kazemy) is the daughter of intellectual writers/rebels long since disappeared, the young woman taken in by her best friend Atafeh’s (Boosheri) family. Atafeh’s a talented musician and diligent student, eager to be distracted.

Shireen provides as much, and then some. Soon the two discover each other’s bodies, and their romance blossoms. None of this feels forced, thanks both to the conviction of these young performers and the confident framing of Keshavarz and his cinematographer Brian Rigney Rubbard.

Young intellectuals on the brink of change serve as a benchmark for most every cinematic movement in history, from Mexico to Romania. Iran is no different, and Keshavarz emerges as an original voice. Consider a scene in which Shireen, Atafeh and friends Hossein (Sina Amedson) and Joey (Keon Mohajeri) debate dubbing Gus Van Sant’s Milk into Farsi, an illegal act of rebellion in their country. It’s funny scene, full of homophobic jokes meant to mask the seriousness of the crime they’re all about to commit.

So goes the rest of the film, a mixed bag of institutional paranoia, jaded idealisms and youthful ambition. Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai), Atafeh’s ex-drug addict brother, turns to religion and those that enforce the strict policies of said beliefs. Atafeh and Shireen turn the over way. Meanwhile, their father (Nasrin Pakkho) fights against the young rebel he once was in favor of good money and a good home for his family.

Punk rock and club music populate the film, adding edge to a common story. The color tone goes from hot to cold from scene to scene, never feeling out of place or abrupt. The plot moves calm and cooly, a deliberatey-paced slow burn that brings all of the issues to the surface deep into the third act without ever patronizing the viewer.

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Sundance: 2011 Film Directors To Watch by Sharon Swart

27 janvier 2011

Maryam Keshavarz: This Iranian writer-director’s first feature Circumstance showed in Sundance’s U.S. competition to strong critical responses and scored a pickup deal by Participant Media. The project, about teen girls discovering Tehran’s underground scene while grappling with conservative family pressures, had a 4 1/2-year journey to the screen. Says producer Karin Chien, "Nothing was easy about making Circumstance. Maryam worked under overwhelming restrictions and at huge personal risk to tell this story. While facing down obstacles that would have crippled most directors, her commitment to her vision never wavered, not for a moment." After graduating from Northwestern University, Keshavarz briefly went back to Iran and returned to the U.S. again for a doctoral degree. “From an early age, I have been a translator of culture: East for West, and West for East,” says the director. “Hailing from a family where my grandfather was a political poet who was often jailed in Iran, I was interested in the intersections of politics, history and artistic expression.” After 9/11, she made an experimental short titled Sanctuary, which was a surreal fantasy about an Iranian woman navigating life in New York after the disaster. It won Keshavarz the Steve Tisch Fellowship to pursue an MFA in Film Direction at NYU/Tisch. There, she directed her first feature documentary, The Color of Love, an award-winning film. In 2005, Keshevarz went to Argentina to shoot The Day I Died, about an adolescent love triangle. It won two prizes at Berlin. Keshavarz is unrepped at the moment but has been swarmed by agency interest at Sundance

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"Circumstance" leads SLC actor to Lebanon by Sean P. Means

22 janvier 2011

The international contributions to Maryam Keshavarz' drama "Circumstance" -- a love triangle set amid the political tensions of modern Iran -- include location shooting in Lebanon, and a cast that hails from Paris, Toronto, Tehran and New York City.

Oh, and Salt Lake City.

Sina Amedson is an actor and stand-up comedian who grew up in Holladay and Salt Lake City - and his family still lives in Sandy.

Amedson plays a minor role as Hossein, an Americanized Iranian student who meets the lead characters -- high school friends Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) and Shireen (Sarah Kazemy) -- in Tehran's illegal underground club scene.

Amedson told me after the movie's Sundance Film Festival premiere Saturday that she met Keshavarz when the filmmaker was workshopping "Circumstance" at the Sundance Filmmakers' Lab in Provo Canyon. Amedson has volunteered there before, playing roles "if they need a Middle Eastern or ethnic person," he said.

Keshavarz said in an interview before the festival that she held auditions for the role, but always came back to Amedson. She reconnected with the actor, who moved to Los Angeles in 2008, via Facebook.

Amedson also helped write the movie's one comic scene, when the friends decide, as an act of political protest, to dub Farsi-language versions of "Milk" and "Sex and the City."

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Sundance 2011: Circumstance – Movie Review by Mali Elfman

29 janvier 2011

There were a number of films at Sundance that took on the subject of homosexuality and the un-accepting nature of the societies around them. For me, Circumstance was the most successful of the bunch. Maybe because the stakes felt the highest, maybe because of the expert craftsmanship that went into creating and executing the project, or perhaps it has something to do with the locations in which it was shot — but one thing is for sure, this is a great film that deserves to be acknowledged…

Though this film is an American made film, the film was shot mainly in location in Iran and you will need to be prepared to read some subtitles (don’t worry you can do it and there’s enough sexy nudity to make up for it). The location of this film was everything, it told you the culture, the people, the politics — and then broke any preconceived notions you might have had and showed you the reality of what it’s like, specifically for these two women.

This film plays with cliches and then breaks them. From the older generations being more open minded than the younger, to the way that Iranian women are looked at, to the struggles of being in their position, to women lashing out — this film is not what you would expect when you see “lesbian Iranian lesbian story.” It’s fast-paced, honest, colorful — this is not your cliched “indie” with slow scenes and innuendos, this is a bold film from a bold story teller.

There were a number of situations in which you will be surprised as to what exactly goes on behind closed doors. Though homophobia is a worldwide epidemic, there’s no doubt that you could feel the pressure from both the people and government pressing down on them. With everything against them, holding them down, they had to find ways to act out and fight back. There was more sex, nudity, drugs, dancing and the lot in this film than many others and rightly so. You can only repress a person so far before they need to break out and this film does just that.

And taking the film to yet another level were the performances. Though the women in this film were wonderful and had the most to do both emotionally and physically, the man who plays the father, Soheil Parsa, steals just about every scene he is in. He’s so subtle and yet you know everything he’s going through. Surprisingly through it all, he’s the one who will pull your hearstrings, because he is fighting for what is actually right, but he just can’t make a difference. He’ll do anything to keep his family together and happy. He’s truly the do-gooder and the moral compass of the film… which is a nice change from the norm in a film like this.

First time director Maryam had a very definitive style of shooting which is something you really look for at Sundance. A number of newbies make films with potential, but they need some time to get to their real style of filmmaking. In this film Maryam comes out of the corner swinging. From the camera style, to the brilliant use of music and dance, to the colors and movement – she makes a strong statement as to who she is as a director and gives us a lot to be excited for in the future.

Luckily this film did in fact get picked up, so hopefully it will be in theaters later this year. The longer I think about it the more it resonates with me, I can’t seem to get it out of my head. It’s a great pick, beautiful and fun, and yet meaningful and deep — don’t miss it!

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‘Circumstance’ – Beautiful Iranian Lesbians Fight Against Oppressive Nation by Germain Lussier

Though it’ll probably never play in the country in which it’s set, attendees at the Sundance Film Festival were lucky enough to see Maryam Keshavarz‘s debut feature Circumstance. Hopefully soon, you will too. Set in modern day Tehran, Iran, this beautiful film focuses on two attractive high school girls named Shireen and Atafeh, played by Sarah Kazemy and Nikohl Boosheri, both making their acting debuts. Though the girls live in a country where women are treated as second class, Shireen and Atafeh use their good looks, talents and smarts to live life as free as humanly possible. The friends eventually develop feelings for each other but when Atafeh’s brother Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai) comes home, the girls’ liberal point of view is doomed to be challenged.

Circumstance is an increasingly claustrophobic love story set against impossible odds told with a frightening cultural context. Of the thirty plus films I’d seen at Sundance before it, it was the first film to get a legitimate standing ovation.

Living in the west, it wasn’t for the film’s pop culture references and modern technology, one might guess Circumstance was set in the stone age. Important scenes featuring American Idol, Gus Van Sant’s Milk and Sex and the City let us know that even in 2011, women in Iran aren’t treated fairly. They can’t go into the ocean, can’t show skin, can’t smoke and need male permission to do almost anything. Watching the film with a western viewpoint, that knowledge makes Shireen and Atafeh’s friendship incredibly satisfying. They’re living within this unfortunate set of rules but still decide to be rebellious. They party, drink, hook up with guys and eventually get in trouble for it.

Keshavaraz, who both wrote and directed the film, has drown it in sexuality, showing the girls at their most emotionally and physically vulnerable. Because the audience feels so attached to them, as their circumstances (get it?) begin to grab hold and lead them down an terrible road, we feel increasingly worried that it won’t all work out. We’re in love with them just as they’re in love with each other.

Circumstance is too good to not eventually get a general release. Yes, it draws you in with the promise of beautiful lesbians (as we, too, did with our headline) but that quickly wears off, leaving you angry at the oppressive nature of Iran and feeling very fortunate that we’re as free as we are.

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Circumstance by Angela H. Brown

23 janvier 2011

"Circumstance" is a fictional story based on real-life experiences from the director, producer and writer of the film, Maryam Keshavarz. The story chronicles the rebellious behavior of two 16 year-old girls, Atafeh and Shireen, in present-day Iranian society where woman have no voice. Together, the two sneak into underground dance clubs, strip to their underwear and swim in the ocean, experiment with alcohol, sex and other activities many of us Americans take for granted. Soon the rowdy duo is caught driving at night by the moral police and taken into custody. While detained, the two are subjected to humiliating treatment and interrogations against their will. While Shireen waits for her uncle to pick her up it is revealed that Atafeh’s “reformed” brother is the one responsible for the arrest and uses it as away of controlling her. Along the way the friendship between the two girls escalate into something more … leading to steamy sex scenes that are both artful and sensual. Although the movie is a work of fiction, it provides an insight of just how beautiful Iranian culture can be, yet in contrast, how dark and oppressive it still is—particularly for woman. I walked out of this film with a new appreciation for the woman of Iran. I am empathetic for what trials and tribulations they must endure and thankful for the freedom I have as a woman here in America.

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