Houston Iranian Film Festival
Each January since 1993, film lovers have gathered at the Museum to experience the best new Iranian cinema. Over the years the selections have expanded to spotlight the Persian diaspora, with films made by emerging and established directors working in Iran as well as around the world. This festival’s enthusiastic audiences now include multiple generations of Houstonians. MFAH Films proudly welcomes all who have attended, as well as their children and grandchildren.
Now in its 24th year, the festival (January 20–24 at the MFAH; January 25 at Rice Cinema) presents films provided by distributors and filmmakers based in Tehran, Canada, and the U.S. The lineup features entertaining, inspiring, and touching films in multiple genres, including comedy, drama, documentary, and animation. Among the familiar actors in this year’s selections are Leila Hatami; Shahab Hosseini, named best actor at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival; and Niki Karimi, a guest in 2004. The festival also honors influential filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, who died in July.
Festival Ticket Prices
General admission is $10. MFAH members, students with ID, and seniors (65+) receive a $2 discount.
Generous funding is provided by the ILEX Foundation.
Additional support is provided by the Society of Iranian-American Women for Education (SIAWE) and the Iranian Cultural Foundation-Houston.
Past Events in This Series
In this riveting drama, a married couple—forced out of their apartment because of building damage—must move into a new place. Soon, they experience a sudden, traumatic incident.
An eccentric Iranian writer pursues his ambitious goal of bringing together American heavy-metal band Metallica and Afghanistan’s first rock band, Kabul Dreams, at a satellite radio station in San Francisco.
Based on the experiences of a movie sound engineer who disappeared mysteriously in the 1960s, this film follows three men who encounter an abandoned ship in the middle of a desert, adjacent to a cemetery that may be haunted.
With a bold storytelling style, director Reza Dormishian touches on themes of human rights and criminal justice in this powerful drama about journalist Maryam and the man who becomes obsessed with her.
In this internationally award-winning film, a generous Tehran businessman places an ad to give away a small fortune to a deserving person. Interlocking stories follow women responding to the opportunity, as well as the overwhelmed philanthropist himself.
Leila Hatami (A Separation) gives a tour-de-force performance as an ambitious hustler navigating Tehran’s complicated subculture. Solitary and determined, she is involved in everything from smuggling refugees to brokering million-dollar land sales, somehow managing to dodge the local police.
The award-winning Fatemeh Motamed Arya (Simin) gives a nuanced, tour-de-force performance as Homa, a senior nurse taking care of an old woman during a snowstorm that has hit Iran and shut down the city. The strain of Homa's responsibilities and the claustrophobic situation bring on insomnia and a personal crisis. Special ticket prices apply! General admission is $10. MFAH members, students with ID, and seniors (65+) receive $2 discount.
Over the years, the Museum has presented the work of leading Iranian director Jafar Panahi, whose international acclaim began with The White Balloon in 1995 and continues through the films made since his house arrest: This Is Not a Film (2011) and Closed Curtain (2013). His latest release, Taxi—which won the Golden Bear at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival—furthers that commitment. “A yellow cab is driving through the vibrant and colourful streets of Tehran. Very diverse passengers enter the[…]
A writer narrates his story with multiple beginnings, middles, and ends. When the work is stolen by a friend, the author receives little sympathy from his family. The film introduces more and more characters who become involved in criminal mischief, kidnapping, and attempted murder—or do they? Laugh-out-loud moments are interspersed with dark humor that reward audiences along for the wild ride. This comedy-drama garnered 11 nominations at the 33rd Fajr Film Festival, where actor/filmmaker Houman Seyyedi won Best Supporting Actor.[…]
The audience is invited to a post-film reception. This 2014 documentary looks at the life and work of Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, who first came to attention in the 1970s, when she pioneered new forms of geometric mirror works. She created an artistic language that was informed by ancient Iranian craft as well as modern American masters such as Barnett Newman and Frank Stella. Farmanfarmaian is one of the most innovative and influential artists of the Middle East; her[…]
An aging woman (Sara Vazirzadeh) narrates her life story through memories dominated by the shoes belonging to those she loved. She recounts her childhood when she anxiously waited until she could wear high heels, her life during wartime, meeting her husband, and having children and grandchildren. Payman Haghani’s (A Man Who Ate His Cherries) imaginative second film examines the narrative structure in most creative ways: even though audiences do not see the faces of each character, the emotional reaction is[…]
Variety exclaims, “This remarkable debut transcends cultural barriers with its compellingly universal and thoroughly engrossing premise.” Indeed, this drama—starring Payman Moaadi (A Separation) and Negar Javaherian as a couple moving to Australia for graduate studies—offers an unnerving tone reminiscent of Hitchcock. As they prepare, characters come and go, while the hustle and bustle hides a dreadful reality. Suddenly, the couple is plunged into a craftily orchestrated nightmare that offers no easy solutions. “Melbourne is intimate, it’s frightening, and yet only[…]
Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, one of Iran's leading female directors, presents interlocking stories of disparate characters trying to make sense of their modern-day country. The film is set in Tehran and features a predominantly female cast. The tales are woven together with incidents and personalities that appear in more than one story. Tales was first produced as a series of shorts to bypass Iranian government restrictions, using actors who were banned from performing. Heartless bureaucrats, women in clinics, jealous husbands, a documentary[…]
Explore provocative artist Bahman Mohassess (1931–2010), the so-called “Persian Picasso,” whose acclaimed paintings and sculptures dominated pre-revolutionary Iran. Irreverent and uncompromising, a gay man in a hostile world, Mohassess was revered by elites in the art scene and praised as a national icon, only to be censored later on by an oppressive regime. Known for his iconoclastic art as well as his scathing declarations, Mohasses abandoned the country over 30 years ago for a simple, secluded life in Rome, where[…]
Ana Lily Amirpour
Viewers are dropped in the midst of a Neo-noir vampire romance set in a stylish Iranian underworld. Sheila Vand plays a hijab-clad Nosferata who rides a skateboard at night, stalking dealers and junkies who prey on women like her. When she chances upon good-hearted Arash (Arash Marandi), the two make a connection that quickly becomes jeopardized. Director Ana Lily Amirpour’s long, glistening black-and-white shots dazzle by turning even the grimiest interiors into sensual spaces of danger, intrigue, and romance. "A[…]
A Tehran theater company is preparing to travel to Paris to perform at a prestigious drama festival. Arrangements are in order for everyone except the lead actress, whose father has hidden her passport in order to prevent her from leaving Iran. As the others try to help resolve the situation, tensions erupt, causing conflict between members of the company. Will they have to replace their star on short notice? Will they board the flight? Winner of the Special Jury Prize[…]
Kamali holds a fancy funeral for his wife, but he is not at all sad. He is shocked to find that his wife’s burial ground was double contracted, and that his wife has been buried with the body of an unknown man. After he has a dream involving his wife with another man, he believes it an omen indicating the grave situation will hurt his reputation. So he begins to do everything he can to save his reputation, which eventually[…]
Filmmaker Anahita Ghazvinizadeh in person When the Kid Was a Kid (Iran, 2011, 17 min., in Farsi with English subtitles) Ten-year-old Taha lives with his divorced mother. He plays dress-up with other neighborhood children as they imitate their parents. By playing his mom, Taha understands new things about her lifestyle. Needle (USA, 2013, 21 min.) Young Lilly is going to get her ears pierced, but a quarrel between her parents overwhelms the situation. "Needle impressed me with its humor, clarity,[…]
Introduced by director Shahram Mokri The audience is invited to a reception in the Museum galleries following the film. Shahram Mokri is the recipient of the 2015 Emerging Voices Award from the ILEX Foundation. Filmed in a single mesmerizing take weaving together multiple storylines, Shahram Mokri’s remarkable experiment in perpetual motion is based on a true story about a rural Iranian restaurant that served human flesh. A group of college students set up camp at a remote lake for the[…]
Narrating this murder mystery from beyond the grave, architect Khosrow (director and star Ali Mosaffa) recalls his downfall and his complicated marriage to a beautiful actress (Leila Hatami, who appeared in the Academy Award-winning A Separation). In only his second feature, Mosaffa realizes an extraordinarily rich, emotional drama, brimming with invention and surprise. "The movie engrosses from beginning to end as an inventive, playful, semi-tragic drama of marriage, jealousy, love, death and filmmaking in modern-day Tehran." —Indiewire "The Last Step is partly[…]
"Mohammad Shirvani's captivating feature introduces a father and son; the older man obese and oppressive; the younger; deaf, mute and passive. A tyrannical and suffocating paternalism clearly governs their relationship. Enter an enigmatic young woman, a photographer, who becomes an agent and harbinger of change—as Shirvani's powerful use of symbolism and exquisite cinematography combine to create a deeply suggestive portrait of social rupture in modern Iran." —UCLA Film & Television Archive
Roshan, a kindergarten teacher, intends to save the family of one of her students after the father is accused of unintentional homicide. Seven witnesses saw the incident, but no one has told the whole truth because of the victim’s influential and powerful family. If the witnesses do not tell the truth, the accused faces the death penalty. Upon its premiere at the 31st Fajr Film Festival in Tehran, The Bright Day earned a Crystal Phoenix for Best First Film and a Best[…]
Somewhere in the old provincial city of Shiraz in Iran lives Negahdar Jamali, a pleasant eccentric who has made cowboy films for 35 years. They are purely amateur, to be sure. but Jamali's unbridled enthusiasm for his hobby convinces all his relatives and friends to get in front of the camera. This documentary provides an appealing picture not only of a Persian, amateur version of John Ford, but also of everyday life in the ancient city.
Jafar Panahi and Kambozia Partovi
Banned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi co-directs another unauthorized film that metaphorically recounts his restricted freedom and artistic depression. Whereas his previous This Is Not a Film takes place entirely in Panahi’s city apartment, Closed Curtain is filmed from his sprawling beach house. The narrative follows a screenwriter who has escaped a police round-up and is in hiding; he hangs heavy black curtains over the windows to block outside views. Another couple on the run arrives and a ruckus ensues. Panahi[…]
In an unnamed country torn apart by a war, a 30-something woman (Golshifteh Farahani) watches over her invalid husband (Hamidreza Javdan) in a decrepit room. When he is shot and rendered a vegetable, he is abandoned by his companions of the Jihad, and his brothers. One day, the wife decides to tell the truth to him about her feelings about their relationship – she talks about her childhood, her suffering, her frustrations, her loneliness, her dreams, and her desires. The[…]
Winning awards at film festivals in Berlin and India, Modest Reception stars director Mani Haghighi and Taraneh Alidoosti (who starred in About Elly, which screened at the MFAH in 2011) as a couple distributing bags of cash to need people in the surrounding provinces. The film demonstrates how far the impoverished citizens are willing to sell out for a bag of money offered by the wealthy couple from the city. “Mani Haghighi and Taraneh Alidoosti . . . pull out[…]
"A haunting love story spanning three decades is the latest from the director of A Time for Drunken Horses and No One Knows About Persian Cats [shown at the MFAH in 2010]. Rhino Season is based on the tragic story of a Kurdish poet who was unjustly incarcerated during Iran's Islamic Revolution. The victim of a personal vendetta, Sahel (Behrouz Vossoughi) is thrown into prison along with his devoted wife Mina (Monica Bellucci). Inexplicably released after serving a 10-year sentence,[…]
The Iran Job follows American basketball player Kevin Sheppard as he accepts a job to play in Iran. With tensions running high between Iran and the West, Kevin tries to separate sports from politics only to find that politics is impossible to escape in Iran. Along the way he forms an unlikely alliance with three outspoken Iranian women. Thanks to these women, his apartment turns into an oasis of free speech, where they discuss everything from politics to religion to[…]
First-time filmmaker Nega Azabayjani explores trans-identity in contemporary Iran. Adineh, who chooses to live as Eddie, belongs to a wealthy family whose patriarch is both ashamed and humiliated by his daughter’s wish to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Although the operation is legal in Iran, Eddie wishes to have it performed in Germany and must escape her family’s clutches to fulfill that desire. Along the way, Eddie hires a female taxi driver—whose husband is in debtors’ prison—to drive as far as[…]
"There’s something irresistible about this comic farce set in an all-girls high school that has never permitted a man to cross the threshold. Against her better judgment, sternly protective spinster principal Ms. Darabi is forced to hire a male substitute teacher to coach her chemistry team for the big tournament against an all-boys school. Chaos ensues, and it’s played for laughs galore, with every goofy battle-of-the-sexes stereotype dusted off and made new again in an Iranian context. First-time director Rambod[…]
Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and Jafar Panahi
“Secretly shot on an iPhone by Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and smuggled into France on a USB key hidden in a cake for a last-minute submission to the Cannes Film Festival, it depicts the sequestered life of famed director Jafar Panahi (The Circle, Offside), whose 2010 arrest sparked an international outcry. Banned from traveling, giving interviews or making films, Panahi is seen talking to his family and lawyer on the phone, discussing his plight with Mirtahmasb and reflecting on the meaning of[…]
Real-life husband and wife Kiomars Giti and Sharareh Pasha star as a hearing-impaired couple suddenly left with the responsibility of caring for their nephew. While visiting her sister and brother-in-law, the boy’s mother and father argue in the middle of the night and drive away. The following day, the boy rides with his aunt and uncle searching for his parents. Director Farshbaf fashions a consistently surprising and blackly comic road trip that "herald[s] the arrival of a major new Iranian[…]
“In this contemporary adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Glass Menagerie, middle-aged single mother Farideh (Fatemeh Motamed-Aria) works in a food processing plant and moonlights as a telemarketer. Her shy daughter Yalda is of a marriageable age but her the brace on her leg complicate the possibility of meeting eligible young men. Farideh enrolls her daughter in various improvement courses, but Yalda’s intense timidity and physical impediments keep her from attending classes. Her brother Ehsan finds himself stifled at his job in a local[…]
From the director of The White Meadows (a favorite from 2010’s Iranian Film Festival), Good Bye is the story of Noora (Leyla Zareh), a Tehran lawyer in search of a visa to leave the country. Recently disbarred for participating in activist campaigns against the government, Noora is pregnant and alone, her husband exiled because of his role as a political journalist. But Noora’s problems are compounded by her gender: women are not allowed to drive, cannot get medical procedures or[…]
North American Premiere! This cinematic essay considers the history and traditions of apparel in Iran, framed by the contemporary story of Mahdis, a beautiful young woman living in Tehran who aspires to be a fashion model against her devout father’s wishes. She works at a fashion agency, where her time is spent preparing a catwalk show for male models, since women are prohibited from participating. Writer-director Alizadeh uses fascinating historical footage to skillfully trace how styles of dress have evolved[…]