Art and Experience: Jukka-Pekka Laakso, Director of Finland’s Tampere Film Festival, says the most distinctive element about Tehran International Short Film Festival is the wide spectrum of perspectives that filmmakers bring there.
The 33rd Tehran International Short Film Festival (TISFF) was held on 8-14 November at Charsou Cineplex in the heart of Iran’s metropolis. The Cineplex, which has already made a successful job in holding the latest edition of Fajr International Film Festival back in April, offers a great venue for these types of cinema events with its 5 modern well-equipped auditoriums housing 900 seats in total, and a food court located on the 5th floor, ready to serve guests, journalists and the audience with a wide range of food options from Persian cuisine to Italian dishes.
The TISFF now comfortably in its 33rd year, is already well-established as a reputable and highly-esteemed short film event in the world. This year, the festival received over 5,000 submissions from Iran and 117 other countries, which according to the director of the international section, Mr. Dezvareh, places the number even higher than what a more eminent, Oscar-qualifying festival such as Tampere has so far received – an international short film event which together with the short film festivals in Oberhausen and Clermont-Ferrand, is among the most important European short film festivals.
Making short films only sounds an easy task on the surface, as attested to by Director and President of the Board of Directors of Finland’s Tampere Film Festival, Jukka-Pekka Laakso, who was enjoying his second time as a member of the international jury panel to the TISFF. Making short films will neither bring fame nor money, and you will have a hard time finding a proper venue to put the film on display (many short filmmakers nowadays make good use of the Internet, but that experience is hardly satisfying). This is where film festivals gain momentum: They give aspiring short filmmakers the best venue for screening their creations to a large number of audience and film critics, and a chance to get noticed by other festivals.
The TISFF is making good progress in bringing diverse points of views in film creation hailing from countries such as Italy, Germany, Sweden, Japan, Russia, the US, Chile, Argentina, the UK, Turkey and Kazakhstan. The festival is annually organized by the Iranian Youth Cinema Society (IYCS) in Autumn, and is considered one of the oldest film festivals not only in the Middle East, but across the globe as well. Throughout the years, the festival has also hosted International well-known festival directors and cineastes from around the world including Andrzej Bednarek (Poland), Matthias Flugge (Germany), Seigo Tonodi (Japan), Gipsy Chang (Hong Kong), Julliette Duret (Belgium), Anna Henckel (Germany), and Jukka Pekka Lakso from Finland, who I managed to catch after his conference on Tuesday for a short interview.
Jukka-Pekka Laakso (born 1959) is the Festival Director and President of the Board of Directors of the Tampere Film Festival, Finland. He has been involved with the selection and programming since 2000, taking up the directorship in 2002. Laakso is also a member of the National Film Council of Finland and European Film Academy. He was part of the international jury panel to the 33rd TISFF.
The following is the MNA’s interview with him:
Seeing as this is your second time here, what do you find distinctive and special about Tehran International Film Festival that you haven’t seen in other film festivals you have attended so far?
This year, I haven’t seen almost anything at the new venue, but I was here ten years ago and I think that special element about Tehran Short Film Festival which sets it apart from other festivals of this kind is much about what Iran is as a country. Iran is situated between Europe and the East and the possibility of meeting people from this dynamic spectrum is exciting. The festival brings together all these people with diverse cultures and point of views and I get a chance to look at the films through their eyes and my own eyes and discuss them together. So I would say, the possibility of learning their perspective of the world is unique. Besides films, I’m also interested in history and I find Iran a very interesting place in many ways, seeing as it sits between the East and the West and not being understood at all in Europe. The possibility of being here, seeing the Iranian films, and meeting with directors is what I like the most about this festival.
So in what ways would you say short film festivals like Tehran or Tampere help the film industry in general?
First of all, we present the possibility to filmmakers to have their films shown on the big screen, and give them a chance to be seen and have their films seen by a wider audience. It is important for them that they can watch the films with an audience. This way, they can feel how people feel about their creations, because cinema is a very social medium in which you witness firsthand how the audience react to your films. In addition to that, they can also meet people from other countries, as well as other filmmakers from their own country where they can talk about the films and hopefully get good critique on what they have done. You can also meet people that you might cooperate later, so you form this kind of bonds with people that think the same way as you do. That Film festivals bring in people from different countries is important as you get a wider perspective on the short film industry throughout the world. A lot of young filmmakers think that they are the only ones in the world who live in a place that doesn’t appreciate what they’re doing. Attending film festivals educate them on that. And of course, if you get your film into the program of Tehran Film Festival or in Tampere, it always gets noticed again by some other festivals so you might get invitations to another festival and meet even more people there. So, short festivals like these help educate young filmmakers and help them with finding new connections and people who might prove helpful in furthering their career later on.
Seeing as this is a short film festival with a focus on brevity, if you could describe short film in one word or sentence, what would that be?
I was reading your interviews on the Internet and in one of them you were asked to name one of your favorite movies and I was really surprised to read that it was ‘The House Is Black’ by Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad. What aspect of the film had fascinated you so much?
The fact that it is about people who are basically hidden from other people due to their deformity. It is a documentary but it almost feels like a horror film because the people are so horribly mutilated due to leprosy. But then she manages to transform those people into something else, normal human beings who just look different. Then, there is an element of really not trying to do a film in a normal way, like looking at those people from the outside. She actually manages to put the camera on their level and look at their lives as they see themselves, which is really rare, especially at that time. She was truly amazing. Of course, like the way it is with many things, this is what I have analyzed for myself later, but the main aspect of my fascination with the film is the memory of the first impact of seeing it. I’ve seen it several times but the first time deeply touched my heart.
This got me wondering, how did you got introduced to the Iranian cinema in the first place? What was the first Iranian movie that you watched and became interested in?
I can’t actually remember the first film, but probably my first exposure to Iranian cinema was short films. Because when I started working for the film festivals it was in the 80s and I had a chance to basically watch the whole program at Tampere film festival for a few years. At that time, there were already a few Iranian short films submitted to the festival, since the Iranian cinema movement was strong already in the 80s. So I saw the films there and discovered the kind of special quality that they had. I would say that later in the 80s, I got to see films by Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf. But it really came through short films.
What about the most recent movies being produced in Iran? Do you have any favorites?
I recently watched an Iranian film about 20 minutes long, but unfortunately I can’t remember the name right now. We were just discussing it at the festival yesterday about how very special it was. It had very little happening in it, but it was a really good Iranian short film. When it comes Iranian-styled films, I also just watched a film about a girl who goes to Germany to marry. The director is German but her parents are Iranians, so she has this whole Iranian background.
Did you also get a chance to watch Asghar Farhadi’s latest film, ‘The Salesman’? It has gotten a lot of international attention after winning two awards at this year’s Cannes.
No not yet. I have this problem that half of the year I solely concentrate on short films, so I miss quite a lot of feature films. Also it hasn’t yet been screened in Finland, maybe it will later this year or next year. But I did watch “A Separation” and liked it a lot. It actually ran for a long time in our cinemas and you could see that people were really appreciating it.
So what aspect of the film would you say was most fascinating to the Finnish audience?
The fact that it is about ordinary things, not the spectacle. It’s about the relationship between people and this is something that I think you can easily relate to – it’s different but the same. The environment is different, and there are certain aspects in life that we don’t have in Finland, but in the basis, it’s really just about two people going through difficulties in life. One of the most difficult themes to make a film about is something that you feel in your heart which is quite ordinary but you live with it all the same.
Interview by: Marjohn Sheikhi