Tehran is the Capital of Iran (1966)
Directed by Kamran Shirdel
Disruptive filmmaking very often sets out simply to tell the truth. Governments keep control, after all, by denying the truth and replacing it with tales that can’t be questioned. Leaders know they stand to lose power in a world where citizens grow more aware of the oppression and neglect shown towards their fellows, thanks in part to their own complicity. Disruptive films therefore work by raising spectators’ awareness of what’s happening to their neighbors—and what could someday happen to them.
Four luminous examples were made by Shirdel in the second half of the 1960s, after the Iranian director had returned home from studies in Italy and begun work on short educational films. These socially conscious documentaries filled with poetic force soon outlived their commissioned functions, though, and were banned for years after their making for telling the truth. Among the best is an 18-minute-long film whose title is simple fact. Tehran is the Capital of Iran takes place in the neighborhood of Khazaneh, where six out of every seven household heads are unemployed and where the residents accordingly lack education, hygiene, and recreation. The film narrates daily struggles in a clear, straightforward way while lighting the faces of striving laborers, sleeping homeless men, wrestling children, and grown women crowded into classrooms for volunteer-run courses. As some of these women repeat the film’s title phrase, one’s mind is left to wonder over what its truth means.
Tehran is the Capital of Iran will screen in the second of three programs co-curated by Ernest Larsen and Sherry Millner in connection with a new DVD anthology of disruptive films, released by Facets. The other strong films in this program include Joyce Wieland’s Rat Life and Diet in North America, from Canada; Olga Poliakoff and Yann Le Masson’s I Am Eight Years Old, from France and Algeria; and Larsen and Millner’s own Graven Images, from the U.S.A. Aaron Cutler (February 16, 7:30pm as part of “Disruptive Film: Everyday Resistance to Power” at Anthology Film Archives)