In Madison's film-centric month of April, the inaugural Wisconsin Iranian Film Festival in 2017 was yet another reason to celebrate our city's theatrical influx of first-rate international cinema. Bolstered by the local community in a fundraising campaign, UW-Madison teaching assistant and filmmaker Hamidreza Nassiri helped organize a modest but wide-ranging selection of the most accomplished contemporary cinema from his native country over the course of two weekends at Union South's Marquee Theater, with the notable draw of 2017 Oscar winner The Salesman.
The second annual edition of the festival again takes place at the Marquee but has been moved up to February—and it has grown, not only in terms of the number of dramatic features and animated and live-action shorts (on February 18 at 1 p.m.) but also in its embrace of guest speakers and audience discussion on Iran's current social and political climate. The talks this year include two Q&As (following Mohsen Abdolvahab's tense domestic drama, Being Born, on February 17 at 3 p.m. and Vahid Jalilvand's psychological portrait, No Date No Signature, on February 24 at 3 p.m.). The programming also extends beyond the typical Saturday-Sunday window for one Monday night film, Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Hello Cinema (February 19 at 7:30 p.m.), a charming 80-minute hybrid of documentary and narrative.
The ambitious lineup collects Iran's most compelling visual artists, and was initially scheduled to honor the legendary Abbas Kiarostami with the Madison premiere of his final film, an interdisciplinary memoir, 24 Frames (February 25 at 1 p.m.). However, that screening has been canceled, and has been replaced with Kupal, a black comedy directed by Kazem Mollaie Hello Cinema, Makhmalbaf's rewarding 1995 piece of metacinema, might be the biggest treasure here: It not only uniquely celebrates the centennial of Auguste and Louis Lumière’s first cinematic creations, but does so with the entertaining personal revelations of dozens modern actors in auditions. For the full schedule and additional festival information, please visit the Wisconsin Iranian Film Festival's official site. All screenings are free and open to the public. —Grant Phipps