Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Celluloid Underground


Ehsan Khoshbakht: Celluloid Underground (GB 2023).

DIRECTOR: Ehsan Khoshbakht
COUNTRY: United Kingdom
YEAR: 2023
DURATION: 80 min
LANGUAGES: English, Persian, subtitled in English
CATEGORY: Documentary Films, Film History, Special Screenings, Subtitles in English
Viewed at Kitisen Kino, Sodankylä, Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), 12 June 2024

Timo Malmi (MSFF 2024): " How deeply can the passion for cinema, cinephilia, impact a person and their destiny? "

" This is illustrated in Celluloid Underground, a deeply personal documentary flavoured with abundant film snippets from Ehsan Khoshbakht who lectured last summer in Sodankylä on architecture and film. "

" Khoshbakht shares his own experience of exile in London and tells the story of his friend Ahmad Jorghanian, whose passionate archiving of film copies led to his imprisonment for four years and torture in Iran. "

" In the painful but treasured memories of his birthland, Khoshbakht founded a film club in Tehran at only 17. When he screened the classic film The Cow (1969) by the father of modern Iranian cinema Dariush Mehrjui who was murdered in 2023, he got in trouble with the Islamic revolution. "

" The emigration caused by the persecution has, on the other hand, brought Khoshbakht blessings in the West, such as a place among the quartet of artistic directors of the prestigious Italian festival Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna. "

" The consequences of cinephilia, defying authority and becoming dangerous from the authorities’ perspective are sadly evident in Jorghanian’s fate. Known as the “Iranian Henry Langlois,” he archived over 4,000 films and 1,000 still images, by hiding these forbidden reels in his suburban hideout. Ahmad, a true believer in cinema, values the copies more than himself! " Timo Malmi

AA: Celluloid Underground, a tribute to the great Iranian film collector Ahmad Jorghanian (2014), is a companion piece to Filmfarsi (IR/GB 2019), the director Ehsan Khoshbakht's previous marvellous piece about Iran's secret film history.

Filmfarsi was created "in VHS-Scope", documenting the return of the repressed in Iran's low budget sensationalist cinema, films only surviving on home video.

Celluloid Underground is a celebration of photochemical film, private possession of which was decreed illegal in Iran in 1984. In defiance of the film ban, the heroic collector Ahmad Jorghanian gathered thousands of prints and let underground film societies access them.

This could be a thrilling and entertaining anecdote and footnote to film history. But helmed by Khoshbakht the story grows into a personal Bildungsroman, a story of a great friendship, a history of Iranian cinema and Iran itself before and after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. It is about cinephilia in the "classe tous risques". On many levels it is about cinema as an art of time - and about time itself.

As in Filmfarsi, the visual quality is unique in being beyond good and awful. The film-makers display excellent taste in creating a mosaic from disparate materials that separately might be rejected. The film is bigger than the sum of its parts. In its experimental drive it reaches cosmic and timeless grandeur.

...
NB. Celluloid means nitrate film which was the norm until the early 1950s. Safety film became the norm in 1951. First it was acetate, in the 1990s polyester. The digital turn of the cinema started in 1999.

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