The 47th Experimental Film Society screening took place at the Cinematheque of Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art in September 2015 to an audience of about 250 people. The setting had a practical importance for me but also an emotional one; it being in the city where I grew up, and the museum of contemporary art being the place where my earliest cinephile tendencies were shaped. I chose 14 short films by 5 members of EFS, films that carried the utmost formalistic attributions, and as a result this screening became an extremely challenging one for the audience. I wanted to put a great deal of pressure on the viewers rather than give them an easy time. The results were fascinating and truly strengthened my belief that filmmaking is always about testing the limits and boundaries of both the filmmaker and the audience.
Naturally some members of the audience walked out, we usually anticipate a few. However, the most memorable walkout happened during a screening earlier in the year, when a member of the audience exited crossing the screen itself, stopped, turned to the face the entire salon and waved goodbye to the rest of those seated. What was interesting in this screening at the Tehran Cinematheque was the constant traffic; some people left, others arrived late, even some of those people who walked out decided to return for more.
Many of the films utilised different forms of flicker, which varied from low pulsing to violent strobing. I witnessed people painfully shield their eyes, others even put on sunglasses, while many tried to avoid the screen at all costs by staring at the ceiling or into the darkness of the floor. Many people were talking amongst themselves while the films were playing, instantly debating and discussing them. But perhaps the most extreme and indeed wonderful piece of feedback was from an audience member who came up to me after the show and admitted that the films had caused him to ‘blackout’! I found it even more interesting when I learned he enjoyed a great number of the films and was in fact an avid cinephile himself. Overall, I have never received such an enthusiastic response from a crowd who endured such a heavy screening of physical assault. For me, every screening is a rich and unique experience, the intriguing variables being geographical location and culture.
After the show myself and my EFS colleagues participated in a long Q&A, for the duration of which I was mostly translating questions and answers. We discovered that the films truly divided the audience! While some people were deeply engaged with the work, asking many philosophical questions concerning sound, image, aesthetics and other technical aspects, other people were deeply resentful of the films and of the entire experience, comparing us to Nazis (for they believed we tortured them with flicker and editing). We were also called CULTURAL ISIS, something that I find extremely funny! Others were making interjections and defending the films and us. Later many spoke individually with Esperanza, Dean and Michael concerning particular aspects of their work. The films had triggered something in this great audience and all of these responses were fascinating, so much so that to this day I cannot fully comprehend this otherworldly, surreal screening.
It is very natural that you would receive complete opposite reactions during a single programme and that is what makes it constantly enjoyable. I am very happy indeed that we presented these EFS films in person in Iran for the very first time, because people truly appreciated it, they reacted positively and negatively, and perhaps some members of the audience needed it!
I am still receiving emails of feedback from those who enjoyed the show. Most of all I am glad to have come across such mind-boggling negative reactions. I previously addressed this issue here, saying that for me the most important thing in filmmaking is to present the audience with films that can affect them with a certain generated energy. It is irrelevant whether they love or hate a film, but they must live with it. After that, it is beyond my control and over time the film will hopefully gestate within them. The most important thing is to believe in what you do 100%, to respect the audience as sincerely as possible, and never give up making films. Screen them constantly!
Many thanks to Amir Hossein Siadat, Vahid Mortazavi, Émmsen Jafari, Golnoosh Hamidi, Pooria Nikdel, Ayeen Forootan, Ehsan Safarpour & Mahshid Asoudehkhah, Dean Kavanagh, Atoosa Pour Hosseini among others!