SFIFF, day six: Iran further away -- and Errol Morris

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By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The SF International Film Festival has always been open to Iranian films. Festival-goers have been able to see Mohsen Makhmalbaf's 1996 A Moment of Innocence and 1998 The Silence, Jafar Panahi's 2000 The Circle, Jazireh Ahani's 2005 Iron Island, and a whole batch of Abbas Kiarostami films (he was given the festival's "achievement in directing" award in 2000). But lately the output of Iranian films has slowed. The unfriendly Bush-era climate could be responsible for fewer Iranian films being imported to the U.S. Or it could be that the burst of new cinema from the 1990s has run its course.

This year's SFIFF only has only one Iranian film and it's a decidedly minor work, though still difficult to pinpoint. Mania Akbari was a painter when Kiarostami cast her as the driver for his experimental digital feature Ten (2002). The filmmaking bug bit her and she embarked on her own directorial debut, 20 Fingers (2004), a solid, if sentimental look at different facets of men/women relationships. Now, with Kiarostami's blessing, she's returned with the official sequel to Ten, entitled 10 + 4.

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10+4, good buddy

Akbari was diagnosed with cancer and decided to make 10+4 about her disease (and about her chemotherapy and resulting baldness). I don't like disease-of-the-week pictures anyway, but when the disease is real, forming a critical analysis is doubly hard. And when the filmmaker is prone to overreaching (Akbari is), it's triply difficult. Perhaps making 10+4 helped Akbari come to terms with her illness, and perhaps it will do the same for someone else who watches it. At the very least, some of the film's segments have a power of their own, hinting that the Iranian New Wave hasn't entirely dissipated.

Carlos Saura's Fados screens tonight for the last time, and the only excuse for missing it is if you're going to see Errol Morris' incendiary Standard Operating Procedure. It completes a kind of war film trilogy for Morris, who dealt with WWII in Mr. Death (1999) and Vietnam in The Fog of War (2003), although this one is weakened somewhat by its lack of focus on a single, Morris-ian character like Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. or Robert S. McNamara.

Trailer for Standard Operating Procedure

In Standard Operating Procedure, Morris interviews a handful of lower-ranking soldiers stationed at the Abu Ghraib prison facilities, most of whom were accused of and arrested for torturing prisoners. A crack interviewer, he gets answers from his subjects that no news program could glean. Because that footage is rendered with his uniquely personal filmmaking style and coupled with tilted-angle recreation footage (shot by Robert Richardson), the results are tense.

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Standard Operating Procedure: abuse

Due to a complex cobweb of deadlines and other obligations, I was forced to choose between two local films -- Craig Baldwin's Mock Up on Mu and Logan and Noah Miller's debut feature Touching Home -- on Monday night. I'll let you know what I decided tomorrow.

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