Less than a week after the Oscar broadcast showed Hollywood embrace the Bollywood-influenced "Slumdog Millionaire," luminaries from the American film industry travelled to Iran to talk about world cinema.
Mohammad Mehdi Asgarpour, managing director of Iran's House of Cinema, said that the group will hold seminars this week to discuss filmmaking subjects like screenwriting, directing, acting, production, documentary filmmaking, marketing and distribution.
The group will also visit the Cinema Museum in Tehran, a film school, and attend a press conference on March 7, Asgarpour said.
Iran's House of Cinema (a.k.a. the Khaneh Cinema) is hosting Ganis, actresses Annette Bening and Alfre Woodward, producer William Horberg ("The Kite Runner"), screenwriter Frank Pierson ("Dog Day Afternoon"), documentarian James Longley ("Iraq in Fragments"), writer-director Phil Robinson, AMPAS Special Events Programmer and Exhibitions Curator Ellen Harrington, and former Universal Pictures Chairman Tom Pollock.
Longley has been working on a couple of projects in Iran, one of which is about the MKO (Mujahedin Khalgh Organization) and Iran-U.S. ties.
Although the visit's organizers and the Academy insist that the surprise visit is solely a cultural and educational trip, the delegation's journey comes only a month after President Obama took office and expressed hope for changes in U.S.-Iranian relations.
Some star-powered diplomacy may be what is needed. On February 23 a spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry told reporters that Hollywood has 30 anti-Iranian movies in the works targeting Iran's cultural, historical and religious identity and integrity. He added that these movies are just a front for pushing certain political agendas.
Iranians of all walks of life have found some Hollywood productions like "300" (about the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C.) offensive to Iranian history and culture.
Last year, Iranian authorities protested the inclusion of the animated film "Persepolis" (about a young girl's coming of age during the Islamic revolution in Iran) at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Jury Prize. The Iranian government eventually relented and allowed a censored version of the work (by an Iranian ex-patriate) to be screened in Iran.
"Persepolis" was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
In recent years Juliette Binoche and Sean Penn made personal trips to Iran. When nearly four years ago Penn came to Tehran as a journalist to cover the presidential election, his presence attracted a lot of star-hungry fans to the hotel where he was staying, and some observers think this is the reason why Iranian organizers had tried to keep this trip as quiet as possible.
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