All posts by Chris Presland

Mania Akbari


This October, Cinema For All will be holding the Community Cinema Conference at Sheffield’s Showroom Cinema – the UK’s biggest gathering of film clubs, societies and organisations of all shapes and sizes, for three days that celebrate the work that they do. This year’s theme – Diverse People, Diverse Stories – considers the meaning of diversity and the role community cinema plays in creating a wider and more inclusive film culture for all. As part of the celebrations, Iranian artist, actor and director Mania Akbari will be screening her collaboration with Mark Cousins, Life May Be and conducting a Q & A session after the showing. Mania will also be co-hosting this year’s Film Society of the Year Awards on the Saturday evening (3rd October).

Born in Tehran in 1974, Akbari has become a filmmaker renowned for her commitment to her art. Leaving behind her country and her family, Mania was forced to relocate in 2011 from Iran to Britain in order to continue her work. It is against this background of repression and corresponding artistic resistance that Akbari’s films have been made; deliberately structured and staged as performances yet often accommodating the circumstances transpiring around their production.

This process is exemplified by the shifting realities of From Tehran to London (2011) – a drama originally entitled Women Do Not Have Breasts, the filming of which was abruptly curtailed by the intrusions of the state. Mirroring the director’s own flight from her homeland, the film is concluded in London, following arrests for filming without permission of both cast and crew, a name change, and an appearance of Akbari as herself, explaining what has happened.

Filming of From Tehran to London

Often referred to as the most controversial Iranian filmmaker, she has created a legacy of thoughtfully confrontational film addressing conflicts arising from culture, sexuality and gender, and the sanctity of art.

Inspired in childhood by traditional Iranian poetry, Akbari would perform puppet shows for her classmates. Initially disapproved of by her academic parents, her mother became a tacit supporter of her daughter’s creative impulses and the young director made a conscious choice to follow her instincts for performance. Amid seismic changes in Iranian society following the revolution and the ongoing horrors of the Iran-Iraq war, Akbari began to find her artistic voice.

It is perhaps during the 90s that the director came of age. Akbari and her second husband made for a radical and socially progressive couple, and it was he who pushed her to take risks for her art, to live for the moment. Already making her own short films – and risking her freedom doing it – the relationship ended when he told her to focus on her talents. This was a decision the director herself credits with being partly responsible for the path her life would take, and constituted a crossing from which she would never come back.

In 2002 she played the lead role of a cabbie in Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten, a docu-drama that hazed the border between performance and reality, and which also featured performances from her son Amin Maher and sister Roya. This was followed by her own first full-length production, 20 Fingers, which won awards from the Venice Film Festival among others. Tackling subjects such as homosexuality and divorce, the film is still yet to be shown uncensored in Iran.

Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, the experience informed the making of 10 + 4 – an unofficial sequel to 10 and Akbari’s way of articulating the limbo of existing with a potentially terminal disease. Featuring the director’s family and friends, fact and fiction intertwine as the film brings an animated and argumentative voice to bear on the matter of death and survival.

Her next film, 2011’s One. Two. One. has been appreciated as a self-assured work of artistry and craft, a tightly constructed drama as inscrutable, pitiless and surprising as life itself. Likened to the work of Bergman, the film continues Akbari’s concentration on the lives of women and the country she had to leave behind.

Still resident in London, her latest film Life May Be is a collaborative essay with film historian and director Mark Cousins that follows an exchange of opinions and approaches between the two. Akbari’s sometimes raw and forthright perspective clashes and reacts with the lyrical self-reflection of Cousins to create a rich and unique account of a conversation and encounter between cultures and approaches to art.

Mania Akbari is possibly one of the most significant Iranian filmmakers working today, and a true example of the power and importance of diversity in culture and discourse. We are very excited to have her with us in Sheffield in October.

Book your tickets now to be part of the celebrations!




Asif Kapadia’s Amy has been praised by critics as a sensitive and perceptive examination of the circumstances surrounding the singer’s extraordinarily public life, folding back the layers of tabloid hyperbole to take a level and human look at the woman at the centre of it all. The story of Amy Winehouse’s incredible career is one of mountainous peaks of commercial and critical acclaim – and devastating chasms of heartbreak and excess. Impressing and moving commentators since premiering in June, Peter Bradshaw called the film ‘a tragic masterpiece’.

Kapadia’s Senna cemented the director’s reputation as a documentarian committed to clarity and even-handedness, and Amy is another example of his transparent and comprehensive style. Forgoing a typical talking-head approach, Kapadia’s film consists entirely of footage from Winehouse’s life and audio interviews with those closest to her. Ranging from broadcast and awards film to the most intimate and touching moments, a real life behind the media speculation and stage persona is revealed. It is this level of access and Kapadia’s determination to avoid sensation that makes Amy such a remarkable account of a life lived in the spotlight.

Drawing on the experiences and views of both the singer herself and the people she was surrounded by, the emotional punch of Amy is undeniable. Perhaps it is hindsight that lends her story the tenor of a tragedy – a sense of inevitability that hangs heavy over her early successes – but even with Kapadia’s unbiased presentation of the facts the gaggles of industry movers and players, friends and even family members emerge as portents of her undoing. Her father Mitch and husband Blake Fielder-Civil were both raked over the coals by a media in full hue and cry following her death, and in Amy both emerge as troubling figures: an absentee father who reappeared following her commercial success and famously advised her against entering rehab, and a similarly itinerant husband who drew Winehouse into crack and heroin use. These depictions have caused controversy – Mitch Winehouse, who was persuaded to cooperate with the director by his admiration for Kapadia’s Senna, has spoken out publicly about his portrayal.

As can be expected, much of Amy is harrowing and profoundly sad – another example of the media’s voracious appetite to consume the vulnerabilities of those in the limelight and the disturbing tendency of public opinion to prurience and pursuit. But these lessons remain edifying, even if they seem hard to learn – and Kapadia’s documentary is a valuable reminder of the human cost of this hunger.

Like other recent documentaries focused on unique and seemingly doomed musicians such as Brett Morgan’s depiction of Kurt Cobain in Montage of Heck and Jeff Feurezig’s The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Kapadia’s film attempts to draw in closer to the reality of its subject’s life whilst recounting a remarkable talent. It is in the meeting of those two factors that Amy finds its particularly affecting heft. Songs that were poignant during her life and crushingly sad following her death are imbued with a haunting resonance when viewed through the events leading up to her demise; Kapadia’s skilful and exacting approach to laying out a complete story and his accomplishment in crafting compelling narratives combine to make a heartbreaking eulogy and tribute to one of the 21st century’s most fascinating performers.

Composed with the tautness of a thriller and the compassion of a sincere attempt to understand an individual swathed in mythology and the judgements of others, Amy’s messages go beyond the simple examination of the life of a star to ask us to question our appetites for, and entitlements to, the inner lives of those who entertain us. Arriving in UK cinemas on 3 July we are thrilled that we are able to offer this fantastic film to Cinema For All members from 14 August.