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!