“A Sense of Place,” a collection of six short films by young Iranian directors, had its world premiere this week at Copenhagen’s CPH:DOX. The films are inspired by Wim Wenders’ eponymous 2005 book, and the Oscar nominated director – best known for “Paris, Texas,” “Wings of Desire,” “Buena Vista Social Club” and “Pina” – served as the project’s “godfather,” he explained at the festival.
Curated by Iranian producer Afsun Moshiry in collaboration with The Wim Wenders’ Foundation, which supports young directors and innovative filmmaking, the anthology takes viewers on a journey that starts in Iran, travels to the country’s southern border, onto a plane to Germany, and ends up in France, where two of the films are shot.
The idea for the collection was born from a Wenders retrospective and masterclass Moshiry was planning in Iran in 2019, which never happened because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, Wenders mentored the young filmmakers online as they developed their own projects exploring the sense of place.
Speaking at a live talk with Moshiry in Copenhagen, Wenders told the mostly young audience how this sense has informed his filmmaking from the beginning, and offered a word of advice.
“Don’t think this doesn’t concern you. It’s a human sense that used to be necessary for survival – to know where to live, where there was danger, where to find food and water. It’s one of our original senses, and the fact is that, worldwide, this sense is disappearing.
“People don’t even know how to read a map anymore: all you have to do is follow your navigator,” he said, adding that if he were given a lot of money to make a film where all the locations had been pre-selected by someone else, he would turn it down.
“I wouldn’t know where to put my camera: I’d be lost. I work the other way round: I chose the place first, and then I start to write the story,” he explained, adding: “It helps me but it also helps the actors – they get great support from a place if they know they belong there, and the cameraman is so much more at ease if he’s been there before: knowledge of a place is very useful for everyone on set.”
The German director went on to cite as examples Berlin for “Wings of Desire” or the American West for “Paris, Texas,” and “Songs of Earth,” which he executive produced – Margreth Olin’s long-awaited epic, shot in Norway’s stunning mountainous landscapes, which is vying for this year’s top award at CPH:DOX.
“The place is gorgeous, and the film is, too. A sense of place can lead you to miraculous discoveries. Trust in a place is something that really can give you wings,” he said, adding with characteristic self-deprecation, “no pun intended,” drawing laughs from the crowd.
As the anthology took shape, Wenders told Variety ahead of the talk, it took on a life of its own, which he hadn’t anticipated. “I must say that I was amazed how the subjects shifted from places to non-places. I realized that it’s a contemporary disease, but it’s also very typical for Iran: the absence of the identity of place. It showed that the places where they live or where some of them are in exile no longer inspire confidence.”
Asked about the current climate for filmmakers in Iran, which is experiencing its biggest wave of demonstrations in decades and where several filmmakers and actors have been jailed for speaking out against the regime, Moshiry said her team did all they could to support the filmmaking community by working with local talent, including Iranian DOPs and editors, and doing as much post-production as possible in Iran.
“Over the last 44 years, Iranian filmmakers have become very creative – Wim’s friend Abbas Kiarostami established his own rules: his way of resisting was to never shoot a scene of a woman inside a house because it would not be natural for a woman to wear a scarf inside a house. This is one kind of answer and it’s a very peaceful one,” she said, adding, “Iranian filmmakers have always been creative, but they are tired, we are tired, at some point enough is enough.”
As the talk wrapped up in Copenhagen’s historic Bremen Teater, Wenders reminded the audience that culture is a powerful instrument in times of conflict.
“It’s such a fantastic tool for freedom but it is always treated as the least important. Culture is always the first to suffer, and that is a disaster. I would ask all of you, wherever you come from, to confront that.”
“A Sense of Place” is produced by Moshiry’s Road River Films (“Subtotals,” “Road 99”) and Hamidreza Pejman’s Pejman Foundation (“See you Friday Robinson”), in co-production with Baptiste Bertin’s La Onda Productions and The Perfect Kiss Films, with Iconoclast Germany as associate producer.
SplitScreen is handling world sales.
CPH:DOX runs until March 26.
The six films in the project are:
“Hollow” by Mohammadreza Farzad (“Subtotals,” “Blames and Flames”)
“The Density of Emptiness” by Shirin Barghnavard (“Poets of Life,” “Scenes from a Divorce”)
“Port of Memory” (original title: “Phobos”) by Mina Keshavarz
“In Transit” by Azin Faizabadi (“The Art of Living in Danger,” “Braving the Waves”)
“Mal Tourné” by Pooya Abbasian (“Triumph,” “Last Summer in Europe”)
“Great Are the Eyes of a Dead father” by Afsaneh Salari (“The Silhouettes,” “The Forbidden Strings”)
Source: Variety 2023.