Film Experts Examine Persian Culture through the Cinematic Lens

On May 19, 2012, award-winning Iranian filmmaker Shahin Parhami; executive director of the Iranian Film Festival Australia Anne Démy-Geroe; and Asian film scholar Dr. Wimal Dissanayake participated in a symposium at Shangri La that focused on aspects of love and devotion in Persian culture. The symposium capped off a week of related activities that included film screenings at the Honolulu Museum of Arts’ Doris Duke Theatre and a public forum at the East West Center. All the events were made possible through a major grant from Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute to Asia Pacific Films and NETPAC/USA, and they were co-sponsored by the Honolulu Museum of Art and Shangri La.

Award-winning Iranian filmmaker Shahin Parhami; Jeannette Hereniko, founder of Asia Pacific Films; executive director of the Iranian Film Festival Australia Anne Démy-Geroe; and Honolulu-based film scholar and University of Hawai‘i Academy of Creative Media professor Dr. Wimal Dissanayake at the Persian film symposium at Shangri La.

Director Shahin Parhami (Nasoot, 1997; Lahoot, 1998; Jabaroot, 2003; Faces, 2007) opened the symposium with a talk entitled “The Roots of Iranian Cinematic Culture.” His lively presentation, which included clips from many classic Iranian films, examined the influences of Persian storytelling, poetry and visual culture on Iranian cinema. Parhami’s most recent documentary, Amin (2011), kicked off the Persian Nights film series at the Doris Duke Theatre.

In the next presentation, “Iranian Cinema and the Poetry of Rumi and Hafez,” Honolulu-based film scholar and University of Hawai‘i Academy of Creative Media professor Dr. Wimal Dissanayake explored the relationship between modern Iranian cinema and traditional Persian poetry in terms of themes, style, imagery and vision. He stressed the significance of poetry in contemporary Persian culture and underscored how strongly the works of Rumi and Hafez resonate in modern Iranian cinema.

Next up was Brisbane-based film scholar and executive director of the Iranian Film Festival Australia Anne Démy-Geroe. In her talk, “The Complications of Allegory and Metaphor in Iranian Cinema,” she focused on the themes of love and devotion as depicted in two very different Iranian films: Abbas Kiarostami’s My Sweet Shirin and Homayoun Asadian’s Gold and Copper. Kiarostami’s film focuses on womens’ faces and emotions as they watch a film based on the classic Persian love triangle between King Khosrow, Princess Shirin of Armenia and the sculptor Farhad. The imagery is constructed entirely though close-ups of the audience’s reaction to the movie they’re watching; the soundtrack is that of the movie being seen. In Gold and Copper a Tehran-based mullah-in-training struggles to take care of his ailing wife and their children. This moving film tells a story in a more linear way, and serves as a metaphor for other aspects of life in contemporary Iran.

In conjunction with the symposium, the Doris Duke Theatre hosted a Persian Nights film series. Audiences loved Parhami’s Amin, the opening-night film, which tells the story of a young modern nomad from the south of Iran who dedicates his life to preserving and perpetuating the music of the Iranian Qashqai people. Other films in the series included Bahram Tavakoli’s Here Without Me, an Iranian adaptation of Tennessee William’s play The Glass Menagerie; and Ali Rafi’s Agha Yousef, a film about familial love.

If you’d like to learn more about Iranian films, check out these feature films and documentaries on the topic of “Love and Devotion in Persian Culture” (with introductions filmed onsite at Shangri La by Shahin Parhami, Dr. Wimal Dissanayake and Anne Demy-Geroe), plus a host of additional Iranian film classics on

East-West Center Senior Journalists Seminar at Shangri La: Bridging Gaps Between the United States and the Muslim World

East-West Center Senior Journalists Seminar participants onsite at Shangri La.

On August 25 and 26, 2011, 12 senior writers, reporters, editors and television producers from the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the United States gathered in the Playhouse at Shangri La to discuss U.S. Muslim relations, Islam in Asia, religious diversity, and the problems journalists covering these issues face.  Bridging Gaps Between the United States and the Muslim World was the theme of the East-West Center’s 2011 Senior Journalists Seminar, a travel and exchange program for journalists from the United States and Asian countries organized by the East-West Center and co-sponsored by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.  

 This year’s Asia participants traveled to Washington, D.C., New York, Colorado Springs and Honolulu to meet with government officials, community leaders, religious authorities and others active in the dialogue on Asian–U.S. relations; their American counterparts traveled to Manila and Mindanao, the Philippines, and Dhaka, Bangladesh, to do the same. The journalists were pleased to comment on the hospitality and openness on the part of the Muslim religious leaders who welcomed them during their travels. “[I was surprised by] the many varieties of and differences between countries in the way they practice Islam. It makes it clear that no one political size will fit all in terms of U.S. relations with Muslim majority countries” reported Jason Scanlon, FOX News Channel.

The theme of the seminar was "Bridging Gaps Between the United States and the Muslim World."

The two-day program’s wrap-up sessions at Shangri La were characterized by lively discussions touching on religion, politics and economics in Asia and the United States. “By bringing together participants from diverse religious backgrounds and allowing them to debate various issues relevant to the relationship between the U.S. and the Muslim world, we were better able to understand the religious diversity of the places we visited and to analyze the real causes of conflict,” said Md. Zahir Shah Sherazi, DawnNews, Pakistan.

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