Friday, November 30, 2012

AIFF 2012: Lots of Films In Competition Today (Saturday Dec. 1)

Here's a list of the films in competition I noticed that were being shown today.  I haven't checked the animated films and there may be more shorts I missed.  The Festival's hard copy guides are available

I've put them in order of when they are being show.

Four of the seven features in competition are being shown, but most of them will be showing at overlapping times.  You can see Confine (2pm) and one of the others.  They'll all be shown again.

Two of the four documentaries in competition are being shown.

Films in Competition marked with **  showing Saturday

11:00 AM:  Shorts: Native Tongue   [SHORTS]
Shorts Program | 88 min.

**Mossadegh | Roozbeh Dadvand 2011  Short In Competition
**Calcutta Taxi | Vikram Dasgupta 2012  Short In Competition
Naagahaan, Zinat… (Suddenly, Zinat…) | Navid Azad 2012
**Lapse | Gilles GUERRAZ 2012  Short In Competition

11:30 AM  First Peoples Program [SHORTS]
Mixed Media, Shorts Program | 60 min.
Day in Our Bay: A Closer Look
**Hunt | Jordan Tannahill 2012  Short In Competition
Wolf Dog Tales | Bernadine Santistevan 2012
Cry Rock | Banchi Hanuse
Alaska Experience Theater - Small Theater

2:00 PM **Confine
Tobias Tobbell 2012 | Feature, In Competition | 90 min.
Alaska Experience Theater - Small Theater
SHOWN AGAIN 8:00 PM     Wed, Dec 05 Alaska Experience Theater

4:30 PM **People of a Feather
Joel Heath 2011 | Documentary, In Competition | 90 min.
screens with...
River | Daniel Janke 2011
Alaska Experience Theater - Small Theater

Note:  The short River is about the Yukon and Daniel Janke should be there for Q&A.
 SHOWN AGAIN   6:00 PM     Sat, Dec 08  Anchorage Museum

5:00 PM Shorts: Expectations
Shorts Program | 86 min.
**Cockatoo | Matthew Jenkin 2011 Short in Competition
It's the 5th of 10 shorts in the 86 minute program of "Expectatioons"
Alaska Experience Theater - Large Theater
It's also in the Love and Pain program showing at 10pm at the Bear Tooth
And again later in the week.

7pm **Aquí y Allá (Here and There)Antonio Mendez Esparza 2011 | Feature, In Competition | 110 min.
Alaska Experience Theater - Small Theater
SHOWN AGAIN 8:00 PM     Thu, Dec 06  Alaska Experience Theater

7:30pm **GrassrootsStephen Gyllenhaal | Feature, In Competition | 97 min.
Alaska Experience Theater - Large Theater
SHOWN AGAIN 8:30 PM     Tue, Dec 04  Alaska Experience Theater

8:00pm **Lad: A Yorkshire Story
Dan Hartley 2012 | Feature, In Competition | 96 min.
Bear Tooth Theatre
SHOWN AGAIN 6:30 PM     Sat, Dec 08

8:30pm **Ping Pong
Hugh Hartford | Documentary, In Competition | 80 min.
screens with...
Cutting Loose | Finlay Pretsell, Adrian McDowall
Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center
SHOWN AGAIN 11:00 AM     Sat, Dec 08  Out North

The two features NOT showing today are:

**Between Us    Dan Mirvish USA 90m  Feature, In Competition | 96 min.
5:15PM  Mon, Dec 03  Alaska Experience Theater - small theater
8:00PM  Fri, Dec. 07    Out North

Alaska Experience Theater - Small Theater

**Shouting Secrets     Korinna Sehringer Switzerland/USA 88m Feature, In Competition | 96 min.
8:)) PM Sun, Dec 02  Bear Tooth
3:00Pm Fri, Dec 07  Alaska Experience Theater

AIFF 2012: Eric Bana in Deadfall Opens Festival Tonight Plus Saturday Overview

Although we're way behind the normal snowfall this year, there's ice on the parking lots and the sun isn't more than 10˚ above the southern horizon at noon as you can see from the long shadows in this  after lunch today photo. 

Temps between 0˚F and 25˚F as the   Anchorage International Film Festival opens tonight at 8pm at the Bear Tooth.  Deadfall, the opening film, is an invited film and is not in competition.  This is good, because in the past many of the opening night films turned out to be the winning movie.  (Though last year this was not the case.)

As I looked at the trailer with a car crash, lots of stolen money, some blood, I wasn't particularly excited.  This is not the sort of movie I'd go to see.  It's not what I think of as a film festival film.  Instead it's a Hollywood movie.  While these do play at a lot of festivals, they don't show up - fortunately - that often at the Anchorage International Film Festival.

Here's part of what a writer for Entertainment Weekly wrote about it at the Tribeca Film Festivale:

[Eric] Bana plays a smooth-talking thief who, along with his sister (Wilde), is involved in a casino robbery gone wrong which forces them to flee into the snowy terrain near the Canadian boarder in whiteout conditions. They split up to better to reach Canada without detection, and through a series of twists and (violent) turns are destined to cross paths with a boxer just out of prison (Humnam) and his parents (Spacek and Kristofferson).
It’s a tense 94 minutes set in blizzard conditions that sports one insanely thrilling chase scene on snowmobiles.
 Maybe it's the blizzard that makes this seem appropriate for the Anchorage Festival.

I do think that tomorrow's 11 am showing at the Alaska Experience Theater of four shorts (about 20 minutes each) will prove to be a satisfying film experience.  I've already written about these films here and about one of them - Mossadegh - here.  And I've yet to post on the Skype chat I had with Gilles Gurrez in Paris on his film in that program, Lapse.

  I recommend getting into the Festival Genius (a software program for film festivals) and poke around.  You can look for specific categories of films, countries, venues, days, etc. 

Here's what Saturday (tomorrow) looks like from Festival Genius:

Saturday, December 1st
11:00 AM
Shorts Program | 88 min.
screens with...
Alaska Experience Theater - Large Theater + add to cal
11:30 AM
Mixed Media, Shorts Program | 60 min.
screens with...
Alaska Experience Theater - Small Theater + add to cal
1:00 PM
Shorts Program, Snowdance Program | 94 min.
screens with...
Alaska Experience Theater - Large Theater + add to cal
2:00 PM
Tobias Tobbell 2012 | Feature, In Competition | 90 min.
Alaska Experience Theater - Small Theater + add to cal
3:30 PM
Snowdance Program | 101 min.
Alaska Experience Theater - Large Theater + add to cal
4:30 PM
Joel Heath 2011 | Documentary, In Competition | 90 min.
screens with...
  • River | Daniel Janke 2011
Alaska Experience Theater - Small Theater + add to cal
5:00 PM
Shorts Program | 86 min.
screens with...
Alaska Experience Theater - Large Theater + add to cal
6:00 PM
Andrew Simpson | Documentary | 90 min.
Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center + add to cal
7:00 PM
Antonio Mendez Esparza 2011 | Feature, In Competition | 110 min.
Alaska Experience Theater - Small Theater + add to cal
7:30 PM
Stephen Gyllenhaal | Feature, In Competition | 97 min.
Alaska Experience Theater - Large Theater + add to cal
8:00 PM
Dan Hartley 2012 | Feature, In Competition | 96 min.
Bear Tooth Theatre + add to cal
8:30 PM
Hugh Hartford | Documentary, In Competition | 80 min.
screens with...
Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center + add to cal
9:45 PM
Director-Sean Branney, Composer-Troy Sterling Nies | Feature | 104 min.
Alaska Experience Theater - Large Theater + add to cal
10:00 PM
Zsolt Pozsgai 2010 | Feature | 100 min.
Alaska Experience Theater - Small Theater + add to cal
10:00 PM
Mixed Media, Shorts Program | 94 min.
screens with...

Tired of the 21st Century? Go Back In Time Sunday

Time travel at the University of Alaska Anchorage Sunday as the Music Department takes you back a few centuries.

John Lutterman, the cellist, and a member of the new faculty group I'm working with, tells me:
The instruments are all modern reconstructions of instruments from the 16th-18th centuries.  The first half of the program is mostly short pieces from the 16th & 17th centuries by lesser-known composers: Milano, Ortiz, Hume, Simpson, Frescobaldi, Mico, de la Barre, Berteau.  The second half is mostly German high-Baroque: Telemann, Bach, and Handel.

4pm, UAA Theater/Arts Building Sunday, December 2, 2012

Studying Chinese in 2012 is a Lot Easier than It Was In 2003

Last night was our last session of the UAA Confucius Institute's community Chinese class until spring.  The teacher, Teng Fei, has been terrific, pushing us more than is comfortable, but not too much more.  Most important is that the two Confucius Institute teachers we've had used a great teaching method - lots of oral repetition, good grammar drills, and almost no English in class.
I'd say that this is pretty elementary stuff - a dialogue about people going to someone's birthday party.
A:  Wang Peng, what are you doing now?
B:  I'm reading.
A:  Today is Gao Xiao Yin's birthday.  This evening we're  going to have a dance party at her place.  Can you come?

But elementary in Chinese is relatively advanced in a lot of other languages.  You've got the tones to learn (what tones are) (hearing the tones)  and more than that, you've got to memorize each character.  Counting through the back of the book's glossary it looks like there's about 350 characters that we're supposed to know now.

How much could you say if you only knew 350 words of English?  [Here's a list of the 300 most common English words to give you an idea of both how much it is and how limited it is.]  Actually, speaking Chinese with just 350 words is probably easier than English because there is no conjugation of verbs for present, past, and future tense.  Some of that gets conveyed with words like today, next week, etc.  And there are some words you stick into the sentence that shows it's happened already or it's happening now.  (The character 呢 at the end of line one of the dialogue in the photo is supposed to show that she's asking about what he's doing right now.  Or you could just say "right now" instead.) So you don't have to fuss with I am, I was, I will be, etc.

But, there's always the characters.  And while there are some basic repeated parts of the characters - radicals - there's no real phonetic way to know how to pronounce each character.  You have to memorize each one.  But, knowing the radicals and their meaning can help in that task.

There is so much more online help today than there was in the past.  Chinese dictionaries are ingenious, but also painfully slow to use.  If you were looking up a character you had two options:

Option 1.  Stroke count.
a.  count the strokes in the character;
b.  then in the front of the dictionary there is a list of characters starting with one stroke, two stroke, three stroke, etc.  If the character you want to look up has five strokes, you go to the five stroke characters.  They're listed in stroke order (there's a set of rules for which stroke comes first, second, etc.)  Or you can just go down the list until you find the one you are looking for. 
c.  find the character you are looking for
d1.  in some dictionaries it then has a page number to go to
d2.  in other dictionaries it has the pinyin (phonetic alphabet) and then you can look it up alphabetically in that dictionary.

On the right is a page from a Chinese dictionary.  First you have one stroke characters.  One is a horizontal line 一 and two is two horizontal
lines 二。You can see there are only two one stroke characters listed and you can find them on pages 1037 and 1049.  Then there are more two stroke characters.  The first stroke in a character is the horizontal line stroke (if there is one).  There are four such two stroke characters listed.  Then the characters that start with the second stroke - the vertical line.  Just one listed, on page 60.  Then a diagonal stroke to the left.  These are just the two stroke characters.  Imagine trying to see the 10 stroke characters.  I often needed a magnifying glass.

As you can imagine, this took a while.  New students don't always count the strokes right.  Then you you have to go through long lists of characters to find the one you are looking for. (There are a lot more three, four, five and more stroke characters than one and two stroke characters.)

Option 2.  Radical
This is similar, but instead of starting with the number of strokes, you start with the main radical in the character, then go down the list of all the characters with that radical.  This assumes you can figure out the radical.

I spent more time thumbing through the dictionary to find the characters in the past attempts to study Chinese than learning the characters.

But now you can look up characters online let's you find the character
a.  by writing the English
b.  writing the word in pinyin (the phonetic alphabet)
c.  writing the Chinese character - yes the have a little box (you would click the brush on the real page) where you can make the strokes with your cursor.  But you have to be close enough that the computer can figure out some characters it thinks you made, then you have to pick out your character from the list it gives you.  But that's true of each of these. 

Screenshot from Yellowbridge.com

And once you get the character you can listen to the pronunciation, see the etymology, see examples of other words that use the character.  Yellowbridge even has an online flashcard system that uses the vocabulary lists from the most used Chinese textbooks identified by each lesson.  So I could pick my book and chapter and do the flashcards online.  Here you can see the flashcards for the chapter we worked on today in class - this is just the vocabulary for the second dialogue of the chapter.

ArchChinese, which I found looking for the stroke order rules above, also looks like a lot of help.  It says it's been put together by Chinese teachers for K-12 and university student in the US.

So, things are much easier now.  And there are lots of different websites that offer great help.  And there are lots of YouTube videos so you can listen to the sounds.  But none of that substitutes for memorizing the characters and learning the dialogues and the grammar patterns, in writing and orally, which use very different parts of the brain.  It just makes it a little easier.

So, since last night was the last class until the spring, I thought I would recover that part of my life spent preparing each week for Chinese class.  But no.  We got homework to keep us busy until we start again, which, fortunately is not until late February.  (This is a community class, not a credit class.)  But much of what we need to do is review all the vocabulary, dialogues, and grammar that we've covered so far.  But we're also supposed to look ahead to the next six chapters (to the end of this book.)

But, I have to say, while my Chinese is very rudimentary, I am finding myself thinking in the patterns we've been learning and the vocabulary seems to be sticking a little better than in the past.  I think I've laid down enough tracks in my brain that this time it's working. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Did You Walk Today Without Thinking It Was Remarkable?

I went out today and walked to the University library.  I felt incredible.  I was walking without pain, without a limp.  For those of you who haven't marveled at your simple ability to walk without noticing that you are walking, I suggest you give a small thanks for that. 

We tend to focus on the things that aren't working and forget to be gratefull for all the parts that are.  We take for granted all the amazing gifts we have - like walking. 

It does seem that the doctor's guess of plantar fasciitis  is the more likely than the gout diagnosis.  From the Mayo Clinic:
Plantar fasciitis (PLAN-tur fas-e-I-tis) involves pain and inflammation of a thick band of tissue, called the plantar fascia, that runs across the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes. Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of heel pain.
Screen-shot from Plantar Stretch video
Plantar fasciitis commonly causes stabbing pain that usually occurs with your very first steps in the morning. Once your foot limbers up, the pain of plantar fasciitis normally decreases, but it may return after long periods of standing or after getting up from a seated position.
Plantar fasciitis is particularly common in runners. In addition, people who are overweight, women who are pregnant and those who wear shoes with inadequate support are at risk of plantar fasciitis.
It started last Thursday and then was terrible on Friday when I went to the doctor.  I'm not at all sure what might have brought it on.  The doctor said if you push yourself too much, it can come on.  But I hadn't really even done much walking since the previous Friday.  I'd been inactive because my ribs are still sore from falling off my bike two weeks ago when I hit a bit of ice. 

Heel That Pain offers this list of factors that can cause injurty to the plantar fascia:
  • Biomechanical factors, such as abnormal inward twisting (pronation), high arches, flat feet, or tight tendons at the back of the heel (Achilles tendons)
  • Repetitive foot use, walking or running on hard surfaces, or excessive exercise
  • Being overweight, or having sudden weight gain
  • Shoes that are unsupportive or are poorly cushioned
  • Arthritis in the foot, which develops mainly among middle-aged and elderly persons
  • In rare cases, a single, traumatic injury to the foot, or plantar fascia, can lead to a number of painful ailments
 [Turns out this website sells heel seats for people with plantar fasciitis.]

But I'm wondering if the bruised foot I got from bike fall - I think I slammed my foot into the pedal - had a delayed action.  (Yes, it's the same foot.)  The doctor didn't think so when he looked at it last week.  But I don't know what else would have brought it on.  Maybe I'm a "rare case."  (I know people who would agree and are thankful.)

Or maybe the slippers I've been wearing around the house were too flimsy, but most of the time I'm barefoot, or rather sock footed. 

I was a little hesitant to go the mile each way to the library today,  in case it was too much and might cause this to come back.  But it feels fine.  I guess tomorrow I'll find out.  

And really, I'm not whining.  Complaining about my personal health, or lack thereof, is not what this blog is about.  Any personal health posts have to have some redeeming reasons that benefit some readers. 

So my main message here is about appreciating all you can do with your body parts that you generally don't even think about - except when they stop working.  Can you see?  Can you hear?  Can your fingers easily pick up a fork without even thinking?  Or fly across the keyboard?  Can you run downstairs to get a book you left there without pain shooting through your foot?  These are all miracles we should be thankful for.

Walking today was joyful.  And there's that little bit of info on plantar fasciitis, which might be of interest to someone. 

Film festival begins in less than 48 hours. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

2012 Benghazi Press Release Versus 2002 Yemen Bombing Betrayal

In November 2002, to boost Republican chances in the midterm elections, according to Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen, the Bush administration blew the  cover story on a bombing in Yemen,  badly embarrassing the Yemeni President and hurting the US position there.  (See Johnsen interview below)

Did you hear anyone complaining about this use of confidential information and souring US long term interests in the Middle East to affect the November 2002 election?  Me neither.  And I can't find anything on McCain's website listing his press releases for November 2002 and December 2002  that mentions this serious breach of national security.  But he has three press releases on Benghazi for November 2012.

From what I can tell so far, the Obama administration's announcements on Benghazi were a mix of lack of information during a crisis, an attempt to reassure the public, and a possible spin just before an election.  But I haven't seen any evidence that what was done jeopardized US policy, strategy, or lives. There is evidence that the administration had asked Congress for more money for embassy and consulate security, and been turned down.  We'll see.

But Senators John McCain's and Lyndsey Graham's attacks on Susan Rice look like the Republicans are going to continue their rabid attacks on the Obama administration over anything.  There's no 'we'll see' in their language.  There's lots of judgment and condemnation.  And what are they claiming?  That she should have said "I don't know" instead of reading the information she was given.  Did they tell Colin Powell that after he told the United Nations Iraq had weapons of mass destruction which led us to war?

Whether their bullying is simply a tactic to distract the administration into wasting time defending itself against trumped up charges, or it's Republicans still living in their own fact-free and/or fact-distorted ideological bubble, I can't say.  Maybe they're sure Obama had Rice do this because it's exactly what they would have done and can't believe he would have acted better than they.  But it's disturbing.  I suspect it's a mix of all those.  Create a crisis that doesn't exist to weaken the president.  If they had the country's interest in mind, shouldn't they be working on a bill to avoid sequestration and the automatic end of the Bush era tax cuts? 

Below is the account of how Wolfowitz claimed Bush administration credit for killing an al-Qaida leader in Yemen just before the US election and after Yemen's President had repeated to various international media outlets the agreed-on cover story that the terrorists had detonated the bomb themselves by accident.  The cover story was intended to protect the US and the Yemeni governments and keep the loyalty of most Yemeni people.

We can argue the ethics of the government lying to cover up the US participation in the raid for strategic benefit and to protect a local leader cooperating with the US.  But we often hide our strategy during war.   But what the Bush administration did at that time to help win seats in Congress is far more egregious than what I've heard Rice and Obama did in the days after the Benghazi attack.

Can we trust Johnsen's account?  There are other accounts of this. Time magazine mentions it in 2010, for example.  Read key parts of the Fresh Air transcript yourself: 

GROSS:  . . . You write about how during the Bush administration, the administration got the cooperation of then Yemeni President Saleh to cooperate with, you know, airstrikes against terrorists and presumed terrorists. And got the Yemeni government to cover-up the U.S. role in those strikes, so the U.S. wouldn't look like it was actually behind those airstrikes. And so there was like some airstrikes and the Yemeni government told the BBC and the Associated Press that the bomb was actually the bomb that militants were transporting and had accidentally exploded killing them all.
JOHNSEN: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: OK. So cover story in tact.
JOHNSEN: Correct.
GROSS: But then the Bush administration wants to take credit for that attack because it's right before the 2002 midterm election...
JOHNSEN: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: ...and people in the Bush administration think it'll be good for the party if the administration can take credit for this. You know, good work in the war on terror. So Paul Wolfowitz, who was then deputy secretary of Defense, goes on CNN and takes credit for those attacks, saying that the Hellfire missile strike was a very successful tactical operation from the U.S. So what kind of position did that put the Yemeni government in after the Yemeni government had, you know, went along with this cover story?
JOHNSEN: Right. I remember this very well. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Jordan at the time that this happened in November 2002. In fact, this is really the moment when I first had the idea for the book, almost a decade ago. And you're exactly right. There was a cover story in place. There was a U.S. drone strike that took out the head of al-Qaida in Yemen at the time. A Yemen spokesperson told the BBC, the Associated Press, all of the news and wire services that a bomb the militants had been transporting had exploded. And then what we have is a situation where the Yemenis really felt as though they were sold out for domestic U.S. political concerns. So this happens right before the midterm elections. The Bush administration wants to use this to give its congressional allies sort of a leg up to show that the Bush administration is really serious, this is an early victory in the war on terror. And essentially what happens is - I mean, there's a scene in the book in where this Yemeni political official is just screaming at the United States, and he's saying, you know, this is why people really hate to work with you. This is why it's so difficult to work with the United States, is because you take one victory and you attempt to exploit it. And you can't give the enemy; you can't tell the enemy what's going on. And this is really the moment where that initial period of goodwill between President Saleh and then President George Bush came to an end. It's after this that you see President Saleh being much more cagey about his interactions with members of al-Qaida and assisting the United States. So this is one of those old things that our mothers and our grandmothers used to tell us, sort of penny wise but pound foolish.

You can read the whole transcript from the whole Terry Gross' Fresh Air interview today.  Or you can listen to it.

AIFF2012: Roozbeh Dadvand's Mossadegh Takes a Different Direction from the Movie Argo

The film Argo begins with Mohammad Mossadegh being the first democratically elected prime minister of Iran in 1953, soon to be overthrown by a CIA backed coup.  It then fasts forward to the 1979 takeover of the US embassy.
Mossadegh - screenshot from

Roozbeh Dadvand's Mossadegh takes a different direction.  It visits Mossadegh six years after the coup when he's in house arrest and ill and is offered help from an overseas doctor.

I emailed some questions to the director and I got a long, thoughtful response that adds to our understanding of the history in the film, his personal interest in it, and also the process of making the film.  

His email had, first, direct answers to my questions and then he added at the end some answers he'd sent to  Reorient Magazine, which bills itself as a Middle Eastern arts e-magazine.  Their reviewer liked the film.  (Their main page has a lot of interesting looking stories that certainly give a contrasting view to what our media tell us about the Middle East.)
By the way, that Saturday morning showing at 11 at Alaska Experience Theater has three of the shorts that are in competition - Mossadegh, Calcutta Taxi, and Lapse.  (In competition means the judges chose them as the best and in competition to win the festival's golden oosik awards.)

So here is the email interview with Roozbeh Dadvand director of Mossadegh.  I'm adding the questions and answers he sent to Reorient at the bottom.  There's a lot of interesting information there.

I'm probably spending way too much time on one 24 minute film I haven't even seen, but it's won a lot of awards at other film festivals, and, well, I can't cover everything, so I get to pick what I want to cover.  Most important, Roozbeh responded with thorough and interesting answers. 

The Interview

Steve:    Mossadegh follows up what happened to Iran's democratically elected leader after the 1953 CIA directed coup.  Is this based on a what actually happened or complete fiction?  If true, how did the story come to light?
Roozbeh Dadvand:   The story of the film is fiction, but based on historical circumstances. An American physician never in fact came to treat Mossadegh at his home. It is true that following the 1953 coup, Prime Minister Mossadegh was placed in jail for 3 years and then in house arrest for the rest of his life until his death in 1967. It is also true that he suffered throughout his life from mysterious ailments that his son, a doctor, could not satisfactorily diagnose (this link provides a good summary of his problems: In real life, Mossadegh's family had sought permission from the Shah of Iran to have a specialist come and treat him. The Shah gave permission for a specialist from abroad to come but Mossadegh only wanted a domestic specialist from Iran. When Mossadegh heard that the Shah was allowing a physician from abroad to come treat him, he refused. My source for this is from Farhad Diba's biography of Mossadegh. I used those circumstances as a jumping off point in developing the story for this film. 
Given that this was a student thesis project at USC, [University of Southern California]  it was particularly challenging and perhaps overambitious to do a short film about Mossadegh. I almost canceled the project. It is a big subject that is challenging to condense in a short format. Also given that it is a period piece, I felt that the only type of story that could be effective and even film-able within the scope and budget of a student film would be one that focused on Mossadegh in house arrest. I found a story that dealt with him imprisoned to be poetic. At the same time, a house arrest story allows you to limit locations and to keep the film small enough in scale to actually film.

Steve:   This seems to be a film that shows a different direction that Argo could have gone. How has the release of Argo affected your film, if at all?

Roozbeh Dadvand: I actually haven't seen Argo yet. Did you like it? I will be seeing it soon this week! I don't think Argo has affected my film too much, mainly because of timing. I researched Mossadegh for a few years before writing the script (from 2005-2007). In 2007 I went to Iran and traveled to Mossadegh's actual home where he was imprisoned. It's about 50 miles northwest of Tehran. After that, I developed the script from 2007-2008 and filmed the project over 2 weeks in California in December 2008. It was edited, sound designed and scored over the next year and a half. Student films at USC typically take so long for 2 reasons: Each process such as editing or sound design takes at least a semester or more to complete. Also, other students are required to fill all the other main roles in the crew. So for example, my editors were fellow students, my sound department heads were other students, the producers, the cinematographer, and the film composer were all USC film students. No one is paid or anything. Those are part of the rules. So work is done on it when other students find time outside of class to do it. The film premiered at the Raindance Film Festival in London in October 2011 and has been on its festival run since then. So it has been released out into the festival circuit well before Argo.

But I hope that Argo has overall increased attention towards films that deal with Iran; and if it makes people more interested to see Mossadegh, then I will happily take that.

Steve:    I notice that you have a couple of Voice of America videos and something called "Jebhemelli."  Playing with internet translations it seems to be something like National (or Popular) Battlefront (or warfront), but I can't figure out what kind of station it is.  It looks like it might be Persians outside of Iran.  Did VoA
pick this up after it was completed or did they help with the financing?  (I see it
was a student thesis project, but funding would have been helpful I'm sure.)

Roozbeh Dadvand: Unfortunately the Voice of America videos are not translated. I should work on that. The problem is that my Farsi isn't at a good enough level to actually do the translation. I can only speak it conversationally. My reading ability is pretty poor (elementary school level). Voice of America did not pick it up or help with financing. They were only aware of the film after it was completed and they requested an interview of me and my actor who played Mossadegh. Voice of America is interested in broadcasting the film but they will have to wait until I finish screening at festivals. I also do have a Canadian based distributor that is picking up the film to broadcast on tv and on video on demand services over the next couple years.

I would have loved funding from them but alas that did not happen. Honestly I had a lot of donations and breaks on this film. For example, USC has a SAG Waiver with the Screen Actors Guild that basically says no actors we use have to be paid. So an actor working on a USC film gets only copy and credit. Film schools typically do this to give students a level playing field to be able to cast and actually work with actors. Otherwise they wouldn't be able to afford it. And actors that work on student films do so to receive reel material, to work on their acting chops and to establish connections. Because they are short films, we don't take too much of their time so it seems to be a pretty fair system. I was very lucky to have the actors I got. I did have a union casting director (Mark Tillman, CSA) that was willing to work on my project to help cast my film. I felt that having him was a tremendous help i.e. I don't think I would've gotten the quality of actors I did without him.

The film was shot on the RED Camera (which professional feature films shoot on nowadays). I had friends that owned a package that donated it to me. The film was edited on my editor's personal computer. Sound was designed on my sound editor's personal computer. We're all friends so I had a lot of breaks throughout the process. So overall the movie looks more expensive than it actually turned out to be. I'm not sure I could have actually afforded to make this film with the production value it has without those benefits. But there were costs in the production associated with make-up, food, travel to certain locations.
I can confirm that jebhe-melli is not an organization based in Iran. It would be illegal there. In America and Europe, there are a variety of Iranian groups that are against the current regime in Iran. Jebhe-melli is one of them and they take their name from the Jebhe-Melli (National Front) party of the 1950s in Iran. You probably have read this already: In the 1950s in Iran there were a variety of factions and different political parties spanning the left-right political spectrum. Most or all of them went underground following the regime change in 1979 and have since sprang up in name only on different websites that are run in Europe or North America by Iranian exiles living abroad. None of those old parties are actually politically active in as far as they have no ability to incite change in Iran. They only have news sites with a certain ideological flavor based on what the political party stood for decades ago.  [UPDATE:  Roozbeh sent a clarification so I replaced the original paragraph with this clarification.]

Steve (in follow up email):  I'm just curious who is behind this website?  

Roozbeh Dadvant (in follow up):  In regards to jebhemelli, my interviewer there was Bijan Mehr. He sought me out and he's part of (which i assume stands for jebhe-melli-iran news i.e. the national front of Iran). That site is probably associated with as well but I am not sure. I don't know if he is the founder of the site or if he runs it but he is a contributor. He did a phone interview with me (he's in Boston) and he posted a VOA interview about my film on jmi (

Steve:   Is anyone from the film going to be at the Anchorage festival?
Roozbeh Dadvand:  Unfortunately, no one will be attending the Anchorage Film Festival. My actors and fellow crew members are all working. I really would love to but film festivals typically don't have the budgets to bring short filmmakers over. Because I work in Los Angeles, I just can't schedule a trip up. It's disappointing because Anchorage is really quite beautiful. I was in Anchorage and in Kenai 2 years ago  filming for Alaska State Troopers on the National Geographic Channel. Alaska is really quite lovely. To be able to go for a screening of my short would be awesome. But unfortunately it is not possible.

Here's the official trailer and the extended answers are below that.

The Extended Answers that Roozbeh added to his response:

1. Why did you decide to produce a film about Mossadegh? What is it about him that caught your attention?

I was born and raised in the United States and had never even heard the name Mossadegh until 2003 when I read Stephen Kinzer’s All The Shah’s Men, which is one of the more well-known biographies on Mossadegh and the inner workings of the 1953 CIA coup.

[For those not familiar with the history, Stephen Kinzer gives a very concise interview about Mossadegh and the greater context surrounding his overthrow on NPR at the following link: ] In short, Iran had existed under quasi-imperial British rule for several decades before 1953 during which Britain would refine Iranian oil and take much more than their fair share of profits. In order to maintain these benefits, Britain held strong influence over Iran’s political system, namely over the Shah of Iran and by manipulating the election of Parliamentary members that would benefit their policy.

When Mossadegh rose to political power as Prime Minister, he saw that a nation such as Iran could not truly evolve democratically when another country (Britain) exercised such influence over its own national resources and politics. He therefore nationalized Iranian oil and expelled British oil workers and embassy staff from the country. In response, Britain brought Iran’s economy to a standstill by preventing the country from exporting oil and took advantage of cold war communist fears to manipulate the American CIA into overthrowing Mossadegh, arguing falsely that Mossadegh had Communist sympathies and will leave Iran and its oil vulnerable to a Russian takeover. Following his overthrow, Mossadegh was placed in prison for 3 years and then in house arrest for the rest of his life; the Shah of Iran became more powerful and developed into a dictator up until his downfall in 1979 and Iranian oil ended up split into a consortium among U.S. and European powers.

The more I read about Mossadegh, the more I was both inspired by his life and struck by the tragedy of his political downfall in terms of what it meant for the prospects of democratic evolution in Iran. Mossadegh represented the last true hope for democratic nation building in Iran. In all my research on him, including negative propaganda against him, he was one of the very few political leaders of the last century that did not have a corrupt bone in his body. As Prime Minister, he allowed for political groups to speak out against him, he never censored these organizations or had them arrested or tortured. He lived and governed by his democratic ideals, arguably to a fault at the expense of the consolidation of his own power. It is for such reasons that he continues to be revered as a national hero today by many.

Personally, the more I read about Mossadegh, the more I felt connected to my own cultural heritage as an Iranian American. A common reason many Iranians of my generation are growing up outside of Iran is because their parents left the country during the tumult of the 1979 Revolution. Though one cannot say for sure, had Mossadegh been able to remain in power, it is possible that the course of Iranian history may have changed for the better and that many Iranians who have left the country in search of better opportunity may have instead stayed content with life in Iran. As a member of a growing Iranian diaspora, I therefore feel personally connected to the history and consequences of Mossadegh’s story.  

Ultimately it is the inspiration of his life and the tragic poetry of his downfall that motivated me to make a film about him. I was in film school at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and decided to make my thesis film about him. Because I never grew up in Iran, especially during those times, I spent 2-3 years just researching Mossadegh’s life in order to feel confident enough to cinematically express my vision of him. I read several books on him and on that era in Iran’s history from both American, European and Iranian scholars. I traveled to Iran in 2007 and met with some of his family members, met with local scholars and visited Mossadegh’s village home in Ahmad Abad where he lived the rest of his days in house arrest.

2. Was the American doctor an actual person, or was he fictional? (Excuse my ignorance if he was real)

The American doctor was a fictional character. The film is a historical fiction drama.
I did draw heavily from true situations, however. It is true that Mossadegh was in house arrest following the coup. He also did suffer from a variety of physical ailments throughout his life, some of which were perplexing and never had a fully accurate diagnosis. Dr. Gholam-Hossein Mossadegh—Mossadegh’s son and physician—sought many times to have a specialist examine Mossadegh during his time in house arrest, only to have each request rejected by the Shah of Iran. The Shah, however, did eventually give permission to the Mossadegh family to have a specialist examine him on the condition that the physician come from abroad. Mossadegh, however, rejected this because he only wanted to see an Iranian specialist from within Iran. At the time, his explanation was that he did not want any extra expense spent on his behalf to bring in a foreign doctor. One could speculate though that he may also have been suspicious of the Shah’s offer for only a foreign physician to treat him.

From those true circumstances, I took artistic license and came up with a fictional scenario in which Mossadegh has an encounter with an American physician. Given that Mossadegh was overthrown by American intelligence forces in 1953, I intended his interaction with the American doctor to explore issues of trust between the two men and to symbolize the distrust between the two nations.

Ultimately, the story I developed was meant to be an entertaining vehicle with which to introduce Mossadegh’s life, character and legacy both to viewers familiar with him and to viewers i.e. Westerners that have never heard of him. Accomplishing these objectives in a short student film with limited budget and resources was the biggest challenge. To condense the detail and complexity of Mossadegh’s life and overthrow into a 20 minute film is nearly impossible. After much thought, I settled on focusing on his time in house arrest. I felt that his imprisonment was very poetic and tragic to me because it represented the deferred dream of Iranian democracy. Also, by focusing on his time in house arrest, it became feasible to make a dramatized film with a limited budget. I didn’t have to travel exceedingly far or find too many locations. I was also able to limit the number of characters in the film.

3. Do you think Mossadegh is still relevant today? If so, why?

I think Mossadegh is certainly relevant today. On one level he is relevant because his overthrow is a prime example of how meddling in a foreign government can reap terrible consequences in a region even several decades later. The 1953 coup against Mossadegh was the first U.S. overthrow of a foreign government. U.S. presence in the Middle East was very much consolidated with Mossadegh’s overthrow. Following the coup, the U.S. really cemented themselves as a world player, having taken over that title from England at the end of World War II. But there are consequences because of that. For example, the U.S. support of a dictator in the Shah of Iran ultimately led to the 1979 Revolution and to a worse government coming to power; and this last decade we can further see the consequences of U.S. involvement in both Iran and the greater region. So on one level, Mossadegh’s overthrow represents a lesson into the consequences that can arise when you support a government at the expense of human rights.

On another more positive level, Mossadegh remains relevant because his life and ideals still live on in people. In Iranian political history, he is essentially a legend. A hero. A majority of the population in the Middle East now is below the age of 30. The region is very young. And with the movements that have happened the last few years in Iran, Egypt, Syria, Libya, etc., we see the strong desire of these young populations to have a say in the direction their country takes in the future. It is especially during these times that we should remember and be inspired by the virtues of the heroes of the past.

Philanthropic Cluelessness Mocked in Radi-Aid - Africans Helping Freezing Norwegians

A friend tipped me off to this one.

It would be better, if it had been made by Africans instead of by Norwegians, but it's always good to see something familiar from a totally different angle. It has an overwhelming number of likes, but I was surprised to see the negative comments on this. It's hard to imagine people being offended by this.  But on further reflection, I guess some people feel the heat of this satire.

The Radi-Aid website doesn't have a lot on it, but it does link to this NY Times article from yesterday which does a pretty good interpretation. Here's a part:
The video comes from the Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund, a development organization in Norway that deploys funding and technical assistance to young people in Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa as well as Bolivia and Nicaragua. Its comedy, of course, is that Norway consistently tops global rankings of human development (and that the African chorus in the video struggles with the cold). The tragedy is that even if the worst conventions of development assistance can be mocked, they still persist.
Plenty of ink has been spilled over the pitfalls and pratfalls of aid to Africa and other less developed regions of the world. The Nigerian-American author Teju Cole updated the phrase the “white man’s burden” to the “white savior industrial complex,” an accurate descriptor for philanthropic cluelessness and waste, like ineffectual condom-distribution drives in India or “buy-one-give-one” shoe-selling schemes. Aid campaigns implicitly promise guilt reduction and ego inflation for donors.
The Radi-Aid video a play on Live Aid, a seminal musical aid campaign pokes fun at the very process of international charity. It makes the shrewd viewer ask: Who will receive the donations? What if the radiators break? Is this a long-term strategy to fight frostbite? Is frostbite the core problem anyway?

"White savior industrial complex" and "philanthropic cluelessness."  Ouch.  That's not in the video, but I guess some people recognize when they are being made fun of.  Here's a bit more that might explain why some people were pissed off:
This is a smart way to question whether assistance to populations in Africa — in the form of pharmaceuticals or water wells or even underwear — is more about making donors look good than about doing good for the needy.
 People want to hold on tight to their first world superiority.  They don't like it questioned.  Just listen to some of the recent Republican campaign speeches.   

And remember, Venezuela was sending oil to rural Alaskan villages not so long ago, so this isn't that far fetched.