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‘The Gravedigger’s Wife’ :: Somalia’s first-ever Oscar submission 2022
Charming and wistful without ever feeling maudlin, The Gravedigger's Wife is a beautiful love letter to the power of love and family. It is a striking first from a filmmaker and cast..
Slavoj Zizek’s modern adaptation of Antigone brings the ancient tragedy up to date, with politicians and decision-makers in all roles. Antigone is used to explain democracy, the women's movement and moral philosophy - by both opponents and supporters of totalitarian..
Timbuktu :: The Nightmarish Perversion of "Justice"
Timbuktu movingly attests to the human will to resist the terrors and injustices of absolutism. It encapsulates the essential truth of violent extremism: to destroy grace and beauty..
‘HYENAS’ :: Another newly restored Masterpiece!
The Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambéty's allegory about the destructive effect of global financial powers on society's morality has been newly restored...
When a City Rises :: Sydney Film Festival
One of the most complete accounts of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests to date. It’s also, at times, an unbearably tense picture which unfolds with urgency of a thriller..
‘In Between Dying’ :: Hilal Baydarov’s seventh film in the last three years
The enigmatic and strangely arresting tale of a man who can't escape death. In Between Dying is a rather curious cinematic experience, but it’s one that is striking and unique in its..
VENICE 2021 :: Ennio: The Maestro
Ennio is Giuseppe Tornatore’s well-rounded portrait of Ennio Morricone, the most popular and prolific film composer of the 20th century, the one most loved by the international public, a two-time Oscar winner and the author of..
Cinema Regained :: The new restoration of Chess of the Wind
A long-lost, legendary classic of Iranian New Wave cinema, The Chess Game of the Wind, was probably the most internationally celebrated revelation/restoration of 2020..
It's Showtime :: The 14th Annual Iranian Film Festival - San Francisco
Due to the current pandemic situation, the Iranian Film Festival will be VIRTUAL this year, presenting a record-breaking 60 films at its 14th annual event, September 18-19, 2021..
HAUGESUND 2021 :: Charlotte Sieling :: Director of Margrete – Queen of the North :: Interview
The Danish director discusses her film about the monarch that ruled Scandinavia. Ten years in the making and going six centuries back,..
VENICE 2021 :: Awards
Venice’s Golden Lion goes to Happening by Audrey Diwan. Other big European winners of the evening include Paolo Sorrentino, awarded the Jury’s Grand Prize for The Hand of God, and Penélope Cruz who..
Avicii: True Stories :: So wake me up when it's all over
An Icarus style portrait of a sensitive young man who was thrust too readily into the hedonistic world of the international music scene..
Movie Review :: The Macaluso Sisters
There's undeniable beauty and truth to The Macaluso Sisters that cannot be overlooked. Genuinely moving, captivating and, most importantly, grounded in pure, unadulterated humanism..
Samereh Rezaie :: Actress and director
Afghan actress- director Samereh Rezaie talks about how important it is for the international community to continue supporting women and human rights in Afghanistan..
VENICE 2021 :: Orizzonti :: Promises :: Isabelle Huppert
Promises opened the Orizzonti line-up of the 78th Venice Film Festival - follows the current French film trend of broaching topics associated with public governance where..
Margrethe II, Queen of Denmark, hired to design set on new Netflix film
Queen of Denmark is to design the sets for a forthcoming Netflix film adapted from a novel by Karen Blixen, it has been announced..
‘Stillwater’ :: A tale of hard-earned second chances
Stillwater isn't perfect, but its thoughtful approach to intelligent themes -- and strong performances from its leads -- give this timely drama a steadily building power..
Persian Lessons :: Movie Review
Director Vadim Perelman creates a skilfully unfussy period style, avoiding genre cliches to focus on characters who are finely brought to life by an excellent cast..
‘Born a Champion’ :: A love letter to jiu-jitsu
Real-life Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Sean Patrick Flanery (The Boondock Saints) stars as an aging fighter pulled into an underground Dubai tournament..
August 20-28
Karlovy Vary 2021

Michael Caine to receive Crystal Globe at 2021 Karlovy Vary film festival. He will join Johnny Depp and Ethan Hawke at this year’s film festival in Karlovy Vary..
VENICE 2021 Competition
'Parallel Mothers' to open the 78th Venice Film Festival
The Spanish director, Pedro Almodóvar, who claims "It was in Venice, in 1983, that I was reborn as a director" will present his film..
Cannes 2021 :: ‘Titane’ Wins Palme d’Or
Julia Ducournau becomes only the second female director to claim Cannes' top prize. The grand jury prize was awarded to A hero, of Iranian Asghar Farhadi, and for Hyutti No. 6..
‘Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee’
Filmmaker Nanette Burstein tries to unravel the strange behavior of John McAfee, who left his life as a software mogul to become a recluse in the jungles of Belize..
Berlinale 2021 :: Souad :: Movie Review
'Souad' is remarkable not just for its razor- sharp, nonjudgmental insight, but also for the nuanced performances making each character rounded yet ultimately unknowable..
Berlinale 2021
Summer Special highlights

Cinema is back in Berlin! The Berlinale Summer Special opened on June 9 with a red carpet gala. Here are a few snapshots of the event. During the Summer Special from June 9-20..
CANNES 2021 :: ‘Year of the Everlasting Storm’
A sweeping and melancholic first trailer has arrived for Neon’s Secret Cannes Project, “The Year of the Everlasting Storm.” With films by Jafar Panahi, Anthony Chen, Malik Vitthal, ..
A New Book Reveals
Why Frank Sinatra believed Marilyn Monroe was murdered

"I tried to paint the portrait of a man very few people got to know as well as I did, I think he knew someday I'd share the stories he..
BERLINALE 2021 :: Awards :: 13 June :: 2 More Winners
The Berlinale adds two more winners to its list with Alice Diop’s We and Dasha Nekrasova’s The Scary of Sixty-First. The films scored the Awards for the Best Berlinale Documentary..
Netflix Declined Cannes Invite

Netflix Declined Invites to Premiere the Palme d'Or winner Jane Campion’s ‘The Power of the Dog’ and Andrew Dominik’s ‘Blonde’. Cannes general delegate Thierry Frémaux revealed..
CANNES 2021 :: 6 - 17 July
The Cannes behemoth is back

16 filmmakers who have already taken part in the competition are battling it out with eight new entrants; 14 Europeans will be vying for Cannes’ coveted top prize..
14th Annual Iranian Film Festival :: San Francisco
Call For Film Submissions Open For the 14th Annual Iranian Film Festival – San Francisco, the first independent Iranian film festival outside of Iran. To submit your film, please..
‘The Long Excuse’ :: Review
Writer-director Miwa Nishikawa’s somber reflection on the strains of marriage and parenthood is punctuated with beautiful existential undertones. Centered on liars and swindlers — self-deception is the theme of..
Putin: A Russian Spy Story :: TV Series (2020)
An exploration of how Vladimir Putin deployed his knowledge of spy-craft as a politician, and how modern Russia evolved through an acute sense of betrayal, pride and anger..
‘Driveways’ :: Review
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

The modest story of a mother, her son and an elderly neighbor feels like a salve right now—and gives Brian Dennehy a deserving swan song. Understated yet powerful..
Spreading Propaganda Through Films and TV
Intelligence agencies in Iran are increasingly using state-funded entertainment productions to spread state propaganda and improve their image among the public..
'Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade' :: Clever and Chilling Anime
In an authoritarian Japan, Fuse, part of an anti-terrorist police brigade, faces an internal enquiry. On a recent operation he hesitated to kill a female terrorist because of her youth..
Golden Globe Winners 2021 ::
'Nomadland' director Chloé Zhao won Best Director, making history as the first woman of Asian descent to take home that award, while the film itself won Best Motion – Picture Drama; Soul, Borat, The Queen's Gambit..
'How Fernando Pessoa Saved Portugal' :: Eugène Green
For years Portugal was the only country in Europe where there was no Coca-Cola. The director discusses his new "mini-film," devoted to the great Portuguese poet, advertising..
Copenhagen 2021 :: Vinterberg's 'Druk' snatches Five Robert Statuettes
In the category, Vinterberg was, among other things, up against himself, as he was also nominated for his role in the film “Riders..
Zindagi Tamasha :: Circus of Life :: 2020
‘It went from love to wanting to kill me.’ Sarmad Khoosat was the darling of Pakistan’s entertainment industry until his new film fell foul of fundamentalists – who called for him..
'No Choice' :: Tokyo 2020
It’s a slippery path up the mountain of human rights. Three good women clash when a determined lawyer takes on the case of a homeless girl against an idealistic doctor in Reza Dormishian’s legal thriller..
'Wife of a Spy' :: An intriguing marital battle
Winner of the best director award at the Venice Film Festival. An absorbing, exotic, well-paced thriller with moments of disconcerting realism and horror. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s..
"Actress's Ears" Put Film Screening in Jeopardy
Panthea Bahram, a famous Iranian actress, whose presence last year with shaved head at the press conference to a movie made news; reacted to the removal of "Killer and..
'Hope Gap' :: A Bracingly Original Drama
There's an unusual calmness to this drama that feels bracingly original. William Nicholson's Hope Gap benefits from a starry cast in the stagey story. Nighy and Bening are as good..
'Killer and Wild' removed from the Fajr Film Festival
A movie with Iranian actress Leila Hatami in the leading role was excluded from a major Film Festival event in Iran due to her 'shaved head and exposed ears' ..
Maria is a Greek policewoman, struggling with her money problems, teenage daughter, old mother.. Yussof is a Syrian rebel, on his way out of a war-ridden Syria. Both have killed unwantedly, both feel guilty, but together..
51st Edition Of IFFI 2021
The 51st edition of India’s International Film Festival (IFFI) kick started on 16th January at Goa, which opened with the Indian premier of the movie ‘Another Round’ by Thomas Vinterberg..
'Alone' :: Movie Review
"Alone" is admirably straightforward, exploring tried- and-true archetypes with suspenseful execution. Director John Hyams demonstrates a minimalistic knack for showing and not telling,..
'The Female Voice of Iran' :: Feature documentary 2020
Independent documentary about female singers inside Iran and their deep wish: "I want my voice to be heard." Captivating...beautiful music and stunning..
'The Father' :: Movie Review
Sundance: Florian Zeller's film makes an inexplicably cruel element of the human condition recognizable in a way that only good art can. Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman Inside the Brutal Matrix of Dementia..
‘Money Heist’ :: As smart as it is relentless
Like a criminal who has trapped themselves within a situation in which there’s no simple escape, Money Heist is a riveting, inescapable show with a narrative jackpot at the end of it..
'Vivos' :: Ai Weiwei's Mournful Ode to the Disappeared
Vivos is a documentary feature film by artist and filmmaker Ai Weiwei, portraying the human impact of Mexico’s ongoing crisis of enforced disappearances..
Family Romance, LLC (2020)
Love is a business at Family Romance, a company that rents human stand-ins for any occasion. Founder Yuichi Ishii helps make his clients’ dreams come true. But when the mother of 12-year-old Mahiro hires Ishii to..
'Let Him Go' (2020)
Kevin Costner excels in a gripping neo-western thriller. Let Him Go is a moving and gripping Western with particularly strong performances from Diane Lane as a grieving yet resolute mother and from Lesley Manville as her..
In Memoriam of Korean filmmaker Kim Ki-duk
In the small pool of filmmakers known for being provocative, Kim Ki-duk was the oddest of ducks. South Korean filmmaker Kim Ki-duk has died in Latvia aged 59 after contracting..
'The Life Ahead' (2020)
Loren has made it again! She's an absolute Goddess. The characters are colorful and empathetic, and even if the plot is simple, the cast keeps it up. Specially, Sophia Loren.. Sempre adorabile!
'What We Did on Our Holiday'
An exceedingly funny comedy that definitely borders on Black Comedy but still tinkers in the realm of being light hearted. It has a very kind of Outnumbered feel to it in which the kids play their innocence, yet brilliantly..
'Radiograph of a Family'
Iranian director Firouzeh Khosrovani triumphed at IDFA 2020 with her fourth film Radiograph of a Family, winning the main award in the IDFA Competition for Feature Length Documentary and the IDFA Competition for Creative Use of..
'Falling' :: Viggo Mortensen's Directorial Debut
A beautifully controlled drama about age, memory and forgiveness. Often abrasive, occasionally sweet, and sometimes grasping for transcendence, "Falling" doesn't feel like..
'Careless Crime' (2020) :: Movie Review
Iranian director Shahram Mokri, known for his single-shot films and his decided penchant for time-loops, achieves formalistic excellence in his latest effort..
Secrets of the Surface (2020)
Filmed in Canada, Iran, and the United States, 'Secrets of the Surface' examines the life and mathematical work of Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian immigrant to the United States who became a superstar in her field..
'Another Round' :: Review
Thomas Vinterberg reteams with "The Hunt" star for a darkly comic referendum on booze. Four friends, all high school teachers, test a theory that they will improve their lives by maintaining a constant level of alcohol in..
'There Is No Evil' :: Premiered at the 2020 Berlin Film Fest
Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof's 'There Is No Evil' has triumphed at the 70th Berlinale, picking up the Golden Bear. The director himself was not present..
'Tesla' :: Sundance Review
A fascinating, if unconventional, look at the singular life of Nikola Tesla as played by Ethan Hawke. Appropriately bold and ambitious, Tesla takes a number of risks that don't always pay off -- but Ethan Hawke's performance..
Documenting the Struggle for Women's Rights in Iran
One of the women featured in this short documentary, Nasrin Sotoudeh is now serving a decades-long sentence in Evin Prison in Iran. Released alongside Jeff Kaufman's..
'Bacurau' :: A John Carpenter-Inspired Revenge Fantasy
A settlement in rural Brazil, a doctor (played by a gaunt and fierce Sônia Braga), a school, a (disused) church, even a brothel, but no sheriff. Something strange is happening..
TALE OF THE SEA :: Film Review
One of Iran's major filmmakers is at the top of his game with this Ingmar Bergman-esque meditation on old age. One man's madness as a metaphor for the surreal lives of a whole nation..
'Ordinary Love' :: There is nothing Ordinary about Love
"Ordinary Love" is not a movie solely about cancer. It is a raw, on-screen adaptation of what hundreds of couples experience when their limits are tested - physically, mentally..
13th Annual Iranian Film Festival :: San Francisco
Call For Entries Open for the 13th Annual Iranian Film Festival – San Francisco, the first independent Iranian film festival outside of Iran..
'1982' :: Premiered at TIFF :: 2019
During the 1982 invasion of Lebanon at a private school on the outskirts of Beirut, 11-year-old Wissam tries to tell a classmate about his crush on her..
How Pakistan banned a new drama and put it up for an Oscar Interview
How Pakistan banned a new drama   
– and put it up for an Oscar

Fatima Bhutto, The Guardian, Film
Mon 25 Jan 2021

‘It went from love to wanting to kill me.’

Sarmad Khoosat was the darling of Pakistan’s entertainment industry until his new film, the haunting and elegiac Zindagi Tamasha ('Circus of Life'), fell foul of fundamentalists – who called for him to be beheaded.

Sarmad Khoosat was having an early morning cigarette in BusanSouth Korea, when he got the text. The Pakistani director and actor was in town for the world premiere of his second film, Zindagi Tamasha ( Circus of Life). 

The country’s strict smoking laws meant he needed to find a discreet corner to light up. Then came a WhatsApp message from the Central Board of Film Censors back home.

Unlike most countries, Pakistan has not one but three film censor boards, all independent bodies who certify films according to their regional jurisdiction. Although the country’s film industry dates back to the 50s, Pakistan is best known locally and internationally for its television productions. 

Television dramas and serials are celebrated for their sophisticated scripts and nuanced depictions of family and societal strife. Efforts to jumpstart the film industry have been taken up in earnest by private television channels, independent producers and even the Pakistani army, which funds its own action-packed, jingoistic films.

Whatever Pakistan’s soft-power intentions might be, censor board restrictions have done the burgeoning film business no favours. At the height of #MeToothe Central Board of Film Censors banned Vernaa film about a rape survivor, calling it objectionable. The ban was eventually lifted, but only after public outcry.

Arif Hassan  as Rahat in Zindagi Tamasha. Photograph: Khoosat Films

Still, Khoosat  wasn’t concerned. His film had already been cleared by all three censors, even pulling off a U- rating from Punjab’s board. He was just waiting for a release date. Instead, he was told: there has been a complaint against your film.

It was based on a viewing of the trailer by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), an extreme-right party of fundamentalists. They wanted the film banned, calling it “blasphemous” – a potentially fatal charge eventually downgraded to “disrespectful of religious scholars” (of which there are none in the film) – and promoting anarchy, chaos and sectarian conflict. “There’s trouble coming your way, big trouble,” the inspector told Khoosat.

Sarmad Khoosat‘It went from love to wanting to kill me.’ Photograph: Fatimah Sattar

By the time  Khoosat returned home, having won a major prize at Busan, a raging fire had been lit by the TLP. Khoosat spent the next year being harassed and threatened, the victim of a furious and seemingly tireless attack campaign. Although the film was screened for a committee of Pakistani senators, who recommended it be released, it has yet to secure the paperwork required for cinematic release in Pakistan. 

“Pre-Zindagi Tamasha, I was quite a loved screen person for most of the country,” Khoosat says over a video call. “It went from love to wanting to kill me.”

Khoosat, the son of an actor and comedian, the brother of a producer and playwright, was once the darling of the Pakistani entertainment industry. He directed Humsafar  (Companion), Pakistan’s most popular TV drama in decades, lately brought to a global audience by Netflix

In 2016, Khoosat was awarded a Pride of Performance medal by the president for his contribution to Pakistan’s film and television industry. He made international headlines as an actor – playing a death row prisoner – in No Time to Sleep, a 24-hour performance streamed online on World Day Against the Death Penalty in 2018. And Zindagi Tamasha is now – amazingly – Pakistan’s submission to the Oscars.

It has a good chance of being shortlisted. It is an elegiac, haunting film about shame, social media and masculinity. It follows Rahat, a burly Punjabi man who enjoys local prominence as a singer of naats, religious paeans, until one day someone films an innocuous moment on their phone: Rahat dancing to a beloved Punjabi song, Zindagi Tamasha

Rahat is never vulgar, never lewd. For the brief moment that he sways clumsily to the song, he is not an old man caring for a bitter, unwell wife, but a young boy transfixed by the nostalgic pleasure of music and film. Yet the leaked video breaks his small world apart. Some people stop him for selfies, others spit at him and deny him the right to celebrate Eid Milad un Nabi, the birthday of the Prophet, no longer allowing him to sing the praise poems he has sung since boyhood.

Khoosat, who came to the idea of the film when he accidentally stumbled on a real-life video of a bearded Punjabi man who looked like a cleric dancing to Punjabi film songs on YouTube and then apologising for it, understood that this would be a film that asked difficult questions.

“I put my 18 years of experience into it,” he says. “I didn’t want to do anything sensational – all the dramatics were kept at bay.” He funded the film himself and kept the script secret, not allowing hard copies on set during certain scenes, mindful of the tense politics of Pakistan. Delicate is the word he uses again and again when we speak. Let’s be delicate, describing his process; it is a delicate film. It was filmed on location in Lahore, during the real-life celebrations of Eid Milad un Nabi in 2018, the camera rising above tight, dusty gullies as processions of people and traffic move under ghostly canopies of fairy lights and tinsel, conveying at once the crush of people and the loneliness of DVD sellers, transgender women and elderly men living secret lives in plain sight. 

The song from which the film takes its Urdu title plays every time someone watches Rahat’s viral video, creating a double effect: at once bringing to mind Rahat’s blissful happiness and, simultaneously, a dark foreboding of what it will cost him.

Hassan and Samiya Mumtaz in Zindagi Tamasha. Photograph: Khoosat Films

Zindagi Tamasha is arguably the most sophisticated film to come out of the subcontinent in recent years, filled with intimate details of poor, urban subcontinental life: the man sleeping on a hospital floor, covered by a thin blanket from home; the blank smiles of daytime TV hosts talking to quacks about whether or not bananas are good for digestion; the spicy, barbecued chicken wrapped in soggy newspaper and carried home in plastic bags.

Khoosat faced a prolonged campaign of death threats – his phone number was leaked and he was sent endless photos of decapitated heads. He was forced to write open letters to the government, even at one point contemplating releasing an apology video similar to the one his film’s protagonist is coerced into making. TLP’s head, Khadim Rizvi, vowed the film would be released over his dead body (he died in November and received condolences over Twitter from Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, a political ally). 

At one point there was even talk of having a cohort of mullahs review the film, an idea Khoosat had no problem with. “I was ready to do it,” he says, adding that it did not happen. “If I alienate my primary audience in Pakistan, that’s a big fail. This film was made with a very local heart for the local people.”

We speak during a break from shooting.  Khoosat’s next feature film is in post-production and he is on set with a new project till late in the evenings. Due to Covid, the normally severe rules for Oscars submission were relaxed and films that were released online qualified. 

Zindagi Tamasha had a week-long geo-blocked-for-Pakistan release on Vimeo – but even that was frightening, given the vitriolic atmosphere. The film still lacks the paperwork required for release in its home country, despite being cleared by a yet bigger board of censors, and a committee of senators.

Overwhelmed with anxiety, Khoosat has since got tinnitus and gone deaf in his left ear. Still, he remains upbeat. Chin in hand, he smiles in the dark light of a computer camera. “I’m still finding my little margins in which to work.”


Rahat is a respected role Muslim singing hymns to the Prophet, taking care of his bedridden wife. However, his guilty pleasure enjoying old Punjabi movies is about to be revealed.

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