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Female Arab and Iranian directors step into the spotlight at the Ackland Film Forum

Front Of Ackland.jpg

Front of the Ackland Art Museum depicting the "She Who Tells a Story" exhibit. The exhibit is in conjunction with the Ackland Film Forum at the Varsity Theater. 

“She Who Tells A Story,” the newest exhibition at the Ackland Art Museum, ties film, literature and art together to illustrate the experiences of Arab and Iranian women. 

The Ackland Film Forum will showcase four films that have been chosen to represent the exhibition — “The Blessed,” “Mussolini’s Sister,” “Women Without Men” and “3000 Nights.” All of these films were created by female Arab and Iranian filmmakers. 

Lindsey Hale, public programs coordinator at the Ackland, said the forum helps to connect the art in the museum and the films through culture in a broader sense.

“Some of the themes that may be expressed in the exhibition, like ‘She Who Tells a Story,’ are also reflected on the big screen, and there are female photographers and female filmmakers all around the world telling their stories and their perspectives,” Hale said. 

The exhibition has been traveling across the country.

Allison Portnow Lathrop, head of public programs at the Ackland, said that the exhibition came to Chapel Hill from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The Ackland is one of the final stops for the exhibition. 

“It’s had a life before it got to us, which is nice,” Portnow Lathrop said. “We’ve been able to see how folks reacted to it, and for the museum part, for me personally doing public programs for it, it’s a great show to bring the UNC community together with photography. I think a lot of people connect with that well in the area.” 

Portnow Lathrop said that having female artists be the focus of both the film forum and the exhibition is an amazing opportunity. She said the exhibit and forum are unique because they both include artists who are currently working and artists from the Middle East, which brings a different perspective. 

“It’s nice to have perspectives that are not like my own so that I can see other people’s lives and see how they’re living in the world,” Portnow Lathrop said. “Also to see how my own worldview resonates with theirs so much, which is great, obviously.”

The films were chosen to echo the art on view in the Ackland. Portnow Lathrop said she wanted to be able to show both still images in the exhibition and moving images with the film forum. She wanted to connect photography with film, but also show that some of the same artistic voices are doing things in film that resonate with what they are doing in photography.  

Portnow Lathrop said she hopes audiences will gain a window into these female directors’ work through the film series. 

“A lot of the films that we’ve chosen are more difficult to see,” Portnow Lathrop said. “They’re not the ones you can queue up on Netflix or get even at the MRC, which is an amazing film collection in the Media Resources Center. These are recent films. That makes them more difficult to see on your own, but it’s always great to see them in this setting.” 

“She Who Tells a Story” will stay at the Ackland until Dec. 1. The film forum continues to run until Nov. 19.

Ehsan Sheikholharam Mashhadi, a UNC Ph.D. student, said that the director of the film "Women Without Men," Shirin Neshat, focused her film work on themes of patriarchy, women's representations in the Muslim world, the veil and Islamic fundamentalism. T

The concept of magic realism is as heavily explored in "Women Without Men" as it was in the book the film was adapted from. The movie takes advantage of the novella's magic realism genre — where the line between reality and fantasy is blurred — by interplaying real and dream-like elements. 

Jenny Marvel, head of school and community programs at the Ackland, said she thinks the films in the forum allow observers to learn and experience art in different ways. 

“I will say that the exhibition has been very popular towards a lot of our community who see the Ackland as a place to come to experience art in some new and different ways,” she said. “The film forum is just another way of experiencing the art and the art form in new ways that they probably see otherwise.”


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