Iranian festival accepts Israeli movie, invites filmmaker to attend

David Shadi submitted his short comedy ‘GentleDog’ around the world; a new Iranian international festival said yes and sent him a visa form

Scene from David Shadi's short comedy film "GentleDog" (photo credit: David Dadi Shadi, Facebook)
Scene from David Shadi's short comedy film "GentleDog" (photo credit: David Dadi Shadi, Facebook)

Israelis are emphatically not officially welcome, but a short Israeli film may be screened at an upcoming festival in Iran, and the festival’s organizers have courteously sent a visa application to the filmmaker — even though the authorities in Tehran would never approve it.

Adding to the improbability of the warm response is that a declared priority for the festival is showcasing moves that highlight “Islamic resistance against the Zionist regime.”

Filmmaker and actor David Shadi recently submitted his 10-minute movie, a comedy entitled “GentleDog,” for screening at numerous film festivals around the world via an American website.

To his surprise, he received a positive response from the organizers of the first International New Horizon Independent Film Festival, to be held next month in Tehran. And it was not a mistake.

When he “got a note in the mail that said ‘Thank you for submitting your film to the New Horizon Film Festival — in Tehran, Iran,'” Shadi told Channel 2 news in an interview, “I said…’This can’t be.'”

But a second letter from the festival staff suggested that it could be. The organizers thanked him for his submission, said they had enjoyed the film, and asked him to send a copy for screening. And they included a visa application for him to attend in person.

In an apparent effort to let Shadi know that they were fully aware of who he is and where he lives, the letter closed with the message: “For sure peace and love will come to all humankind. Kind regards and Shalom,” followed by a smiley face.

The movie, which Shadi claims is based on a true story (with a twist in the plot), is about a man (played by Shadi) who meets a woman (Yael Duani) at a wedding. They drink a lot of alcohol and she invites him back to her place. When they arrive, she goes into the other room to slip into something more comfortable, and he sits down in the living room to wait. On the sofa, he finds himself face-to-face with her large dog, who surprises the hopeful drunk by talking, and warning him against trying anything with the woman, of whom the dog is apparently very protective.

Actress Duani described the Iranian festival’s positive response to the film as both bizarre and exciting — “like something from the movies,” she said. She ruled out attending a Tehran screening, however. “Let them see the movie there, and let us receive lots and lots of success, but I’ll stay here,” Duani said.

Shadi had some explaining to do to the Israeli authorities over his correspondence with the Iranian festival organizers. On his Facebook page, Shadi wrote that he had been informed by a “mysterious source” that his contact with an enemy state was illegal. Shadi wrote that he explained to this source that he had accidentally applied to the film festival via an American site, and the Iranians then contacted him, not the other way round.

While Shadi said he knew he would not be able to go to Tehran, he added on his Facebook page that he believes the festival organizers “love art and movies at least as much as we do. They have a very interesting and humane” movie industry in Iran, Shadi posted.

In February, the Iranian film “A Separation” beat out the Israeli movie “Footnote” for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, and the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi sat with the Israeli director, Joseph Cedar at a panel discussion. They did not speak to each other directly, but joined their colleagues in chuckling at each other’s jokes and politely applauding their respective remarks.

“It is exciting to know,” Shadi wrote on Facebook, “that a group of people in Iran sat down to watch my film and enjoyed it.”

The Tehran Times reported on Wednesday that the New Horizon festival had received submissions from 66 countries for its first year’s screenings, which will be held in Tehran from September 2 to 5.

Some 850 movies have been submitted, the deputy director of the festival, Mohammad Tayyeb, was quoted as saying.

He listed submissions from the U.S., Britain and Spain, and said filmmakers from Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, Bulgaria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, India, Greece, Denmark and Hong Kong had been invited to the event.

The Tehran Times story said films “highlighting the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Islamic Awakening, Islamic resistance against the Zionist regime and the Islamic Revolution of Iran are the festival’s first priority.”

There was, unsurprisingly, no mention of the Israeli submission, or the invitation to filmmaker Shadi.

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