California Fool's Gold -- A Westside Primer

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 18, 2011 09:46pm | Post a Comment

A view of the Westside from my dirigible

Around the world, the mere mention of the word "Westside" prompts people to throw up a "W" hand sign, in imitation of many west coast and west coast-affiliated (Tupac was, after all, a native of East Harlem) pop-rappers of the 1990s (to his credit, Snoop Dogg has always repped his Eastside, as does Compton Eastsider The Game). Within LA, the Westside refers to a wealthy, largely white region of the county (or alternately to South LA's Westside to much of LA's black population). It is bordered by the Santa Monica Mountains region to the northwest, the Pacific Ocean to the West, the South Bay to the south, the aforementioned South LA westside to the southeast, and Midtown and Hollywood to the east.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's Official Map of the Westside

Though the Westside is one of LA's whitest regions, it's still only 63% white with a high degree of ethnic (for those who can accept the radical notion that white people have ethnicities too) variety and origins including large numbers of Canadian, English, German, Iranian, Irish, Israelis, Polish, Russian, South African and Spanish-descended Americans. The remainder of the populate is 16% Latino, 12% Asian and 5% black. It's also known for its wealth - Bel-Air, Beverly Hills and Holmby Hills (in Hollywood's Hollywood Hills) make up the ostentatiously-named Platinum Triangle.

It's often said around the city that "Westsiders are different." They're often recognizable in their "Ugh" boots, conspicuous consumption, creepy fake tans and propensity for erroneously referring to Mideast side neighborhoods like Echo Park and Silver Lake as "The Eastside" whilst "slumming it" at a dive bar full of other Westsiders in the Mideast Side (but rarely if ever venturing east of the LA River to the actual Eastside). For these reasons, Westsiders are commonly stereotyped as shallow, clueless, celebrity-obsessed, label-whoring, FOBy, tasteless, uneducated, culture-less, blue-blooded toffs.. As with most stereotypes, especially Angeleno ones, the reality is much more interesting.

The Westside is home to two unique ethnic enclaves, Little Osaka and Tehrangeles. It's the primary destination for those in search of delicious Brazilian, British, Indonesian, Jewish and Persian cuisine. It's home to several great revival theaters including The Aero, The Nuart and The Silent Movie Theater as well as many of LA's best museums. So I say to both ironic Westside-claiming wankstas and Eastside snobs alike, free your ass and your mind will follow.

And now for the neighborhoods:


The modest Bel Air home of the Beverly Hillbillies

The Fresh Prince's exhortation, "Yo holmes, to Bel Air!" on TV's The Fresh Prince of Bel Air introduced many NBC viewers to another posh westside community synonymous with affluence on par with Beverly Hills and Brentwood although its median household income is much higher than both of them. In fact, the Beverly Hillbillies' mansion is located in Bel Air. Part of its obscene opulence is preserved by a ban on multifamily housing. It includes the smaller neighborhoods of East Gate Old Bel Air, West Gate Bel Air and Upper Bel Air. It's also home to The UCLA Hannah Carter Japanese Garden. The population is 83% white (mostly Persian, Russian and South African), 9% Asian and 5% Latino.


The Beverly Crest neighborhood sign

Beverly Crest is located in the southern face of the Santa Monica Mountains between Beverly Hills and Sherman Oaks. It's home of the large Franklin Canyon Park and the Stone Canyon Reservoir. The mostly residential neighborhood's population is 88% white (mostly Russian, Persian and British) and 4% Asian.


Canters Restaurant

Beverly Grove is a newly designated Los Angeles neighborhood that's often lumped in with the Fairfax District that it borders (and is still commonly felt to be part of by longtime residents who in most cases don't seem to be fans of Rick Caruso). Indeed, as the home of the Silent Movie Theater and Canter's Deli, it's an intrinsic part of the so-called Kosher Canyon, Fairfax Boulevard. It's also home to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and realtors often refer to it as "Beverly Hills Adjacent." 


Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills

Beverly Hills has long been, in the popular conscience, synonymous with wealth, a view perpetuated by its many appearances in film and TV including Beverly Hillbillies, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Slums of Beverly Hills, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Beverly Hills Ninja, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Beverly Hills Cop and Beverly Hills 90201 (to name a few). So symbolic is its name that other neighborhoods often employ it nicknames to reflect their own wealth, including the "Black Beverly Hills" (Baldwin Hills), the "Chicano Beverly Hills" (Hacienda Heights), the "Chinese Beverly Hills" (Monterey Park) as well as the Beverly Hills of Arizona, Las Vegas, England, Dubai, Mexico, The South, Chiwawa, Sydney, Singapore, Cewu and on and on. The population is 82% white (mostly Persian and Russian), 8% Asian (mostly Korean) and 5% Latino.


A scene in Beverlywood

Largely residential Beverlywood is one of the main centers of Jewish residential life in Los Angeles. The population 80% white (Russian, Polish, Persian, Israeli), 7% Asian, 6% Latino and 4% black. It's population is the wealthier than the better known symbol of wealth, Beverly Hills, (and Beverly Grove), but not as wealthy as Beverly Crest - the wealthiest of the Beverlies.



Now famous for its mostly wealthy residents, Brentwood was originally known for its avocado and soybean fields. It gained a higher profile and unwanted notoriety in 1994 when Nicole Brown Simpson, ex-wife of American Footballer/occasional actor OJ Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death outside her condo in a crime that was never solved. The population is 84% white (Russian, German, Persian and British), 7% Asian and 5% Latino.


Century City at night

Century City was formerly a western backlot for 20th Century Fox. After a series of box office bombs, most notably Cleopatra, the studio sold 0.73 km2 of their property to developer William Zeckendorf and the Aluminum Co. of America, (Alcoa). The new Century City, its name a nod to it's former owners, was reimagined as a "city within a city." The first building, Century City Gateway West, was erected in 1963 followed by Minoru Yamasaki's Century Plaza Hotel -- two of the first skyscrapers erected in the area after the lifting of earthquake-related height restrictions. Today it's mainly a business center with numerous law firms and entertainment industry offices. The small population of around 6,000 residents is 83% white (mostly Russian, Persian and Canadian), 9% Asian and 4% Latino.


The Ropers in front of their Cheviot Hills residence (maybe)

Tiny Cheviot Hills is dominated by residences and Cheviot Hills Park -- the latter which includes the Cheviot Hills Recreation Center and the Cheviot Hills Tennis Courts. The population is 79% white (Russian and German), 9% Asian (mostly Japanese) and 8% Latino (mostly Mexican). It served as the location for the short-lived Three's Company spin-off The Ropers.


Crestview is a neighborhood bounded by is bounded by La Cienega, Robertson, Sawyer and Pickford. Though mostly residential, it's also home to the Foods of Nature, La Cienega Grill CafeSt. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church, Seedling Organic CateringSikh Dharma, and the shopping center, La Cienega Plaza.


Downtown Culver City

Since the 1920s, Culver City has been a significant center for motion picture and later television production -- it was formerly home of MGM Studios.  National Public RadioWest and Sony Pictures now have headquarters in the city. The population is 48% white (German), 24% Latino (Mexican), 12% Asian (mostly Filipino) and 11% black. To read more about Culver City, click here.


Pretty self explanatory

Del Rey, situated on the banks of Ballona Creek, takes its name from the nearby Del Rey salt marshes. Del Rey is a largely residential area of 1950s single-story California bungalows. Del Rey has a notable but small Japanese-American population that moved to the area after the end of WWII internment as well as from Hawaii during the 1950s. Today it's 44% Latino (mostly Mexican), 34% white (mostly German), 14% Asian (mostly Filipino) and 4% black.

The neighborhood centered around Cadillac Avenue and Corning Street (roughly bounded by Culver City to the south, S La Cienega Boulevard to the east, Sawyer Street to the north, and S Robertson to the west), is known as La Cienega Heights. It's home to The Acrylic Museum, Bagel Factory, and Reynier Park.


A view of Ladera Heights - NB: gas prices may not be current

When Frank Robinson and other notable black sports heroes began moving to Ladera Heights in the 1970s, many other affluent blacks integrated into the neighborhood, which is adjacent to one of the wealthier parts of South LA, Baldwin Hills. In the early 1980s, the neighborhood became a mecca for wealthy black families, a rarity for the Westside. Today, even with LA's black population declining dramatically, the neighborhood is still 71% black (mostly West African and Trinidadian) and 19% white (mostly English, German and Canadian).


An uncommonly calm street scene in Little Osaka

Little Osaka (小大阪) is a small district centered along Sawtelle Boulevard between Nebraska and Tennesee in the Sawtelle neighborhood of Los Angeles. In the 1920s and 30s, what's now Little Osaka was dominated by Japanese-owned nurseries. By 1941, there were 26 nurseries in the area. When Japanese-Americans were unjustly interred during World War II, the neighborhood went into decline. Today it retains a diminished but strong Japanese character (including several nurseries) and is a J-Town favored by trendy Japanese, foodies, otaku, hentai and nipponophiles. To read more, click here.


The view from atop Mar Vista Hill

Mar Vista is a westside neighborhood that includes the smaller neighborhoods of Westdale, Mar Vista Hill, the Gregory Ain Mar Vista Tract, McLaughlin and Culver West. The residents of Mar Vista are approximately 51% White (mostly Germanic), 29% Latino (mostly Mexican with a large number of Oaxaqueños in particular) and 13% Asian (mostly Korean). To read more about Mar Vista, click here.


Fisherman's Village in Marina del Rey

Marina del Rey is dominated by the Fisherman's Village boat harbor, which has nineteen marinas and room for 5,300 boats. The area was originally a salt marsh formed by Ballona Creek's flow into Santa Monica Bay. The population is 78% white (mostly English, German and Persian), 8% Asian (mostly Japanese), 5% Latino and 5% black.


The Eames House 

Pacific Palisades stands out even in the mostly-white Westside with a population that's 89% white (mostly English, German, Persian and Canadian) and 6% Asian, making it the least racially, if not ethnically, communities in the Westside. It's population is generally quite wealthy and residential. Some of the most noteworthy homes include the Eames House and the Getty Villa. It was repped by Tom Hanks's rapping son, Chet Haze, in his song "West Side LA" (from whence the title of this blog entry is derived).


A view of my favorite Palms parking lot 

Palms was founded as its own community in 1886 and annexed by LA in 1915. Palms is fairly atypical for the Westside with a population that's both working class and very ethnically diverse -- 38% white (mostly Irish), 23% Latino (mostly Mexican), 20% Asian (mostly Korean) and 12% black. It's even home to multiple Brazilian and Indonesian restaurants. It's also home of the great Museum of Jurassic Technology


A view of Playa Vista from the Ballona Wetlands

Between Playa Vista and the Santa Monica Bay lie the Ballona Wetlands. The neighborhood lies at the foot of the Westchester Bluffs that was once a sacred Tongva burial ground. Long after the Tongva themselves were removed, their ancestors' remains were uncovered during development and relocated as well. Today the population is 35% Latino (mostly Mexican and Guatemalan), 32% white, 21% Asian (mostly Japanese) and 5% black.


The intersection of Pico and Robertson... in Pico-Robertson

Pico-Robertson is today the heart of LA's Jewish community. The population is 74% white (mostly Persian, Russian and Israeli), 7% Latino, 6% Asian 6% black. It is home to more than 30 kosher restaurants including not just Jewish food, but kosher Chinese, Italian, Mexican and more. It's also home to the largest women's mikvah in LA as well as four men's mikvahs and several Jewish schools. It's sometimes referred to as "South Robertson" which has given rise to the Scooby-Doo-sounding "SoRo Rillage," I mean, "SoRo Village."


Rancho Park

Tiny Rancho Park was named by Bill Heyler, a real estate broker who established his office in the area in 1927. The population is 58% white (mostly German and Persian), 18% Asian, 16% Latino (mostly Mexican), 4% black. Its northwest corner, the intersection of Pico and Sepulveda, was the subject of a song, "Pico and Sepulveda," made popular in 1947 by Freddy Martin and his orchestra using the pseudonym, "Felix Figueroa."


The Santa Monica Pier with downtown Santa Monica in the background

Sunny, coastal Santa Monica is the world's number one destination for British expats, who flock to the un-England like city by the thousands and turn into rosy red lobsters. The population is 71% white (mostly English and Persian), 14% Latino (mostly Mexican), 7% Asian and 4% black. Known as a haven for rich lefties, it's nicknamed the People's Republic of Santa Monica. It was also the first city in California with a Green mayor… and it was the setting for TV's Three's Company.


A typical Sawtelle home with Japanese-inspired landscaping

Sawtelle was formerly recognized for its large Japanese-American population. After the forced internment of all Japanese, it lost most of that character although landscaping and sites here and there still reflect its Japanese past -- nowhere more so than in the tiny Japanese shopping district of Little Osaka which is also home to several nurseries and eateries. However, today Sawtelle's population is 50% white (mostly Persian), 23% Latino (mostly Mexican) and 20% Asian.


A row of Tehrangeles stores with signs in Farsi

Tehrangeles is a small neighborhood along Westwood Boulevard that straddles Westwood and West LA. It's portmanteau name is a reflection of the many Persian-owned and targeted businesses along the commercial corridor as well as the large Persian residential population in the surrounding area.


Downtown Venice

Venice is a coastal neighborhood (and former municipality) famous for its canals, Muscle Beach, Venice Beach and Ocean Front Walk  -- "the Boardwalk." Originally designed to attract tourists, it later became famous for its Bohemian music and arts scene. To read more, click here.


West Hollywood's Sunset Strip at night

I know some people will take issue with my inclusion of WeHo with the Westside. Well the Beverly Hills adjacent city has to fit in somewhere and it feels a lot more Westside to me than the Hollywood region (which, unlike West Hollywood, is all part of Los Angeles). With a population that's 81% white (mostly Russian, German and Ukrainian), 9% Latino, 4% Asian and 3% Black it also looks like the rest of the Westside. It's also where the Sunset Strip begins, home to many famous venues including The House of Blues, The Key Club, The Viper Room, The Roxy, The Whiskey A Go Go… and The Troubadour just a few blocks south on Santa Monica Blvd.


A typical day in West LA

West LA, despite sounding like a large district of Los Angeles, is actually an officially recognized designation for a Westside neighborhood. The population is 77% white (mostly Persian, Russian and English), 11% Asian, 5% Latino. The large Jewish population is reflected in the restaurants. It's also home to Lazer Blazer, which rivals even mighty Amoeba with its selection of Blu-Rays, DVDs and yes, Laser Discs.


One of Westside Village's tree-lined streets

Westside Village is a small neighborhood that's sometimes claimed by Mar Vista and sometimes by Palms. It's home to one of the first housing tracts, developed in the 1930s and '40s by Fritz B. Burns.


Westwood with the so-called Millionaire's Mile in the background

Westwood is a neighborhood best known for being the home of UCLA. As such, it's also one of LA County's primary cultural centers with sites like Royce Hall, the Armand Hammer Museum, The Fowler Museum and numerous significant theaters. It also includes most of the small Tehrangeles neighborhood within it's borders. The population is 63% white (mostly Persian and Russian), 23% Asian (mostly Taiwanese), 7% Latino and 2% black.

And so Westside riders, to vote for any Westside communities... or any other Los Angeles County communities to be covered on the blog, vote here. To vote for Westside (or and other Los Angeles neighborhoods), click here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here. Westsiiiiiiiide!


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Iran in the Local News

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 10, 2008 08:26pm | Post a Comment

I caught a “local news” story the other day on one of the local stations. Under the headline “Desert Wonderland?” they ran footage of snow in Iran and (with those slightly robotic chuckles that all newscasters are able to activate thanks to their Hillary Clinton Brand emotion chips) they talked about what was made out to seem a freak occurrence, or at least a newsworthy event. I mean, weather in Tehran isn't exactly local.

I admit, before I ever watched an Iranian film or visited Tehrangeles, I had only the vaguest notions of what the country and its people looked like. I kind of reckoned that the middle east was one big sandy desert sparsely populated with turbaned Arabs and veiled harem girls. I am, after all, a product of Hollywood stereotypes and American public schools where we prefer to teach about 1000 years of Dark Ages serf rebellions in Europe rather than even mention the developments in math, science, technology, literature and the arts occurring at the same time in the Muslim world which helped jump started the Renaissance.

Our country’s relationship with Iran has been prickly ever since the 1953 CIA-orchestrated Project Ajax, in which their elected (and secular) leader Mohammed Mosaddeq was removed from power after he nationalized Iran’s oil industry, knowing full well that Iran’s oil belonged to England! Perhaps because of this (despite Iran frequently being in the news over the decades since) it has felt like there’s a ban on showing any actual images from the country, lest the American people start to recognize it as an actual country and not the hatred-stirring bogeyman it’s made out to be by politicians and the media when it's time for uniting we the people in mistrust and xenophobia.

Out of curiosity I decided I'd watch an Iranian film a few years ago. The first one I saw, on a recommendation, was Majid Majidi’s Color of Paradise. I was surprised. There were misty, wooded mountainsides. Who knew? I read a bit about Iran afterwards. They supposedly invented skiing 4,000 years ago (although there is disagreement about it, with the Chinese and Scandinavians also claiming that honor). There were major metropolises with shiny buildings and fancy cars, not mud huts and donkey carts. And to boot, the film itself was sophisticated, poetic and profound.

Persian film began in 1900 when Mizra Ebrahim Khan Akkas Bashi brought a camera back from Paris. The first theater was opened in 1904. Sound films began with Lor Girl in 1932. Throughout the 1930s and 40s films drew from Persia's rich mythological and literary background.

In the 1960s, melodramas and thrillers dominated Iran's film output. With Masoud Kimiay's Kaiser, a new genre began that would prove popular with Iranians and influential with Iranian film, the "Tragic Action Drama." That same year Darius(h) Mehrjui's Gaav heralded the beginning of Iranian Art Film, often referred to as thereafter as "Iranian New Wave." Iranian New Wave became popular worldwide (at least with critics and adventurous film goers) with its focus on quotidian affairs and the struggles of regular people, the style is reminiscent of Italian Neo-Realism and yet also owes heavily to French New Wave's  encouragement of "La politique des auteurs." The 1970s saw a proliferation of films in the Iranian New Wave which then came to a sudden halt when the oppressive and elitist Shah, considered by most a corrupt puppet of the U.S. and UK, was run out of town. Of course, the void he left was filled not by art-loving populists but by another oppressive gang, the Islamist government that remains in power today despite their broad unpopularity.


After the revolution, the new, iron-fisted government severely restricted and censored the content and exposure of domestic and foreign films. Subsequently, apolitical commercial films which generally fall into two groups have dominated: Films dealing with the Iran-Iraq War or the Islamic Revolution on the one hand, and star-driven formula comedies and melodramas on the other. In the mid-80s there was a marked boom in crime dramas. Major stars included Mohammad Ali Fardin, who (though unpopular with the government for having starred in pre-revolution films with scantily-clad women and depicting alcohol consumption) had his funeral attended by 20,000 mourners. Just looking at our Iranian films at Amoeba, actress Niki Karimi seems to grace the cover of half of them. In the 1980s and 90s, the so-called "New Iranian Cinema" (sometimes still referred to as "Iranian New Wave") began to be celebrated at film festivals around the world despite usually being banned in Iran -- although they're readily and easily viewable in Iran thanks to a healthy black market, the proliferation of satellite television and avoidable and/or bribe-taking morality police. These films, while obviously varied, usually share an emphasis on visual beauty, lyrical storytelling, and a disregard for the boundaries between fiction and reality.

Majid Majidi بچه‌های آسمان


Father (1996) concerns a 14 year old boy who is forced to find work to support his family after his father dies. When he returns home, his mother is re-married and there is predictable tension between the child and his new stepfather. In a plot contrivance, the boy and his stepfather end up handcuffed in the desert and the film is easily the least enjoyable of Majidi's works that I've seen.

Children of Heaven (1997) is about two siblings forced to hide the fact that they share a single pair of shoes after the brother loses his sister's pair on the way to getting them repaired. He enters a race hoping to get third since the prize is a pair of shoes. He accidentally gets first and receives a different prize that means nothing to him. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film but lost out to the singularly awful, sentimental Oscar-bait, Life Is Beautiful.

Color Of Paradise
(1999) deals with a blind boy returning home from school who, though loved by his sisters and grandmother, is seen as a burden by his struggling father. His father attempts to pawn him off as an apprentice to a carpenter to make himself a better prospect in his attempts to re-marry. A tragic and sentimental event occurs in the climax and yet it somehow avoids being as cloying as my description suggests.

Baran (2001) is about a young man who starts developing feelings for an Afghani refugee at his work, not realizing that the tea boy of his interest is actually a girl. The young man, Lateef, discovers his love interest is a girl and goes out of his way to protect and help her but the refugees are forced back to Afghanistan.
Jafar Panahi 


The White Balloon (1995) isn't on DVD so I was lucky to grab a VCD of it at Amoeba. This is the perfect sort of family film -- the kind that you can watch and enjoy even if there are no kids around. It concerns a little girl wanting a fat goldfish for Nowruz. She loses the money to purchase it and the film concerns her attempts to retrieve it.

The Mirror (1997) begins as a story about a similar little girl trying to overcome obstacles when, all of a sudden, the actress removes her cast, her chador and her microphone and stomps off annoyed at the helplessness she's supposed to convey. The film crew spends the rest of the film trying to convince her to come to her senses and finish the film.

The Circle
(2000) is about several women, again confronting obstacles of contemporary Iranian culture: disappointment at having given birth to a girl, having to wear the chador, and not being able to travel alone. Most critics thought it was Panahi's best film yet, but I found it unpleasantly and relentlessly grim, with none of the uplift of his previous films. It seemed defiantly and annoyingly preachy, making its points with a heavy hand.

Crimson Gold
(2003) is very dark. It begins with the protagonist, in a botched jewelry story robbery, shooting the shopkeeper and then shooting himself in the head. The action that follows shows the events leading up to his suicide and meanders and flows in a way that makes me not want to get into the plot. I thought it was amazing. It was written by Abbas Kiarostami.

Abbas Kiarostam  

(1990) concerns the true story of a man who impersonated director Mohsen Makmalbaf. He entered a household and convinced the occupants that he wanted to make a film about them. Their lives become intertwined but they end up discovering his deception. The actor playing the con artist is the actual con artist and, toward the end, he's introduced, in tears, to the real Mohsen Makmalbaf.

Taste Of Cherry
(1997) follows a man driving around the outskirts of Tehran picking up various passengers. At first, his aims are unclear but he soon reveals that he's dug himself a grave and is looking for someone to bury him. If that sounds depressing, it is. If it sounds humorous, it's that too. And ultimately it's one of the most uplifting films I've ever seen without providing easy or false solutions to real and eternal problems. The highest praise I can give it is that it was on Roger Ebert's "Most Hated Films of 1997."

The Wind Will Carry Us
(1999) is about a documentarian who travels to a remote village in Kurdistan to make a film about Kurdish funeral customs. Unfortunately for those waiting, the old woman whom the funeral is for just won't die. I liked it but found it Kiarostami's least memorable film.

(2002) is a fascinating film. Shot entirely on a dashboard-mounted camera, the film entails a woman driving around Iran with ten different passengers. The logistics of making such a film are amazing. Think about the actors waiting in various locales to be picked up by the star. The fact that it doesn't feel static given the setup is incredible.

Mohsen Makhmalbaf محسن مخملباف

The Cyclist
(1987) is about an Afghan refugee who, in a desperate attempt to raise money for his ailing wife, enters a bizarre contest wherein, if he can ride his bike in a circle for one week without stopping, will earn the money necessary to buy the medical care his wife requires. The portrayal of the horrific effort involved, with a small industry of bet-placing observers and vendors springing up around him is nightmarish  and so tragic that it borders on comic in a way that many Iranian films do.

Darius Mehrjui داریوش مهرجویی

Gaav (1969) is the film that began the Iranian New Wave. A poor villager, whose closest companion is his cow, is away from home when the cow dies. The villagers, worried about how he'll take the news, tell him that the cow has run away. The man, Hassan, begins to lose his mind and adopt the behaviors of a cow himself. Of course, the ending is tragic.

(1990) portrays a middle class intellectual, Hamid Hamoun, and his mental deterioration arising from his wife's demands for divorce. She's an artist who's gained greater critical acclaim (which reminded me of Anotonioni's Les Amiches). He buys a rifle, planning to kill his wife. The film, frequently described as Fellini-esque and notably voted as the best Iranian Film of All Time by a group of critics, was hard to enjoy for me, as I found Hamid a pretty unlikeable and unsympathetic character.

Babak Payami بابک پیامی
Secret Ballot (2001) is a low-key comedy about a female civil servant's attempts to get the citizens of the Iranian island of Kish to vote in an upcoming election. She is escorted by a soldier who chauffeurs her around. Coming up against gender discrimination, mechanical difficulties and widespread and understandable apathy toward the voting process, Payami constructs a comedy that everyone in the audience I was in (myself included) found downright hilarious.    

Tahmineh Milani تهمینه میلانی


Hidden Half (2001) stars the ubiquitous Niki Karimi as a woman who meets a female activist scheduled for execution. It was interesting for a variety of reasons. As with a lot of the more commercial Iranian films, it deals with the 1979 revolution. It was interesting for me to see how internationalist the revolutionaries were. Students in army surplus with images of Ernesto Guevara everywhere... and a lot of the driving force was apparently communist and populist, not Islamist. The fact that it was directed by a woman isn't actually that out of the ordinary. Iran probably has more female directors than any other country that I can think of. There are more women in their government than our own, too. It's also a melodrama, and as such deals chiefly with romantic relationships. My main obstacle in enjoying it more was the love interest -- a smug, patronizing, smarmy and completely obnoxious know-it-all who I couldn't for the life of me see as the charmer that he seemed designed to be.

So, if this has piqued your interest in a cinema almost completely neglected by your local movie theater, head down to Amoeba and check it out.

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