The first Iranian film I ever saw was Crimson Gold. It was at the 2003 Festival and I knew nothing about its director, Jafar Panahi, nor, really, the personal risks Iranian filmmakers routinely take to tell stories. Sadly, Panahi has been much in the news of late after being incarcerated by Iranian authorities, but a reminder of the joy his work inspires can be found in Winners, a whimsical new movie from Scottish-based Iranian filmmaker Hassan Nazer that’s receiving its world premiere at the Festival this weekend.
Nazer’s own path into film-making is quite the story. A film and theatre student from Garmsar, he left Iran after being red-flagged for staging a play with female performers. Trafficked to the UK, he gained asylum in Scotland, settling in Glasgow, then moving to his current base of Aberdeen, where he studied film and TV production and now runs a successful restaurant to support himself and fund his films. Which he shoots in Iran.
Winners is his third feature, a semi-autobiographical ode to cinema, built around a movie-obsessed kid who finds a certain gold statuette that’s gone missing en route to a world-famous Iranian film-maker. Nazer says the idea came from watching the 2017 Academy Awards, when Trump’s travel ban prevented eventual winner Asghar Farhadi from collecting his Oscar for The Salesman. “I started thinking: what if it gets lost?”
Winners is dedicated to Farhadi, Majid Majidi and, of course, Panahi, who makes a “cameo” appearance of sorts in the form of a mysterious cab driver we only ever see from behind (a nod to Panahi’s Taxi Tehran).
Was Nazer able to talk to Panahi about it? “He watched the movie.” He did? “Yeah, I got it to him on a hard drive. He sent me a private message. And some story suggestions!”
Winners screens at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on 13 and 15 August. For more information and tickets, visit www.edfilmfest.org.uk