Bahman Ghobadi Knows About “Persian Cats”

Bahman Ghobadi Knows About “Persian Cats” (photo)

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You hear people use the phrase “underground music” sometimes. Typically, they’re speaking metaphorically, but in “No One Knows About Persian Cats,” the term takes on an all-too-literal meaning. In modern day Tehran, the Iranian government has banned nearly all popular music, forcing young artists to write and play in secret, often in basements, where they stand their best hope of working free from governmental interference. The barely fictionalized film follows two aspiring Iranian musicians, played by Negar Shaghaghi and Ashkan Koshanejad from the band Take It Easy Hospital, as they try to assemble a new group for a European tour. Along the way they take in — and the movie documents — performances from almost a dozen different bands (from almost a dozen different genres) from the Tehran underground.

Music isn’t the only art form under assault from the current Iranian regime; popular Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi (“Crimson Gold,” “Offside”) has been imprisoned without cause since March 2nd, something “Persian Cats” director Bahman Ghobadi alluded to during our interview. Ghobadi has right to be worried for his colleague, and for himself. I spoke with Ghobadi in Manhattan, where he was joined by translator Sheida Dayani and his “Persian Cats” co-writer and fiancée Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-America journalist who’s had her own troubles with the Iranian government. Last January, she was abducted, accused and convicted of spying on behalf of the United States, and sentenced to eight years in prison. Saberi’s conviction was eventually appealed and overturned, and she was released, right around the time that Ghobadi took “Persian Cats” to the Cannes Film Festival, where it won a Special Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard sidebar.

The film introduces us to Negar in a recording studio, where the engineer tells her about the man who’s in the recording booth at that moment. He’s a film director, struggling with his new project about the Iranian underground music scene. In other words, it’s you. Is that how the project originally started?

It’s exactly how the film came to be. I always loved music and I always wanted to make a film about it, but I could never do it because of the censorship that was around. So when I went to one of these studios and met these kids and the underground music world, I decided this was the right time to do it.

04152010_NoOneKnowsAboutPersianCats3.jpgYou and Roxana are credited as co-writers of the film, but many scenes have an unscripted, documentary feel. How much of the film was scripted?

When we started shooting, we had about 20 or 30 pages of a script. But we kept getting ideas from the kids and the bands that we met. I didn’t change any locations and I didn’t change any people. Everything was real. Ninety-five percent of the time, I was truthful to reality. The other 5% is just humor that I added because I didn’t want the film to be all about suffering.

Given that 95% of the film is truthful to these kids’ reality, did you ever consider just making a documentary about them?

My original plan was to make a documentary. I didn’t do it because in the film world today distribution for independent documentaries is really bad, and I realized that the film itself was not as important to me as getting the voices of these kids out. I had seen some films made about the underground music world in Tehran and most of them were short documentaries about 30 or 40 minutes long. And I always wondered why they weren’t publicized more. Really, their only flaw was they were short documentaries.

I knew this was my one and only chance to make a film about the underground music world in Iran, so it was important to me that I show you as much of it as I could, both of this subculture and of the real Tehran. The film became a medium for exposing the world to these musicians.

04152010_NoOneKnowsAboutPersianCats2.jpgYou shot the movie without permission from the Iranian government, and there’s this palpable cloud of anxiety hanging over the entire movie, as if at any moment the cast and crew could all be arrested. Did you have any real problems with the police during the shoot?

That stress that you’re pointing out was really there. I was very nervous the entire shoot. The film was mostly shot indoors and the two or three times we took the camera outside, we shot those scenes very quickly and hid the camera somewhere it couldn’t be seen. All those sequences were shot with one lens because I didn’t even have time to change lenses.

There was only one time that we were stopped by the police. We were in Tajrish Square and we had to talk to them for a few hours. We had to convince them that we weren’t doing anything bad.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.