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Bound Unbound: Four by Mehrdad Oskouei

Aug 5 — Aug 30, 2020

Sunless Shadows (2019), Starless Dreams (2016), The Last Days of Winter (2011), and It’s Always Late for Freedom (2007)

The films of Mehrdad Oskouei are without comparison in contemporary cinema, both for his dedication to giving voice to people who have been habitually and systematically silenced—the incarcerated youth of Iran, whose traumas preceded their criminality and remain raw and worth understanding—and in terms of his easygoing, engaging style of observation and conversation, which allows for scenes of both heartbreaking intimacy and transcendent joy. Museum of the Moving Image will present four of the celebrated Iranian documentarian’s films, including his latest, Sunless Shadows, for which Oskouei was awarded Best Director at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam in 2019. Punctuated by deeply confessional monologues, the film offers a window into the lives of women and girls imprisoned for the murder of a male family member.

Alongside Sunless Shadows, the series includes Starless Dreams (2016, which MoMI presented in an exclusive New York theatrical run in 2017), The Last Days of Winter (2011), and It’s Always Late for Freedom (2007)—films that offer “a tapestry of longing and self-negation,” according to Bilge Ebiri in The Village Voice in 2018. The films all feature intimate and riveting testimonies from teenage girls and boys removed from society for crimes that range from theft to murder and who suffer from addiction and abuse. The desperation of their situation is balanced by the community they build with fellow inmates, playing, eating, gossiping, caring for infants, and other everyday activities.

From August 5 through 30, all films screen via Virtual Cinema courtesy of Cinema Guild, with half of proceeds going to the Museum. Tickets for Sunless Shadows are $12 / $10 members; older titles are $3.99 per film. A series pass, good for all four films, is available for $20 / $16 MoMI members.

Sunless Shadows

Dir. Mehrdad Oskouei. 2019, 74 mins. In Persian with English subtitles. Oskouei’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed Starless Dreams, Sunless Shadows takes another look at the lives of teenage girls in an Iranian juvenile detention center. But this time the focus is narrowed: each of the film’s principal subjects is serving time for the murder of a male family member. One by one, Oskouei invites them to go into a room alone, push the red button on the camera and address their accomplices or victims. With this new confessional approach combined with his ever-deepening relationships with his subjects, Oskouei presents a picture of the disenfranchised in an aggressively male-dominated society and of the prison that is their shelter from it. A Cinema Guild release. View trailer. 

“Humanist and sobering and enraging, Sunless Shadows is a vital portrait of young women in a society that has no room for them as people.” —Alissa Wilkinson, Vox

Starless Dreams

Dir. Mehrdad Oskouei. 2016, 76 mins. In Persian with English subtitles. At a juvenile detention center on the outskirts of Tehran, troubled teenage girls seek comfort and joy from one another, while contemplating uncertain futures. Oskouei spent seven years securing access to this all-female facility, and he makes the awkwardness of being a male filmmaker in their environment a poignant and powerful aspect of his project. As the New Year approaches, the girls bond, and reveal—with disarming honesty—the circumstances and sometimes shocking acts that resulted in their incarceration. Yet as they rehabilitate and recover, they face dangers outside of the prison walls, even and at times especially within their own families. With startling frankness and “the conceptual rigor and emotional directness associated with the best of Iranian cinema” (Variety), Starless Dreams delivers an unforgettable portrayal of innocence lost and found.

The Last Days of Winter

Dir. Mehrdad Oskouei. 2011, 52 mins. In Persian with English subtitles. Oskouei follows seven young men, all under age 15, in the days leading up to the Iranian New Year. With only twelve days to shoot, Oskouei follows their daily activities at the facility and also joins them on a holiday excursion to the Caspian Sea. With no walls around them, the boys become more open, detailing their plans for the future, family, and for love, yet remain haunted by an unshakable sense of sadness and isolation.

It’s Always Late for Freedom

Dir. Mehrdad Oskouei. 2007, 52 mins. In Persian with English subtitles. It’s Always Late for Freedom introduces three adolescent detainees at the Tehran House of Correction who have committed crimes ranging from theft to drug smuggling to stabbing. But through Oskouei’s masterful eye and gentle offscreen questioning, we learn that they are teenagers like any others—teasing, playful, and in the throes of first love.