2010 Mehrgan: Arts and Media
PARSA CF Awards $437,000 to Arts and Media Projects
June 15, 2011
As a part of its Mehrgan 2010 Grant Cycle, PARSA Community Foundation is pleased to announce grants to arts and media projects including film, print, and music. PARSA CF recognizes the importance of such efforts in interacting with a broader audience, introducing the rich culture of Iran to the rest of the world, and building a stronger foundation for cultural understanding between Iranians, Iranian diaspora and the global community.
Film is an important way to engage in cultural dialog and community outreach, with the potential to reach a larger audience than most other art and communication forms. In order to bring Iranian documentaries to a worldwide audience, Link Media Inc. has been awarded a $111,000 grant in support of its Bridge to Iran program, which was originally launched in 2007 and has been supported by PARSA CF since 2008. Link Media operates the Link TV network, broadcasting a 24-hour mix of engaging documentaries, international news analysis, current events, and diverse cultural programs to over 33 million U.S. homes via satellite. Link's original programs are distributed to more than 220 cable stations, reaching an additional 20 million households. Additionally, Link Media operates the http://www.linktv.org/ website and its associated iTunes, Hulu, YouTube, and other online channels where Link TV videos have been viewed 3.4 million times last year.
Leveraging such wide reach, the weekly series Bridge to Iran presents documentaries and dramatic films made by Iranian filmmakers, and also provides a broadcast slot for current affairs programs covering the U.S.-Iran relations. The series, which airs weekly on Link TV during primetime on Tuesday and Thursday nights, has premiered the U.S. exclusive broadcast of more than fifteen documentaries and films on Iranian subjects over the past four years.
The grant from PARSA CF enables Link Media to acquire four recent and compelling Iranian documentaries, each to be broadcast approximately 15 times per year on Link TV and participating cable outlets. The grant will also enable Link TV to produce interviews with the filmmakers, create live webcasts so that the audience can engage in Q&A with the filmmakers, and produce two premiere events to promote the films in two major cities. The new PARSA CF-supported presentations will serve to enhance the image and status of Iranians, living in the U.S. and elsewhere, by presenting more diverse and positive media portrayals of Iran and Iranians. The aim of the grant is to bridge the knowledge and perception gap between people inside Iran, the Iranian Diaspora and the American public, and to help establish informal contacts between influential members of both societies, leading to a greater demand for thoughtful foreign policies related to Iran.
"Link Media has received several years of support from PARSA Community Foundation for our Bridge to Iran series on Link TV. These grants have helped us bring insightful documentaries and films by Iranian directors to a broad American audience. The current grant has made it possible to dramatically increase the quality of the programs, to expand the series to include the voices of the Iranian diaspora, and to create community outreach around the TV broadcasts" remarked Kim Spencer, Founder and Chief Content Officer of Link Media.
Recognizing the importance of popular feature-length comedies - such as My Big Fat Greek Wedding - which can act as vehicles to introduce cultural nuances to a wider audience, PARSA CF has proudly awarded a $100,000 grant to complete production and post-production of Two Persian Weddings, a feature-length comedy about the Iranian-American community in Los Angles.
Butimar Productions, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the cultural traditions of the Middle East, is serving as the fiscal sponsor of the movie Two Persian Weddings. Butimar has produced numerous award-winning documentary films with internationally acclaimed directors such as Michael Apted, Bahman Kiarostami, and Academy Award nominee, Justine Shapiro.
Two Persian Weddings is a self-reflexive comedy about two Iranian-American filmmakers trying to make a mainstream film about the courtships and romantic entanglements of two Iranian-American brothers who marry two Iranian-American sisters. Inspired by the narrative structure of the famous and important Persian story, "The 1001 Nights," Two Persian Weddings celebrates the rich literary and cinematic traditions of Iran while at the same time promoting a greater understanding and appreciation of the Iranian-American community in the United States. The film stars stand-up comic Maz Jobrani and Iranian-American filmmakers Ramin Serry and Caveh Zahedi. Ramin Serry's credits include Maryam (2002) and Loveless (2010). Caveh Zahedi's credits include I Don't Hate Las Vegas Anymore (1995), I Am A Sex Addict (2005), and The Sheikh and I (2011). Maz Jobrani is a founding member of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour.
Building upon the exceptional reception of the movie Our Summer in Tehran, PARSA CF is thrilled to have awarded $76,000 to Promises Films, to create an educational outreach and community engagement program around the film. Our Summer in Tehran is a feature-length documentary that has enjoyed PARSA CF support in early stages of development and production through multiple grants. The newest grant facilitates bringing Our Summer in Tehran into classrooms, organizations, conferences, libraries, and grass-roots community centers and sparking transformative dialogue and inspiring tangible action.
Our Summer in Tehran is a movie about an American Jewish mother who takes her 6-year old son to Tehran where they spend the summer with three families. The aim of the film is to humanize Iranians in the eyes of an audience who is used to the narrow filter provided by mainstream press. "I'm going to Iran because I want to meet Iranian mothers in their homes, before our sons meet on the battlefield," says the film's director and American mom, Justine Shapiro, in the film.
Shapiro founded Promises Films as a non-profit, independent documentary filmmaking company in response to a growing need for quality, fact-based media. In 2002 her film Promises, which documents the lives of seven Palestinian and Israeli children, was nominated for an Academy Award for "Best Documentary" and won two Emmy Awards. Promises has been viewed by over 10 million Americans and more than 30 million people around the world. PARSA CF hopes that this grant will enable a similarly large audience to engage with Our Summer in Tehran.
The screening of the movie in targeted events has already begun and Promises Films plans to work with Iranian-American nonprofits and activists to spread screenings nationally. A "Discussion Guide" and "Study Guide," which correlate to California state standards in Social Studies, History, and Language Arts, are under development to help integrate a shorter version of the film into class discussions in middle and high schools. The movie is now ready to be purchased for personal viewing as well as for libraries, schools, universities, and other organizations with public performance requirements. For pricing and to obtain the film, please visit Our Summer in Tehran Movie Store. PARSA CF strongly encourages everyone to purchase the movie and to recommend it to others, especially to their local libraries, schools, and community organizations.
Sport, and particularly basketball, is another important and popular vehicle to reach the U.S. audience, creating a unique opportunity for cultural dialog. Sports diplomacy and sports philanthropy provide unique opportunities for cultural dialog. A twist on those themes is supporting a documentary film, From Texas to Tehran, which chronicles the story of Kevin Sheppard. A charismatic African-American basketball player, Kevin moves to Iran to play professional basketball for a local team during the height of international tension between the U.S. and Iran.
Produced by Sara Nodjoumi, The film follows Kevin as he explores the unknown and forms unlikely friendships with Iranians around him. Sports, underground rap music, the city of Shiraz, restrictions around relationships, and a Christmas tree create a unique movie that will attract large audiences from many backgrounds and will create an authentic cross-cultural rendezvous, challenging the mass media's presentation of "facts" about Iran and its culture.
PARSA Community Foundation's $30,000 grant was awarded to the makers of From Texas to Tehran, Partner Pictures, for completing the production and the assembly of a rough cut of the documentary which, in turn, has enabled Partner Pictures to attract additional funding and support. The rough cut has also helped Partner Pictures secure Abigail Disney as an executive producer. Ms. Disney's credits include the acclaimed documentaries Pray The Devil Back To Hell and Academy Award nominated Sun Come Up. Her involvement in the project will further enhance the prospects of the documentary.
Upon completion of the film, Partner Pictures plans to do outreach which will include educational screenings across the country, a comprehensive viral and new media campaign, and educational materials targeting students, educators, and policy makers.
"PARSA CF's support to date has been absolutely critical and invaluable to our project. The PARSA CF grants have increased the visibility of our documentary, and they have validated the project in the independent film world and beyond" said Till Schauder, director.
Contemporary art of Iran is on the rise - receiving recognition from the international community - thanks in part to art publications and websites that provide continued coverage and support for the art forms and the artists. PARSA Community Foundation awarded a $25,000 grant to Bidoun, which publishes an award-winning, nonprofit magazine focused on the art of the Middle East, particularly with a contemporary and avant-garde focus. Bidoun magazine has won some of the most sought-after honors in the publishing world, including a nomination for a National Magazine Award for General Excellence in 2009, and three UTNE Independent Press Awards for social and cultural coverage, design, and art writing. It enjoys great editorial contribution from people such as the founder Lisa Farjam, a well-known name in the gallery and contemporary art scene in the Middle East, Negar Azimi, a curator at the Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art and a prolific writer, and the Noble Prize laureate, professor Orhan Pamuk.
The grant from PARSA CF has enabled the magazine to further work on its Middle East Modernities Project, which aims to document lost histories of the avant-garde in film, theater and visual arts at large, in the Middle East and particularly Iran. In the past several months, Bidoun has been able to put new film material online, and arrange for a number of screenings - including a recent screening of a rare Kamran Shirdel documentary called The Night It Rained, 1967 - as well as a documentary on the late and great satirist Ardeshir Mohasses.
These screenings will be presented in the context of the ongoing Bidoun Library Project, currently at the Serpentine Gallery in London and previously shown at the New Museum in New York City, as well as venues in Abu Dhabi, Beirut, Cairo, and Dubai. The Bidoun Library is a peripatetic resource of books, periodicals and ephemera exploring how the Middle East has been memorialized in print culture over the past 50 years.
PARSA CF's grant to Bidoun comes at a critical time as Bidoun has recently made the transition to nonprofit status and is working towards a sustainable base. Providing a platform for the best in arts and culture from the Middle East and its Diaspora is truly pioneering and noble. For a great collection of multimedia content from Bidoun, please visit the Bidoun's Ubu Archive.
Recognizing the importance of Shahnameh ("The Book of Kings") as well as classical Persian music, PARSA CF has awarded a $20,000 grant to the Simorq Foundation for the musical production of Simorq under the direction of one of the great masters of Persian music, Hamid Motebassem, accompanied by Homayoun Shajarian as the solo vocalist. A very important story in Persian Mythology, Simorq tells the story of the birth and growth of Zaal and Princess Roodabeh, who will become the parents of Rostam, the superhero of Shahnameh.
Shahnameh has, as Dr. Timothy Potts, the director of Cambridge University's Fitzwilliam Museum puts it, "for the past thousand years, been the wellspring of Persian culture: the pre-eminent compendium of legend and knowledge about Iran's epic past; the handbook to good kingship and heroic valor; and above all the encapsulation, in both content and language, of what it is to be authentically Persian."
Mr. Motebassem has undertaken a formidable task in choosing the story of Simorq and writing polymelodic musical pieces for an orchestra of Persian musical instruments and choir. The instruments include the reed flute (ney), long-necked lute (tar), spiked violin (kamancheh), hammered dulcimer (santour), short-necked lute (barbat), bowed fiddle (gheychak), and different types of percussion. The solo vocalizations are done by one of Iran's currently best known vocalists, Homayoun Shajarian.
After the first public performance of Simorq in Tehran, which was hugely successful with the attendance of more than 10,000 music lovers, the performance will be on stage again in Tehran next month (July 2011), in Europe in October 2011, and in North America in 2012. The grant from PARSA CF will help the Simorq Foundation with some of the production costs for the performance, production costs for the CDs, and the North America tour.
Music education plays a key role in increasing appreciation of, and preserving, the classical music of Iran. With the help of a magnanimous donor, Mr. Alex Bouzari, PARSA CF has awarded a $50,000 grant to the Los Angeles School of Persian Music through the Persian Arts Society (PAS). PAS is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation, presentation, and dissemination of Persian arts in the U.S. and has presented some of the most prominent musicians, dancers, and artists living in Iran and abroad. Given the number of Iranians and Iranian-Americans living in the area, PAS established the first school of classical Persian music in Los Angeles in 2000. PAS has collaborated with Kereshmeh Records in production of some of the most acclaimed recordings of Persian Music for wide distribution in the Western market.
Although the opening of the school in year 2000 was met with great enthusiasm and success, the events of September 11, 2001 proved highly disruptive to the activities of the organization. The grant from Mr. Bouzari's specific-use fund is being applied to re-establishing and extending the activities of the Los Angeles School of Persian Music. With his support, PAS has been able to secure a location for the school to conduct private and workshop-style classes. PAS has also used a portion of the grant to develop the school's website and produce public announcement advertising. Another portion of the funds will afford audio/video equipment for classroom use.
The classes will cater to a wide spectrum of the community members. Private lessons for advanced students and workshops for voice and percussion instruction are offered as is a new curriculum for more serious students who are interested in a comprehensive education including performance, theory, ear training, and music appreciation coursework. The PARSA CF funds have also allowed PAS to purchase the necessary equipment for establishing telematic classes where students and teachers in remote locations are linked to each other by high-resolution audio and video connections.
Finally, PARSA CF is pleased to round out its music grant portfolio with a $25,000 grant to the Center for World Music. Founded in 1963, the Center for World Music is currently based in San Diego and continues a long tradition of sponsoring leading performers in concert and providing instruction by accomplished teachers in music, dance, and theater from Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and North America. The organization was created to foster awareness and understanding of the world's diverse performing arts and cultures through public performances and teaching, with both local and international programs of the highest quality.
The grant from PARSA CF has made it possible for the Center to expand its current Persian Music and Culture in the Schools program. Taught exclusively by Iranian-American artist-teachers (principally, 4-string lute (setar) virtuoso Kourosh Taghavi), the program focuses on "hands-on" instruction in classical Persian music, with authentic Persian musical instruments. The goals of the program are to allow access to Iranian culture and to help establish and honor classical Iranian performance arts in Southern California.
The program also promotes interpersonal relationships between highly qualified native teachers of Iranian background and their students. This unique program has been nationally recognized, by the National Endowment for the Arts, as a model for world music education. Schools participating in the program recently presented successful year-end student performances of classical Persian music, and a new program at the Persian Cultural Center began in April.
"After the final performance, the district superintendent came to my room and congratulated me for an excellent concert. The Persian ensemble makes us unique," said Michael Schmidt, Music Teacher, Woodland Park Middle School.
PARSA CF congratulates all of these fine organizations for the important cultural work they do, and encourages the global Iranian community to continue supporting them through more engagement, financial support, and above all, spreading the word.
PARSA CF promotes strategic philanthropy and social entrepreneurship within the Persian-speaking communities around the globe. PARSA CF identifies organizations and projects with long term impact and supports them through grants and networking. To date, PARSA CF has awarded a total of $7.6M in grants through its general and donor-advised funds. To learn more about PARSA CF, please visit http://www.parsacf.org/.