A colorful cast of characters helps the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Rice Media celebrate 20 years of Houston’s Iranian Film Festival starting Saturday. There’s a real-life American basketball player who hears God’s suggestion to take a chance and sign on with an Iranian team. And a teacher who faces comic disaster as the only man in an all-girl high school. And Adineh, who risks her rich family’s ire by changing into Eddie — and becoming the first transgender protagonist in Iranian film.
The 2013 edition of the long-running film series presents eight new and very different films from, or about, Iran, starting at the MFA’s Brown Auditorium on Saturday and Sunday, continuing there Jan. 26-27 and moving to Rice Media Center Feb. 1-2.
Shortly after Iranian film began achieving international recognition in the early 1990s, the MFAH and Rice Cinema committed to an annual festival, encouraged by the sizable Iranian community in Houston. The festival is developed in collaboration with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Freer and Sackler Galleries at the Smithsonian Institution. Despite the tensions that have plagued United States and Iranian relationships over the years, the universal nature of film has helped the series thrive.
“There is a sense of community of the people who have attended this festival over the years,” says MFAH film and video curator Marian Luntz. “Especially (among) the Iranian people. Several of them have said they take personal pride in having been a part of it for 20 years and that the museum and Rice have continued it.”
The festival begins at 7 p.m. Saturday at the MFAH with “No Entry for Men” (2011), a gender-clash comedy, Iranian-style, set in an all-female school; and “Facing Mirrors” (2011) at 9 p.m., a movie produced and directed by women about an Iranian woman who decides to go to Germany for sex-change procedures. The latter film waited 18 months for government permission and financial assistance.
On Sunday, the MFAH will screen “The Iran Job” (2012) at 5 p.m., a documentary (in English) about Kevin Sheppard, an American athlete who signs to play with an Iranian basketball team and finds his life changed, as well as changing the lives of some people he meets.
“There are extraordinary scenes, the way the husband and wife filmmakers (Till Schauder and Sara Nodjoumi) had access,” Luntz says. “At one point, Kevin is in an apartment with two of the young women he and another player have met, and the women take off their headscarves and have a beer. These are scenes you just don’t see in most films shot in Iran.”
German director Schauder and Iranian producer Nodjoumi are a husband-wife team who will appear, via Skype, for a discussion with the audience after the screening. “The Iran Job” repeats at 1 p.m. on Jan. 26.
International star Monica Bellucci and exiled Iranian film star Behrouz Vossoughi co-star in “Rhino Season” (2012), showing at 7 p.m. Jan. 26; it’s about a husband and wife imprisoned and separated by the Islamic revolution, in a story that takes 30 years to resolve. The final MFAH Iranian film is “Modest Reception” (2012), about what poor people are willing to do for a bag of money. The film will screen at 5 p.m. Jan. 27.
The MFAH’s portion of the festival coincides with the museum’s exhibit of works of Islamic art from the al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait, beginning Jan. 26. For much more on the Iranian films, including links to several film trailers, visit www.www.mfah.org/films/series/10.
The Rice Cinema portion of the Iranian Film Festival features three films, beginning at 7 p.m. Feb. 1 with “The Reluctant Bachelor” (2011), a documentary by director Mehdi Bagheri about the life of a 30-ish Iranian single male — himself — while living uneasily in his father’s home. That’s paired with another short personal documentary, “My Home” (2012), about a filmmaker’s search for a condo in Tehran.
The final film is “One. Two. One.” (2011) in which the complex relationship of three people is told in a nonlinear, disjointed style geared to the age of electronic interaction. It screens at 7 p.m. Feb. 2.
The MFAH is at 1001 Bissonnet. For information, go to mfah.org/film or call 713-639-7515. Rice Media is located at University and Stockton. For information, go to www.ricecinema.rice.edu or call 713-348-4882.
Former Chronicle film critic Louis B. Parks is a freelance writer.