Mania Akbari

In her book, Illness As Metaphor, Susan Sontag writes in connection with the cancer from which she suffers: “Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.” Mania Akbari’s films could be described as a guided tour to “that other place.” Akbari, herself a cancer patient, is concerned with the subconscious of Iranian society and seeks to unravel the distinctions between the sick and the healthy. With exceptional charisma and with a hypnotic cinematic thrust, Akbari uses her disease as the base for her criticism of a male-dominated, aggressive society. To a certain extent, she draws her strength as a filmmaker from the illness, which shattered the continuum of her life, cutting off what is often taken for granted and leading her to embark on a journey to an unknown destination, in the course of which journey she was forced to abandon her homeland forever. The operation to remove the cancerous growth and the exile imposed upon her from Iran essentially tell the same story: the experience of the human body losing one of its organs.
Akbari’s films do not follow conventional patterns of narrative nor do they proceed in accordance with any chronological order. Her films are constructed and organized in accordance with another kind of continuum: They consist of episodes that at times seem unconnected from the point of view of narrative.
The editorial links in Akbari’s films are based on the protagonists’ subconscious internal logic; the viewpoint is organized for the most part around the chief female protagonist and it expresses her internal and external worlds without making any distinction between them. Akbari appears in some of her films, thus providing them with a clearly autobiographical dimension. The stories that she deals with are usually low-key narratives and, generally speaking, they are concerned with male-female relationships in Iran today. The cinematography is very intimate and focuses on a handful of actors/actresses and scenes. She strives to construct a complex dynamics between her actors/actresses that is intensive and whose goal is to remove the gap between actors/actresses and the roles they play. The cinematic language that is so “other” and personal and which characterizes her films enables Akbari to deal in a perfectly natural manner with such topics as sex, fidelity, pregnancy and abortions in a country where discussion of such subjects could lead to the termination of an individual’s personal freedom.
Akbari was born in 1974 in Tehran. In 1991, she began her career as an artist and participated in single-artist and collective exhibitions in Iran and elsewhere. In 2002, Akbari, her son and her sister exposed a slice of their lives before the camera of Abbas Kiaorostami in his film “Ten,” which participated in the official competition at the Cannes Film Festival. The following year she co-directed a documentary film, “Crystal,” about a Kurdish woman whose body secretes clumps of crystal. In 2004, Akbari wrote, directed and appeared in her first feature-length film, “20 Fingers (2004),” whose screening was a World Premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September 2004 and which won the Best Film – Venezia Cinema Digitale award. Between 2004 and 2007, she created six short video-art films with the titles “Self,” “Repression,” “Guilt,” “Escape,” “Fear” and “Destruction.” The films were screened at many film festivals, including the Locarno Film Festival, and in museums, such as Tate. In 2007, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Akbari directed and appeared in her second full-length feature film, “10 + 4,” which was a sequel to Kiarostami’s film that came out four years earlier. In “10 + 4,” she frankly presents not only the cancer she was diagnosed with but also the manner in which she is coping with the disease. The film was screened at many film festivals, including the San Sebastian International Film Festival, and won many awards.
After a series of internal clashes in Iran in 2010, she directed a documentary about the execution of Behnoud Shojaee that was entitled “30 Minutes to 6 A.M.”. In 2011, despite the fact that the atmosphere in which the Iranian film industry was becoming increasingly stifling and critical, Akbari decided to direct her third full-length feature film, “One. Two. One,” which was shown at several film festivals around the world.
That same year, she began work on her next film, which was originally entitled “Women Don’t Have Breasts.” She wrote the screenplay for the film, directed it and even appeared in it. In the course of the shooting for the film, a number of important Iranian filmmakers were arrested and the state began to significantly limit freedom of speech. Faced with this difficult situation, Akbari decided to leave Iran forever, taking with her the materials for her yet-unfinished film. She completed the shooting in London in 2012 and changed the film’s title to “From Tehran to London.”