Married couple and filmmaking duo Hamid Rahmanian and Melissa Hibbard are a well-known team to anyone interested in Iranian film and films dealing with Iranian social issues, including how Iran is perceived by the West, namely in the U.S. Together they’ve made numerous documentaries (two of which are included on the new dvd release The Films of Hamid & Melissa: Shahrbanoo & Sir Alfred of Charles De Gaulle Airport). Both of these short documentaries are character studies of interesting Iranian characters. On his own as a director, Hamid was nominated for an Academy Award in the student category for his short animated film The Seventh Day.Â This short, as well as two other shorts (one a film about a clown and one a documentary about a Korean-American family losing a patriarch).
All five of these films have distinctive feels to them, but it’s clear that the films included on Baking Bread & Other Shorts (Hamid’s independent work) is the earlier of the two sets. TheÂ two short films (The Seventh Day and An I Within) are interesting, but still clearly of student film quality. The titular documentary, Breaking Bread, is a little more engaging but still feels a little drawn out. The story centers around a Korean-American friend of the director’s whose father requested that Rahmanian prepare a meal for him before he died. Unfortunately the man passed away too soon for Rahmanian to follow through on his wishes, so in return he has been asked to prepare the meal for the man’s funeral. It’s an intriguing subject to say the least and perhaps it’s just a western mindset, but some of the longer takes of Rahmanian preparing food set to music become a bit dull.Â In the end, the examination of the family left behind after such a tragedy is not as in-depth as viewers might hope.
The second disc, The Films of Hamid & Melissa comes off with much more to present. Shahrbanoo is a 58 minute documentary following the interactions of an American woman (Melissa) with the housekeeper of her husband (Hamid)’s family. The interactions are often touching, enlightening and downright engaging. An exchange between Melissa and a conservative Iranian reporter on the place of women in society is the most revealing. The camera shots are fairly unprofessional, but that doesn’t take away from the unique perspective of the film. In the end, the unlikely pair become good friends, and viewers are let in on Iranian lifestyle and culture in ways that they wouldn’t be otherwise. The second film, a half hour recounting of a man stranded in the Charles De Gaulle Airport. The man, known as Sir Alfred, is an Iranian man who claims to be born in Sweden, though he has no paperwork to prove it. This is the story that inspired Stephen Spielberg’s film The Terminal, and it’s an interesting story, but less than gripping.
Overall, these collections of films are timely and informative, though not earth-shattering in their scope or presentation. They are very human portrayals of intriguing people and cultural experiences that play out a bit like home videos. Some may find deeper meaning in them, others may simply be bored.
ShahrbanooÂ & Sir Alfred of Charles de Gaulle Airport: B
Breaking Bread & Other Shorts: C-
Perfect For: Anyone extremely interested in slice-of-life documentaries
Stay Away if: You look for a little production value in your docs
Watch for: A war veteran describing the perks of martyrdom in an Iranian cemetery