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Iran: Fajr Film Festival To Screen Documentary On Israeli Photojournalist

"...More Than 1000 Words" follows photojournalist Ziv Koren, who has spent 15 years covering Mideast violence (Courtesy Photo) January 31, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The Islamic Republic of Iran has consistently refused to recognize the state of Israel, and mutual antagonism has been rife since the rise of Iran's hard-line president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

Despite those tough official stances, Iran's most ambitious international film festival, the Fajr Film Festival scheduled for February 1-11, will screen a documentary film about an award-winning Israeli photojournalist.

The film is called "...More Than 1000 Words" and has been seen at more than 20 festivals around the world. It chronicles the exploits of Israeli photographer Ziv Koren, who has been at many of those viewings.

But he can't be on hand in Tehran this week because organizers of the Fajr Film Festival have not invited Koren -- whose Israeli passport makes him a persona non grata in the eyes of Iranian officials.

Still, Koren told Radio Farda that he's delighted that the Hebrew-language film, by Israeli director Solo Avital, will make an appearance.

"I wasn't exactly invited to the opening ceremony," Koren said. "I wish I could go. But I must say [that] I'm very happy they're going to show the film in Iran, because, first of all, it's a Hebrew-speaking film. It talks about freedom of speech and freedom of the press. So regardless of the fact that I cannot travel with the film, I'm very happy [about] the fact that it's going to be shown in Iran."

15 Years Of Mideast Conflict

Koren has been covering the deadly Israeli-Palestinian conflict for years. His photographs have appeared on the covers of major Western magazines like "Time" and "Newsweek."

In the film, Koren laments that most people don't want to know about the conflict.

Filmed over a two-year period, "...More Than 1000 Words" follows Koren to the scene of suicide attacks, riots, demonstrations, and Israel's pullout from Gaza in 2005.

MORE: To read Radio Farda's Persian-language report and view a slide show of Ziv Koren photos, click here.

Iranians have expressed surprise that a documentary by an Israeli director, Solo Avital, about a Tel Aviv photojournalist will appear at Fajr. The festival has been held every year since 1982 to commemoration Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.

For Koren, the news came as a political shock.

"It doesn't surprise me that they invited the film," Koren said. "[But] the fact that it's an Israeli film that was [selected] surprises me from a political point of view -- not from an artistic [point of view]. The film has already proved that it is successful and interesting. But I think what triggered the [Iranian interest] is that I talk a lot about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a journalist documenting the conflict for the past 15 years."

The conflict is a favorite theme of Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who has suggested a "new wave in Palestine" will wipe Israel from the face of an Islamic world. Ahmadinejad has also described the Holocaust -- in which 6 million Jews were massacred -- a "myth" and recently offered a platform in Tehran for Holocaust deniers.

Public Attention

Koren said that denying the Holocaust is "outrageous." But he also said he believes there is a difference between Ahmadinejad's rhetoric and the feelings of most Iranians.

"Unfortunately, I find the Iranian regime ridiculous and dangerous at the same time -- but it has nothing to do with the public," Koren said. "I think the act of denying the Holocaust is a provocative action by Ahmadinejad, [who] is a very extreme figure in the world of politics today. I don't care if Ahmadinejad will see the documentary or not. But I wish that the people of Iran will see it, because among them there are open, liberated people who wish to live in democracy."

"...More Than 1000 Words" could cast the Middle East conflict in a whole new light for some Iranians, who are used to seeing it through the eyes of Iranian state television and radio.

For them, the impact of Ziv Koren's work -- and Solo Avital's attempt to get behind the images -- might remain long after the 25th annual Fajr Film Festival closes its doors on February 11.

(Radio Farda's Parsa Shams interviewed Ziv Koren for this article.)

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