Plucky kids, determined women and protest directors: the Persian Film Festival Selects collection

Iranian-Australian filmmaker Amin Palangi is passionate about sharing Persian cinema with local audiences, founding the Persian Film Festival Australia in 2011 for that very reason. Showcasing movies from Persian-speaking countries Iran and Afghanistan and diaspora directors from around the world, the festival returns to Australian capital cities from 26 April to 7 May.

This year’s Festival highlights include Ali Abbasi’s true crime-inspired serial killer thriller Holy Spider, with lead Zar Amir Ebrahimi winning Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her role, Arsalan Amiri’s Venice Film Festival-garlanded demonic curse horror Zalava, and Mojgan Ilanlou’s stirring doco One Thousand Women, detailing the difficult birth of women’s wrestling in Iran.

In honour of the Festival, we’ve created a capsule collection of Persian films streaming now at SBS On Demand, including these: 


A Hero

One of the greatest Persian filmmakers working today, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s masterpiece A Separation, about the aftermath of a marriage breakdown, took home a Best Screenplay Oscar, the first Iranian film to do so, and saw his screenplay nominated. It also won the top prize at the Sydney Film Festival and the Golden Bear at Berlinale.

His latest sublime offering, A Hero, stars Tehran-based former professional tennis player Amir Jadidi. It’s another of Farhadi’s gripping, soulful morality plays. Jadidi depicts a tragic figure of a man released from debtor’s prison for two days to sort his predicament out. But when a purse of gold coins discovered by his lover presents a way out, his admirable decision to return them to their owner instead sparks an unfortunate chain reaction, epitomising the old saying, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

You can read our chat with A Hero star Amir Jadidi here.

A Hero is streaming now at SBS On Demand:


The Past

It can be exhilarating when a filmmaker we indelibly connect to a specific place stretches their wings to explore similar material elsewhere, like the late, great Persian auteur Abbas Kiarostami taking to Tokyo for Like Someone in Love. Likewise with Iranian compatriot Farhadi who took to the streets of Paris, intimately familiar to Kiarostami, for The Past.

The Artist lead Bérénice Bejo won Best Actress at Cannes for her depiction of Marie, who has summoned her estranged ex Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) to Paris to finally sign divorce papers so she can eventually marry her lover Samir, played by A Prophet star Tahar Rahim. This being a Farhadi film, the already fraught situation is ratcheted up to excruciating levels by a dire scenario that means this trio (and everyone around them) cannot escape guilty secrets hiding in the recent past.


The Past is streaming now at SBS On Demand: 

You can also explore more of Asghar Farhadi’s finest films at SBS On Demand.


This is Not a Film

Taxi director Jafar Panahi stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Farhadi as one of the most esteemed Persian filmmakers in the business. He was the first Iranian to win a prize at Cannes but, like many of his colleagues, Panahi has faced almost insurmountable odds filming in his home country. The regime punishes artists whose work it deems violates national security.

He will not bow. Documentary This is Not a Film was captured by Panahi on handheld camera and his mobile phone while under house arrest (subsequently sent to prison for defending other filmmakers’ work, he was released in February this year). A surprisingly peppy musing on life, love, freedom, philosophy and his own films, it was smuggled to France on a USB stick, where it debuted at Cannes to rapturous applause.

This is Not a Film is streaming now at SBS On Demand.


Sun Children

Director Majid Majidi (Children of Heaven) has fine form in hooking us in emotionally to the plight of children wise beyond their years facing difficult circumstances and yet rising above through a series of misadventures. in His 2020 film Sun Children, which has a touch of The Goonies to it, that mischievous spirit is personified by newcomer Rouhollah Zamani as a street kid who can’t quite be corralled by a crime boss, and by real-life child labour survivor Shamila Shirzad.

They embark on a foolhardy mission to recover buried treasure they suspect is stashed below a charitable school. Nominated for the Golden Lion at Venice and taking home two prizes from the festival, it’s a bit more bittersweet than standard American teen fare but still blooming beautiful.

Sun Children is streaming now at SBS On Demand:


When Pomegranates Howl   

Iranian-Australian filmmaker and poet Granaz Moussavi grew up in Tehran with both her parents working in the screen industry. Emigrating to Australia in 1997, she shifted course from pursuing acting to writing and directing, drawing on her own life experience and the fraught situation for Iranian filmmakers, for her debut dramatic feature My Tehran for Sale.

Set and shot in Kabul, Afghanistan, her follow-up When Pomegranates Howl, which debuted at the Adelaide Film Festival, is hung on a scene-stealing performance by non-professional actor Arafat Faiz. He plays a nine-year-old lad forced to feed his family when his father becomes another unfortunate victim of the Afghan War. Much like Sun Children, all does not go swimmingly, but your heart will soar. Also look out for Australian photojournalist Andrew Quilty appearing as a version of himself.

When Pomegranates Howl is streaming now at SBS On Demand:


Love Marriage in Kabul

It would be remiss of us to overlook Persian Film Festival director Amin Palangi’s Sydney Film Festival Audience Award-winner Love Marriage in Kabul, which also took home the Australian Directors’ Guild Award for Best Direction in a Documentary Feature.

Palangi regularly travelled to Kabul with writer Sanaz Fotouhi, who penned the memoir of the same name, to document the work of Mahboba’s Promise, a charity founded by Australian-based former Afghan refugee Mahboba Rawi to support the country’s many war widows and orphans. While the doco can be a tough watch, at its heart is a truly captivating romance.

Love Marriage in Kabul is streaming now at SBS On Demand:

See these and more in the Persian Film Festival Selects collection at SBS On Demand. 


The 10th Persian Film Festival will be held from 26 April to 7 May 2023, with a program including feature, documentary and short film categories. The festival will open in Sydney and will tour to Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide. Commemorating the Woman, Life, Freedom movement in Iran, the festival showcases films by imprisoned and exilic filmmakers, as well as films that have been banned in Iran. Find out more here.



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