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dir. Kamran Heidari, 2017
82 mins. Iran/France/Switzerland.
In Farsi with English subtitles.
THURSDAY, APRIL 4 – 7:30 PM
MONDAY, APRIL 15 – 7:30 PM
FRIDAY, APRIL 19 – 10 PM
SUNDAY APRIL 28 – 5 PM
If I AM NEGAHDAR JAMALI AND I MAKE WESTERNS is a mostly sympathetic treatment of male obsession, ALI AQA returns to the subject with a much darker tone. Instead of profiling an artist, Heidari chose Ali Aqa, a man devoted to the pigeons whom he keeps on the roof of his apartment building. Ali pays more attention to the birds’ health than this own; his wife points out that he’s willing to perform surgery on them while delaying an operation that he needs himself. Now 70, he looks like an aging biker or Grateful Dead roadie, with white hair past his shoulders and a full beard. But he turns out to be a rage machine. There’s a stereotype that some people’s love for animals is actually an expression of misanthropy and contempt for their fellow humans, and in Ali’s case it’s quite true. He’s diabetic and starting to have difficulty getting around, but does nothing to try and preserve his quality of life.
Around the 45-minute mark, something happens which alters one’s perception of Ali: he goes from being a grumpy old man to a danger to the people around him. And while Heidari obviously isn’t a passive observer, Ali and his wife show their awareness of the camera. The film becomes a reflection on the responsibility of documentarians towards their subjects. On the website of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, Heidari revealed to Mark Baker that “Ali told us not to meddle with his personal life ever again, and even banned us from visiting his home for a while. But after some discussion with him, everything got back to normal and we resumed shooting.” A key moment is edited from the film, although after one has seen it, it’s quite clear what has happened. With this film, Heidari put his body (and camera) on the line in a way that raises the stakes considerably from the friendlier subjects of I AM NEGHADAR JAMALI AND I MAKE WESTERNS and DINGOMARO.
ALI AQA evolved from Heidari’s interest in photographing pigeons. The project started out as a documentary about them, but he settled on depicting men who love the birds instead. While it respects Ali’s passion, one watches in dismay as the film reveals his enthusiasm devolving from a healthy hobby to something that detracts from his attention to his family. If I AM NEGAHDAR JAMALI AND I MAKE WESTERNS had a similar underlying drama, ALI AQA raises it to the level of overt critique. But it makes one understand that Ali is trying to find something therapeutic in his pigeons that he can’t get from people, even if this is a largely failed quest.