Beach Film Club dissects gender, politics, culture in visual-centric film

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K-State's Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art lies on the far south side of campus, serving as a consistent location for students to view different types of artwork. (Archive Photo | Collegian Media Group)

Art often acts as a form of protest, an outlet for political and societal statements. Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat embraces artistic protest through her film “Women Without Men,” the story of four women whose lives are dramatically changed during the 1953 American-backed coup in Iran.

As part of the Beach Film Club’s series focusing on perspectives, Shannon Skelton, assistant professor in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance, broke down the film’s background, message and unique use of imagery.

The film is an adaptation of Iranian author Shahrnush Parsipur’s 1990 novel of the same name. It began as a visual installation piece created by Neshat a few years before the film was made.

“If you look at some of the images from the video installation, [they’re] images that you would recognize from the film, some of the iconic images,” Skelton said.

While the film is set in Tehran, the capital of Iran, it was actually filmed in Morocco. Neshat, Parsipur and many of the main actresses are exiled artists no longer welcome in their home countries. The novel is banned in Iran and the film was never shown there.

The four main women — Munis, Faezah, Zarin and Fakhri — face varying struggles surrounding their forced roles and places in the world, all while trying to navigate political unrest and government takeover. Religion, politics and sexual autonomy are major elements in the film.

“I was thinking … the film was about all the restrictions that a particular culture and religion impose on a woman,” Aileen Wang, curator at the Beach Museum, said. “It seems to me that the four female characters explore the different ways of resisting control.”

A large portion of the discussion was dedicated to imagery within the film and the surreal effect it has on the viewer. From faceless figures to baptismal rebirths, attendees were left discussing the beauty and meanings of the visuals.

“I really liked the shot of Zarin in the water,” Nicole Derr, accountant for the KSU Foundation, said. “That was very beautiful, and I thought immediately of an ‘Ophelia’ painting. I thought that was just gorgeous.”

“Women Without Men” is available through Amazon Prime. The next Beach Film Club discussion takes place at 7:30 p.m. April 28. It will focus on experimental short films, all of which will be available to watch on YouTube at the viewer’s convenience.

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My name is Jared Shuff, and I am the current editor-in-chief of the Collegian. Previously, I worked as the arts & culture editor and as a contributing writer for the news desk. I am a senior in secondary education with an emphasis in English/journalism. I grew up in Hutchinson, Kansas, and attended Hutchinson Community College before transferring to K-State in 2020.