Iran sidebar at Hot Docs in jeopardy

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TORONTO -- The "Spotlight on Iran" sidebar at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival is in jeopardy as festival organizers face difficulties in arranging travel documents for Iranian filmmakers.

In all, 170 films from 36 countries will screen beginning Thursday, as North America's largest documentary festival kicks off with a screening of U.S. indie film "Anvil! The Story of Anvil," Sacha Gervasi's portrait of an aging Canadian metal band.

But organizers of the 11-day event said Wednesday that the Canadian consulate in Tehran and the Iranian government have been little help in arranging visas for six Iranian filmmakers, along with their documentaries, due in Toronto for an April 24 panel dubbed "Iran to You."

"We were in Tehran in October and met with the Canadian consulate, and they let us know it would be difficult to get filmmakers to the festival. It's proven quite difficult," Hot Docs director of programming Sean Farnel said.

Iranian filmmakers due in Toronto include Mahnaz Afzali with the "The Red Card," a film about an Iranian soccer hero whose life becomes tabloid fodder when his secret mistress murders his wife; Massoud Bakhshi and "Tehran Has No More Pomegranates," an homage to Iran's capital; and Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami's "Cyanosis," a stylistic portrait of a lovesick Iranian street artist that involves animated sequences.

Away from the politics, Hot Docs promises a record number of films and industry delegates for its 11-day run. The festival has grown since Farnel, a former documentary programmer at the Toronto International Film Festival, took over programming duties three years ago.

"It's exciting how we've emerged as another world class film festival in Toronto," he said.

The 15th annual Hot Docs festival, which includes the Toronto Documentary Forum market, runs April 17-27.
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