Khayam Khooni [Ali Nifkar, Iran, 2017] /// Moroccan Blue [Richard Paske, USA, 2018]
Winner of Rosarito International Film Festival’s best music video award and recipient of an Official Selection at Los Angeles Cinefest 2017, Khayam Khooni shows a group performance of a Khayyamkhani, a traditional Bushehr Iranian song. Text at the opening of the film informs us that Khayyamkhani “consists of symmetrical periods, which, in terms of metro rhythm, is consistent with poetic meter”. Director, Ali Nifkar’s filming is highly naturalistic, seeking to honour the tradition of the Hamnava ensemble’s performance techniques.
Performers, friends and family members sit as one, cross-legged on the floor around a fire, as the performance of the song begins. The Hamnava Ensemble’s performance of Barak Dashtinejad’s composition is delightful, possessing a joyous energy that really helps to propel the performance through. Despite the seeming simplicity with which the performance is filmed, Nifkar does utilize various techniques that assist in communicating the community aspect of the performance.
For example, consistent use of focus pulling gives the performers equal importance in the collaboration. Just as we focus on the innate finger work of one performer on one instrument in the foreground, focus is pulled, so that our attention is now focused on another performer, another instrument, this time in the background. All members are involved in the piece, and all instruments are called upon to play their part. Likewise, numerous close-ups remind the viewer of the intimacy of the performance, whilst sequences shot through the flames of a nearby family seem to remind us of the Khayyamkhani’s more traditional roots.
As the performance progresses, children stand up and dance, members of the group without instruments begin clapping and chanting, and both female and male solo singers are introduced. Eventually the energy of the piece takes over, with the group roused to their feet as the song continues. Khayam Khooni is a truly joyous offering that could be used to show anyone the value of community performances and spaces, with young, old, male, female, instrumentalists, singers, clappers and chanters all encouraged to participate, with each part holding near equal weight.
Nifkar’s decision to shoot in a predominately handheld style (with heavy emphasis on the use of close-ups) pays dividends. Hamnava Ensemble’s performance is captured with great intimacy that really does give the illusion of having been invited into their community space. Nifkar’s work is accomplished, yet somewhat understated, with his own capabilities never threatening to overshadow his respect for this traditional song.
Whilst the talent level of the performers is clear, the deceptive simplicity of Khayam Khooni is encapsulated by the text that closes the film, that advises us, “it is possible to consider ‘Khayyamkhani’ as part of chamber music, without luxury, but exhilarating.”
Richard Paske’s approach of using composited imagery to breathe new life into decade-old jazz recordings is one he is experienced in. Moroccan Blue features many of the same hallmarks as his other films, for example Straange Attractors. As with this earlier effort, Paske (a musician and multimedia artist) superimposes images in a shifting collage over a live jazz recording, on which he plays as pianist. Unlike Straange Attractors, despite the free-form nature of the jazz performance we hear, the images are much more controlled and subdued. The pace of their movements and their transitions are greatly restricted, thus giving the images of Moroccan Blue an intriguing juxtaposition in their relationship with the more erratic music.
Paske’s piece serves as an ode to jazz pianist and composer Randy Weston, who established the African Rhythm Club in Tangier, Morocco. Paske confesses that when he saw Weston perform in 2017 he said, “Now I can die and go to heaven. I heard Randy Weston play Little Niles live.” Despite the huge impression Weston’s work appears to have made on Paske, the images he has chosen to accompany the performance are not actually directly related to Morocco. The four images Paske utilizes include: palm trees in a Culver City Albertson’s parking lot, palm trees in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park, a trellis at a Los Feliz taco stand and, finally, a pool of water in an urban park in downtown Los Angeles. Undeniably, there are times when the interaction of these simple images is wonderful to behold, for example around the two-and-a-half minute mark, the mixing of water creates an image that looks almost like lightning striking across crocodile skin.
Paske’s images were processed using Lightroom and composited using Cyberlink PowerDirector, two bits of creative software he clearly has a great working knowledge of. The audience applause at the opening of the performance does a fantastic job of reminding us that the music was performed in a physical, spatial location even whilst the images to go alongside it offer something far less corporeal. Paske’s chosen images communicate effectively the light tone and feel of the music; the calming holiday feel of Paske’s Californian reality – palms, sunshine and water. These light, "summery" elements interact well with the languid blue tones that predominate across almost all of the sequences.
The musical performance we hear from Paske and his colleagues is a real delight, and certainly enough to justify this film for anyone with a taste for jazz. Whether or not the juxtaposition of the speed and texture of the free-form jazz works alongside the more languid images, is one aspect that is open for debate. Those who enjoy the format of composited images alongside recorded live jazz performance would do well to track down and observe Paske’s other works – including Straange Attractors – as his recent work never disappoints.
'Khayam Khooni' and 'Moroccan Blue' were both films in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2018.