Close Up

18 January - 14 March 2020: In Harm's Way: The Films of Majed Neisi


The films in this programme reveal a willingness for taking risks, filming what is usually overlooked in the areas of conflict where they are made. What is it that encourages the filmmaker to stay in the harm's way? The lives of those that Majed Neisi is capturing with a sense of admiration and empathy, people who have passed the point of being afraid or shaken by the course of horrible events around them, living with fear and pain in a matter-of-factly way, accepting them as their daily realities.

Majed Neisi, the documentary filmmaker from southwest Iran, has relentlessly followed and filmed the military occupations and civil wars in the Middle East, documenting a rare picture of ordinary people's resilience in his often short and straight-to-the-point films. It was Neisi's time and place of birth which defined the nature of his filmmaking: born in 1981 in a makeshift hospital in southern Iran during a bombardment in the Iran-Iraq War. For two decades he has dedicated himself to examining the pathology of war in a succession of Middle Eastern battlegrounds in Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan.

"As a documentarian of war," Majed Neisi says, "one of my responsibilities is to give depth and consistency to what lies beyond media stories that are forgotten all too soon." In the post-9/11 world, his role remains a crucial one as what he pictures usually doesn't makes it to the news networks whose interests in people and events are dictated by viewers' statistics.His films show war as it is raging (The Black Flag), but also study the effect of the conflict on people long after the scream of bullets has given way to an eerie silence (Undo). He has also worked as a local producer and director of photography for National Geographic documentaries and has written a short story, The Corpse Fixer, published in the anthology Tehran Noir.

The over dozen films he has directed and produced examine ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances and have premiered at major European film festivals including IDFA, Dok Leipzig, Sheffield Doc/Fest, Visions du Reél, Cinéma du réel and Festival dei Popoli.

We're pleased to welcome Majed Neisi to Close-Up for the first UK retrospective of his documentaries.

Majed Neisi, 2017, 38 min
Arabic & Persian with English subtitles

Iraq invaded Iran in September 1980, occupying Khorramshahr for over two years and setting off the longest conventional war of the twentieth century, one of the bloodiest and least known recent conflicts. 37 years later, an Iranian photographer and an Iraqi cameraman who both documented the conflict from opposing sides meet in Khorramshahr. This beautifully shot film courageously shines a new light on the official narrative of the so-called "holy defence" (the term for the war with Iraq) in Iran, questioning the notion of "imposed war" and showing that there can't be a winner after any war.

Orange Bombs
Majed Neisi, 2008, 19 min
Arabic with English subtitles

An old farming couple spend their mornings diffusing bombs and their afternoons picking oranges: Their orange orchard in the south of Lebanon has been filled with cluster bombs since the 2006 war; The oranges are ripe, but the bombs halt the harvest season. So the two are left no solution but to go about their daily lives diffusing bombs. 

My Dishevelled Hair
Majed Neisi, 2007, 21 min
Persian & Dari with English subtitles

Shot in 2003, this is a moving account of Iranian women first forced by their families to marry Afghan men (i.e. sold to them), and then after the American invasion of Afghanistan, forced to leave Iran and settle with their husbands in Afghanistan. The women interviewed by Majed Neisi tell their shocking stories of rape, abuse and being cut off from their roots.

The Black Flag
Majed Neisi, 2015, 62 min
Arabic with English subtitles

This powerful documentary portrays war in the Middle East in an entirely unprecedented way. Shot among the Shi’a militias taking up arms to fight against the Islamic State. Filmmaker Majed Neisi travels to the edge of Anbar Province to embed himself with the underequipped but determined volunteers fighting to rescue their country from the onslaught of the extremists. As bullets ricochet all around, this frontline profile presents a vivid snapshot of the conflicts raging throughout the Middle East and a glimpse at the horrors of combat. "In June 2014, I was in Iraq carrying out research for a film. One night, I saw the video of the beheading of a professor of medicine in the market in Tikrit on my Facebook feed. It blew my mind and I could not think of anything else. I asked myself, “what can I do?” For this was no longer a war in between two conflicting sides. It had become a war against humanity itself. The brutal murder of a completely innocent professor was only one of its numerous, manifold manifestations. Iraqis were only just beginning to recover from the shock of the invasion and to realise that they must combat ISIS using any means available. They soldiers I filmed, like so many others, were ordinary people: grocery sellers, students, mechanics, doctors, engineers… who believed in their ideology and followed a fatwa in the conviction that they must defend their country. Gaining their trust and access to accompany and film them was extremely difficult. I really wanted to understand who they were, what their ideology was, what they thought of this war and their overall world view was. Were they simply going to get slaughtered?" – Majed Neisi

Rusty People
Majed Neisi, 2003, 20 min
Arabic with English subtitles

Majed Neisi, again, brings in front of the camera the women of the conflict zones. In this one of his most moving films shot in Iraq, a woman supports her family and her disabled husband (a victim of land mines) by collecting aluminium waste from former battlefields. This is where gleaning finds a tragic side.