Silence Broken

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While trying to bring his latest work to a U.S. audience, Iranian filmmaker Babak Payami had to deal with an issue his Hollywood counterparts are unaccustomed to facing when they roll out their blockbusters. After Payami's Silence Between Two Thoughts screened in Tehran in 2003, government officials seized the original negative. Payami spent weeks reconstructing the 95-minute film from computer files transferred to videotape. And he not only brought his controversial vision back to life but spirited a copy out of the country for screenings in New York, Washington, D.C., and Houston. It will play here as part of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's Iranian Film Festival.

"The audience for these Iranian art films is growing larger each year," says MFAH film programmer Marian Luntz. "There is a substantial Iranian population in Texas that values what these films represent, and there's a surprising depth of filmmaking activity in a country that Americans consider repressive."

Payami's opus is one of six films opening at the festival; together, the movies illustrate how much the country's film industry has evolved, albeit slowly. Overtly political themes from a decade ago have given way to narrative drama and moral conflict.

Silence takes that conflict to the extreme. In the film, a prison guard is ordered to kill a female criminal. Since she's a virgin, her death would guarantee her entry into paradise, so he's ordered to marry her first. Another film, Parviz Shahbazi's Deep Breath, explores a topic not so unfamiliar to American audiences: the ennui of three college-age Iranians who turn to violence just to have something to do. The festival runs from Friday, January 9, through Sunday, January 18. In Farsi with English subtitles. Brown Auditorium, 1001 Bissonnet. For information and showtimes, call 713-639-7515 or visit $6. -- Greg Barr

Young Masters

It took years for Picasso to reduce his scholastic training to the childlike brilliance of cubism. At the Harris County Department of Education's "Golden Key Exhibition" at the Glassell Junior School of Art, you can skip all the higher academics and jump right to the good stuff. The exhibition features 105 individual works and 30 portfolios from some of the most outstanding middle school and high school artists in the county. And be sure to take note of the artists' names when you visit. If one of these kids becomes famous, you can prove you're in the know by asking the classic question: "But have you seen her early work?" Thursday, January 8, through February 5. 5100 Montrose. For information, call 713-639-7700 or visit Free. -- Keith Plocek


Serenity Now!

Now that the hustle and bustle of the holidays are behind us (finally!), it's time to chill out and reflect on the coming year. What better place is there to find a little inner peace than the Rothko Chapel, Houston's very own mecca of modern meditation? Tranquillity will come even easier this weekend, when Ani Sherab will sing a harmonious program titled "The Sacred Music of Tibet." Not only is Sherab one of the few women in Tibet with the status to grant spiritual initiations, she's also considered to be a contemporary embodiment of Tara, the Mother of Compassion. Talk about spiritual cred! 2 p.m. Sunday, January 11. 1409 Sul Ross. For information, call 713-730-0354 or visit Free. -- Keith Plocek


Lighten Up
The National Body Challenge offers support for loser-wannabes

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Perhaps your resolution to lose weight seems less realistic now than it did on January 1. For a lot of people, last week was full of lame excuses, like "Christmas cookies are last year's calories," "I think my gym is closed for the holidays," or "I can't afford to join a gym. Have you seen my credit card statement?" The National Body Challenge wants to scuttle all your excuses for not losing weight by giving you a set of tools to get the job done -- at no cost. If you weigh in this Saturday, you'll get a three-month membership to Bally's Total Fitness, a personal journal and a tape measure to track your success. Weigh out 12 weeks later on April 3 and sample the sweet aroma of success. It smells nothing like chocolate chip cookies. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, January 10. Discovery Channel Store, Willowbrook Mall, 7925 FM 1960 West. For information, call 281-469-4999 or visit Free. -- Lisa Simon

Get Carded

Sports cards can be more fickle than stocks and bonds. The value of a particular player's cards can plummet after one bad season, one flippant remark or even one murderous night in which he slays his ex-wife and her lover (oops, we meant one instance in which he's accused of slaying them). You can judge the current market values for yourself at the Tri-Star Collectors Show, where hundreds of vendors will be on hand hawking all sorts of sports collectibles. For an extra fee, you can even get live autographs from sports legends like Whitey Ford, Jim Palmer, Joe Greene and Rudy Tomjanovich. Friday, January 9, through Sunday, January 11. George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Avenida de las Americas. For information and times, call 713-666-9595 or visit $7.50 to $10. -- Keith Plocek

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