©MirandaPennell_Abadanworkers_sourced from BParchive

The Host

Dir: Miranda Pennell|UK|2015|60 mins|U

‘Like the Iranian oil workers who haunt Pennell, this is a film that refuses to get back in its box.’ Sukhdev Sandhu, Sight & Sound

A filmmaker turns forensic detective as she pieces together hundreds of photographs in search of what she believes to be a buried history, only to find herself inside the story she is researching. The Host investigates the activities of British Petroleum (BP) in Iran; a tale of power, imperial hubris and catastrophe. While the tectonic plates of geopolitical conspiracy shift in the background, the film asks us to look, and look again, at images produced by the oil company and personal photos taken by its British staff in Iran– including the filmmaker’s parents– not for what they show, but for what they betray. The Host is about the stories we tell about ourselves and others, the facts and fictions we live by - and their consequences.

The film was premiered at London Film Festival and internationally at International Film Festival Rotterdam.

Director's statement

"My father had joined the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1946 and our family had lived in Iran during two separate postings. The starting point for The Host was a disorderly mass of materials drawn from BP’s visual archive documenting the company’s origins in Iran.

I was interested in the role of BP and the British government in Iran’s traumatic 20th century. It became apparent that the intersection of an Imperial history and a personal history would provide a way to ground the abstractions of big historical events through living memory and the particularity of personal experience - albeit via the experiences and testimony of the colonisers.


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As I put the archival images together, I looked for coincidences and allowed my speculations to create connections with other images and stories. Although all of the film’s sources are either archival or family documents, the film often takes on a fictional character. This happens partly because the film is narrated as a dramatisation of my historical investigation, but mainly because it deals with the fantasies and projections of the British colonisers. It is this psychic dimension of colonialism that I wanted make palpable through the film, because of its persistence and contemporary relevance.

The title The Host refers to one of the key figures in the film, a contemporary of my parents who hosted many corporate parties in Tehran in the late 1960s. But also to the image of Iran as the host nation to the British for much of the 20th century, which suggests the relationship between parasite and host."

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