The cinema of Iran (or Persian cinema) is a flourishing film industry with a long history. Many popular commercial films are annually made in Iran, and Iranian art films win praise around the world.
Film festivals that honour Iranian films are held annually around the globe. Along with China, Iran has been lauded as one of the best exporters of cinema in the 1990s. Some critics now rank Iran as the world's most important national cinema, artistically, with a significance that invites comparison to Italian neorealism and similar movements in past decades. World-renowned Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke and German filmmaker Werner Herzog, along with many film critics from around the world, have praised Iranian cinema as one of the world’s most important artistic cinemas.
Besides films made in Iran, the terms "Iranian cinema" and "Persian cinema" can also refer to the cinema of the Iranian Cultural Continent ("Greater Iran"), such as Tajikistan and Afghanistan. The term may also refer to movies made using the Persian language but filmed or produced in other regions, such as Europe and the United States or to movies made by Iranians in languages other than Iranian ones.
This style and complexity of visual representation reached its high peak about a thousand years later during the Sassanian reign. A bas-relief in Taq-e-Bostan (western Iran) depicts a complex hunting scene. In these visual representations, movements and actions are articulated in a sophisticated manner. It is even possible to see the progenitor of the cinema close-up: a wounded wild pig escaping from the hunting ground.
After the conversion from Zoroastrianism to Islam — a religion in which visual symbols were avoided — Persian art continued its visual practices. Persian miniatures are great examples of such attempts. The deliberate lack of perspective enabled the artist to have different plots and sub-plots within the same image space. A very popular form of such art was Pardeh-Khani. Another type of art in the same category was Naqqali.
In 1904, Mirza Ebrahim Khan Sahhafbashi opened the first movie theater in Tehran. After Mirza Ebrahim Khan, several others like Russi Khan, Ardeshir Khan, and Ali Vakili tried to establish new movie theaters in Tehran. Until the early 1930s, there were little more than 15 theatres in Tehran and 11 in other provinces.
In 1925, an Armenian-Iranian cinematographer, Ovanes Ohanian, decided to establish the first film school in Iran. Within five years he managed to run the first session of the school under the name "Parvareshgahe Artistiye cinema" (The Cinema Artist Educational Centre).
The present day Iranian film industry owes a lot of its progress to two industrious personalities, Esmail Koushan and Farrokh Ghaffari. By establishing the first National Iranian Film Society in 1949 at the Iran Bastan Museum and organizing the first Film Week during which English films were exhibited, Ghaffari laid the foundation for alternative and non-commercial films in Iran.
Early Persian directors like Abdolhossein Sepanta and Esmail Koushan took advantage of the richness of Persian literature and ancient Persian mythology. In their work, they put emphasized ethics and humanity.
The movie that really boosted the economy of Iranian cinema and initiated a new genre was Ganj-e-Qarun (Croesus Treasure), made in 1965 by Siamak Yasami. Four years later Masud Kimiaie made Kaiser. With Kaiser (Qeysar), Kimiaie depicted the ethics and morals of the romanticized poor working class of the Ganj-e-Qarun genre through his main protagonist, the titular Qeysar. But Kimiaie's film generated another genre in Iranian popular cinema: the tragic action drama.
With the screening of the films Kaiser and The Cow, directed by Masoud Kimiay and Darius Mehrjui respectively in 1969, alternative films established their status in the film industry. Attempts to organize a film festival that had begun in 1954 within the framework of the Golrizan Festival, called for the boring of fruits with the Sepas Festival in 1969 and the endeavors of Ali Mortazavi, which resulted in the formation of the Tehran World Festival in 1973.
Pre-revolutionary Iranian cinema produced notable movies such as:
Post-revolutionary Iranian cinema has been celebrated in many international forums and festivals for its distinct style, themes, authors, idea of nationhood, and cultural references. Starting With Viva... by Khosrow Sinai and followed by Many excellent Iranian directors who emerged in the last few decades, such as Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi. Kiarostami, who some critics regard as one of the few great directors in the history of cinema, planted Iran firmly on the map of world cinema when he won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for Taste of Cherry in 1997.
The continuous presence of Iranian films in prestigious international festivals such as Cannes, the Venice Film Festival, and Berlin Film Festival attracted world attention to Iranian masterpieces ., as Iranian films have repeatedly been nominated for or won prestigious prizes at those festivals. In 2006, six Iranian films, with six different styles, represented Iranian cinema at the Berlin Film Festival, and critics considered this a remarkable event in the history of Iranian cinema.
An important step was taken in 1998 when the Iranian government began to fund ethnic cinema. Since then Iranian Kurdistan has seen the rise of numerous filmmakers. In particular the film industry got momentum in Iranian Kurdistan and the region has seen the emergence of filmmakers such as Bahman Ghobadi, actually the entire Ghobadi family, Ali-Reza Rezai, Khosret Ressoul and many other younger filmmakers.
The internationally award-winning cinema of Iran is quite different from the domestically oriented films. The latter caters to an entirely different audience, which is largely under the age of 25. This commercial Iranian cinema genre is largely unknown in the West, as the films are targeted at local audiences. There are two categories of this type of film:
For many years, the most visible face of Iranian commercial cinema was Mohammad Ali Fardin, who starred in a number of popular successful films. In the more conservative social climate of Iran after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, however, he came to be considered an embarrassment to Iranian national identity and his films — which depicted romance, alcohol, scantily-clad women, and a lifestyle now condemned by the Islamic government — were banned. Although this would effectively prevent Fardin from making films for the remainder of his life, the ban did little to diminish his broad popularity with Iranian moviegoers: His funeral in Tehran was attended by 20,000 mourners. Before Fardin, one could argue, Iran simply did not have a commercial cinema.
During the war years, crime thrillers such as Senator (1983), The Eagles (1984), Boycott (1985), The Tenants (1986), and Kani Manga (1987) occupied the first position on the sales charts.
Officially, the Iranian government disdains American cinema: in 2007 President Ahmadinejad's media adviser told the Fars news agency, "We believe that the American cinema system is devoid of all culture and art and is only used as a device. However, numerous western commercial films such as Edison, The Illusionist, Passion of the Christ, House of Sand and Fog, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, The Others and The Aviator have been screened in Iranian cinemas and Iranian film festivals since the revolution. Despite great pride in the country’s more than one hundred year old film history, Western cinema is enormously popular among Iran’s young people, and practically every recent Hollywood film is available on CD, DVD, or video. Conservative-controlled state television has also broadcast more Western movies -- partly because millions of Iranians have been switching to the use of banned satellite television equipment.
There is no particular love of Arab or Indian cinema among the Iranian masses – in the last eight years, there has not been a single film from these countries screened in Iran. 6 to 8 Hollywood films make it to Iranian movie theaters each year.
In the 1960s, there were 'New Wave' movements in the cinema of numerous countries. The pioneers of the Iranian New Wave were directors like Forough Farrokhzad,Khosrow Sinai, Sohrab Shahid Saless, Bahram Beizai, and Parviz Kimiavi. They made innovative art films with highly political and philosophical tones and poetic language. Subsequent films of this type have become known as the New Iranian cinema to distinguish them from their earlier roots. The most notable figures of the Iranian New Wave are Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi, Majid Majidi, Bahram Beizai, Darius Mehrjui, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Khosrow Sinai, Sohrab Shahid-Saless, Parviz Kimiavi, Samira Makhmalbaf, Amir Naderi, and Abolfazl Jalili.
The factors leading to the rise of the New Wave in Iran were, in part, due to the intellectual and political movements of the time. A romantic climate was developing after the 19 August 1953 coup in the sphere of arts. Alongside this, a socially committed literature took shape in the 1950s and reached a peak in the 1960s, which may consider as the golden era of contemporary Persian literature.
Iranian New Wave films shared some characteristics with the European art films of the period, in particular Italian Neorealism. However, in her article 'Real Fictions', Rose Issa argues that Iranian films have a distinctively Iranian cinematic language
In his book Close Up: Iranian Cinema, Past, Present, Future (2001) Hamid Dabashi describes modern Iranian cinema and the phenomenon of [Iranian] national cinema as a form of cultural modernity. According to Dabashi, "the visual possibility of seeing the historical person (as opposed to the eternal Qur'anic man) on screen is arguably the single most important event allowing Iranians access to modernity."
While Kiarostami and Panahi represent the first and second generations of New wave filmmakers respectively, the third generation is represented by Bahman Ghobadi, Maziar Miri, Asghar Farhadi, Mani Haghighi, and Babak Payami, along with newly emerged filmmakers such as Kiarash Anvari, Maziar Bahari, Sadaf Foroughi, Saman Saloor, and Mona Zandi-Haqiqi.
Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, writer and director is probably Iran's best-known and certainly most prolific female filmmaker. She has established herself as the elder stateswoman of Iranian cinema with documentaries and films dealing with social pathology. Samira Makhmalbaf directed her first film, The Apple, when she was only 17 years old and won the Cannes Jury Prize in 2000 for her following film ‘’The Blackboard’’.
The success and hard work of the pioneering Rakhshan Bani-Etemad is an example that many women directors in Iran were following much before Samira Makhmalbaf made the headlines. Internationally recognized figures in Persian women's cinema are:
Besides women involved in screenwriting and filmmaking, numerous award winning Iranian actresses with uniques styles and talents attract critic. The most notable Iranian actresses are:
In 2006, Marjane Satrapi, became a member of the Cannes Film festival Jury. She is an Iranian contemporary graphic novelist, illustrator and author of the best selling "Persepolis". In 2007 she won the Cannes jury prize.
Many renowned directors were involved in developing Iranian war cinema:
There exist some evidences suggesting that Ancient Iranians made animations. An animated piece on an earthen goblet made 5000 years ago was found in Burnt City in Sistan-Baluchistan province, southeastern Iran. The artist has portrayed a goat that jumps toward a tree and eats its leaves.
The first Tehran International Animation Festival was held in 1999, four decades after the time the production of first animation films in Iran. The Second Tehran International Animation Festival was held in February 2001. Apart from Iranian films, animations from 35 foreign countries participated in the festival.
The following are among the notable filmmakers of Iranian animated films:
In 1998, Abolfazl Jalili made "Dance of Dust" in Kurdish and English. The film won Silver Leopard at Locarno Film Festival and FIPRESCI Prize at London Film Festival. In 1999, The Wind Will Carry Us, by Abbas Kiarostami, was partly shot in Iran's Kurdistan province. It was presented at both the Venice Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival.
Kurdish cinema came to international prominence in 2000 with the screening of two Kurdish language movies simultaneously at the Cannes Film Festival, namely, The Blackboard by Samira Makhmalbaf (entirely in Kurdish) and A Time for Drunken Horses by Bahman Ghobadi (in Kurdish and Persian).
In 2000, Farhad Mehranfar made "The Legend of Love" which tells the story of Khazara, a young female medical student who wanders courageously among nomadic Kurdish tribes looking for her fiancé, who has set off to tend the wounded in a town besieged by Iraqi attacks. The film won Special Jury Award in Santa Barbara International Film Festival (2001).
In 2002, Songs from my Motherland (aka Marooned in Iraq), another movie by Bahman Ghobadi in Kurdish and Persian, was presented at Cannes. The movie won prizes at several other international festivals.
In 2005, Iranian director Jamil Rostami won the Fajr Festival's Simorgh for Best Director in Asia and Middle East for his Kurdish language movie Requiem of Snow written by Sholeh Shariati. In 2006, Ghobadi's Half Moon (in Kurdish and Persian) won the Golden Seashell at the San Sebastian Film Festival. The film was shot in Iranian Kurdistan and Iran's renowned actors Golshifteh Farahani, Hassan Poorshirazi and Hedyeh Tehrani (also executive and assistant director) acted in this movie. The music in the movie was made by Iran's world-class musician Hossein Alizadeh.
Among other advocates of folk cinema is Iranian director Reza Allamehzadeh who trained and supported many young Kurdish directors.
The situation of Afghan immigrants has been also addressed extensively by Iranian cinematographers. The first step in this field was taken by Mohsen Makhmalbaf in Bicycle ran in 1998. Other examples in this line are Jafar Panahi's White Balloon in 1994, Abbas Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry in 1997, Majid Majidi's Rain and Bahram Beizaei's Killing Mad Dogs.
In 2000, Djomeh made by one of Abbas Kiarostami’s assistants, Hassan Yektapanah; the story focuses on the plight of one of the two million young Afghan refugees in Iran without legal status. When the non-professional Afghan actor, used in this film, was invited to the Hamburg Film Festival, and then denied re-entry to Iran, his story became another film, Heaven's Path in 2002, by the architect-actor-film-maker Mahmoud Behraznia, who lives in Germany.
In Tajikistan, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the internationally known Iranian movie director, is playing the same role as he played in the reconstruction of the cinema of post-Taliban Afghanistan. The first Didar Film Festival, the first film festival to be held in Tajikistan, took place in 2004. The festival and the House of Cinema of Makhmalbaf (in Iran) allocated grants for the creation of short-feature film by young and gifted filmmakers Mirzob Nugmanov, Aloviddin Abdullaev, Denis Mechetov, Shahruyor Nazari, and grant to Bakhtiyor Kakhorov for the creation of a cartoon.
In 2002, Jamshid Usmonov won FIPRESCI Prize at London film festival for his Persian language comedy, Angel on the Right.
Tajikistan’s Filmmakers Guild which is an affiliate of Moscow Filmmakers Guild, in a ceremony on August 26, 2005 held in Dushanbe’s House of Cinema, presented the Guild’s honorary membership to Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Makhmalbaf made two of his 18 feature films in Tajikistan: “Silence” in Persian and “Sex and Philosophy” in Russian are the titles.
Amongst the pioneers of French New Wave were François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Goddard, Claude Chabrol and Eric Rohmer or Barbet Schroeder (born in Tehran, Iran in 1941 where his German geologist Father was on assignment).
During the first half of the 20th century, France was the major destination for Iranian students who wished to study abroad. Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations Fereydoun Hoveyda was one of them. Fereydoun Hoveyda played a major role in French cultural scene and especially in the field of Cinema, for he was the protégé of François Truffaut whom he befriended and with which he helped create the well-known film magazine Les Cahiers du Cinéma that spearheaded the French Nouvelle Vague or New Wave Cinema. He also worked closely with Italian film director Roberto Rossellini on several film scripts during that period. Fereydoun Hoveyda was not the only Iranian of his generation to play an active role in promoting the French Cinéma d'Auteur. Youssef Ishaghpour is another example.
Another Iranian figure in French New Wave was Shusha Guppy a singer, writer and filmmaker who was Jacques Prévert's girlfriend. However, the most important contribution to the French New Wave cinema is that of Serge Rezvani an Iranian poet born in Tehran in 1928. He played a major role as music composer of both François Truffaut Jules et Jim and Jean Luc Godard Pierrot le Fou, considered as landmarks of French New Wave Cinema. Farah Diba studied at the Beaux Arts and became the focus of attention and the French Press was to see her as the new Persian Cinderella. Farah Diba was one of the rare foreign dignitaries to become a permanent member of the French Academie des Beaux Arts .
Iranian Robert Hossein (son of legendary musician Aminollah Hossein) started his acting career with his French Armenian friend Chahnour Varinag Aznavourian (known as the famed crooner Charles Aznavour) in the mid fifties essentially type casted as " Mr. Tough Guy ". However he got international acclaim in the early Sixties particularly in Europe, Russia and Asia as the mysterious " Jeoffrey, Comte de Peyrac " lover of the lovely Michèle Mercier in the soft erotic-adventure film series of Angélique Marquise des Anges . In the seventies and eighties he was to play opposite Jean Paul Belmondo in police thrillers like The Professional . Hossein became known for being a talented theater director and his taste for popular historical vehicles involving large sets and numerous actors.
After the overthrow of French President Charles De Gaulle, Iranian Anicée Shahmanesh became known under the screen name Anicée Alvina, playing a French girl in a British film hit called Friends , the music score of which propelled British Pop Star Elton John. She was also to take on a courageous Lesbian role in the screen adaptation of Françoise Mallet-Joris' novel Le Rempart des Béguines.
Two major documentaries were produced in these years by respectively Agnès Varda and the duo Claude Lelouche-Claude Pinoteau.
Agnès Varda, first to be discovered to young actor Gérard Depardieu in her 1970 film Nausicaa , directed a love story set in Isfahan (1976) between a French woman (Valérie Mairesse) visiting Iran as a tourist and her guide an Iranian Man (Ali Raffi). The film was entitled Plaisir D'Amour en Iran. The romantic film was shot on location in The Masjed Shah.
Claude Pinoteau and Claude Lelouche on the other hand shot their documentary just after the Persepolis Celebrations in 1971. They decided to address the urban transformations and cultural emancipation that the country was subject to by the early seventies.
Several Iranian expats such as Philippe Khorsand or Persian play writer/actor Yasmina Reza have also gained notice in recent years. The latter is particularly known for her highly intellectual introspections in such plays like Art (Sean Connery bought the film rights advised by his French wife).
There is an Iranian presence in Hollywood commercial cinema. Academy Award nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo appeared in the House of Sand and Fog which portrays the life of Iranian-Americans. Bahar Soomekh appeared in the award wining Crash, produced by Iranian American Bob Yari, while actress Nazanin Boniadi appears in Iron Man.
1996 film Seven Servants, a USA-Germany co-production, was written and directed by Daryush Shokof, with Anthony Quinn in the lead and David Warner as supporting cast. It was a landmark as a first film made by an Iranian director out of Iran and with Hollywood elements participating in it. The film went on to more than 20 major film festivals world wide.
2006 film Apocalypto was written by Australian-American Mel Gibson and Iranian Farhad Safinia who was also a producer. It earned Golden Globe, BAFTA and BFCA nominations for Best Foreign-Language Film. It was nominated for 79th Academy Award for Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Makeup. Sound editing of the film was done by another Iranian sound editor Kami Asgar.
The following are films made also by Iranian-Americans:
The Fajr Film Festival has taken place since 1983. It was intended to be as magnificent and spectacular as possible from its very onset. It had a background as powerful as that of the Tehran International Film Festival and wanted to remain on the same track. Although the Fajr Film Festival is not yet classed among the top film festivals, it has been successful in making policies and setting examples for the future of Iranian cinema. In its early years it had a competition section for professional as well as amateur film (8 mm, 16 mm). Since 1990, there has been an international along with the national competition. The festival also features a competition for advertisement items like posters, stills and trailers. In 2005, the festival added competitions for Asian as well as spiritual films. The top prize is called Crystal Simorgh.
After the Iranian revolution, filmmakers experienced even more restrictions. Several films now regarded as the seeds of a renaissance in Iranian art films, such as Bahram Beizai's Cherikeh-ye Tara (Ballad of Tara, 1980) and Marg-e Yazd-e Gerd (Death of Yazd-e Gerd, 1982), and Amir Naderi's Jostoju (Search, 1982), were banned in Iran.
Since the mid 1980s, Iran's policy on film censorship has been changed in order to promote domestic film production: the strict censorship eased a little after December 1987. Old directors resurfaced and new ones emerged. However, the application of the rules is often inconsistent. Several films have been refused release inside Iran, but have been given export permits to enter international film festivals. Even here, the censorship is inconsistent: May Lady by Rakhshan Bani-Etemad (1998) got through but her contribution to Stories of Kish (1999) did not.
All of Jafar Panahi's films, including his recent film about female football fans, Offside (2006), have been banned from public theaters in Iran. Offside was relegated to "a guest slot" at the International Fajr Film Festival. "It was not shown as an important film," says Panahi. "They didn't give any value to it."
Several of Mohsen Makhmalbaf's films are also banned in Iran. For example, Time of Love and The night of Zaiandeh-rood were banned for dealing with physical love and for raising doubts about the revolution.
In 2001, feminist filmmaker Tahmineh Milani made The Hidden Half, which was accused of presenting the anti-revolutionary forces in a positive light. Milani was jailed and her belongings stolen. Many Iranian and international artists and filmmakers protested and demanded her release. Eventually President Khatami and the Minister of Culture were able to secure her release. Of a subsequent film, Two Women, Milani has said "[it] was banned for seven months and before I could even start on it my script was banned for seven years. It was eventually released and was a box office hit in Iran.
Among Iran's censorship rules is a ban on the depiction of women without headscarves. Joy of Madness, a documentary about the process of casting At Five in the Afternoon, was banned when Samira Makhmalbaf's own headscarf was deemed "insufficiently modest". Tahmineh Milani's Kakadu, which was about the environment, was banned and still cannot be seen in Iran because it depicts a beautiful eight-year old girl who is not wearing a headscarf.
In Nargess, Rakhshan Bani-Etemad who is a pioneer of Iranian cinema, pushes censorship codes to the limits, questioning the mores of society, showing desperate people overwhelmed by social conditions and a couple living together without being married.
Abbas Kiarostami has had significant acclaim in Europe over several of his films, the Iranian government has refused to permit the showing of his films in his native Iran. Kiarostami's films have been banned in his country for more than 10 years. They are only accessible there through pirate DVDs and underground screenings. Kiarostami is uncertain what the government dislikes about his films, saying "I think they don't understand my films and so prevent them being shown just in case there is a message they don't want to get out." Despite this, Kiarostami has displayed an extraordinarily benign perspective, at least in recorded interviews: "The government is not in my way, but it is not assisting me either. We lead our separate lives." Despite the censorship, Kiarostami insists on working in Iran, saying "I think I really produce my best work in Iran." He believes that throughout the ages and all over the world censorship has existed in one form or another and artists have managed to live with this, saying "Today, the most important thing is that, although there is censorship, Iranian filmmakers are doing their job and they surpass the difficulties of censorship showing and discussing many things. So why ask me about what's not in the films? It has happened many times that a filmmaker hides a weakness under the excuse of censorship but difficulties have always existed in our lifestyle and our role is to surpass them.
Several other Iranian film makers have experienced hostilities from other countries. In November 2001 in Afghanistan, Taliban officials, who banned movies and most filmmaking, arrested three of Majid Majidi's crew members who were helping him secretly shoot Barefoot to Herat, a documentary on the country's internal refugees. Samira Makhmalbaf also survived a kidnapping in Afghanistan.
In March 2007, a bomb explosion severely injuring several actors and crew members halted production in Afghanistan of Two Legged Horse, the film by Iranian helmer Samira Makhmalbaf. Mohsen Makhmalbaf was the target of two unsuccessful murder attempts when he shot Kandahar in Iran near the Afghan border in 2000, and his daughter Hana was twice the victim of a failed abduction attempt during the shooting of Samira's last film At Five in the Afternoon in the Afghan capital Kabul in 2002.
Iranian film critics:
Anybody Can Act - but Not Everyone Can Be an Actor; Bollywood Star Abhay Deol Wants to Celebrate Modesty as Much as the Centenary of Indian Cinema in Birmingham. He Talks to Graham Young about the City's Celebrations
Jun 13, 2013; Byline: Graham Young MANY Anglicised Indians love to visit the homeland of their families - for Abhay Deol the reverse is true....