Cinema of Iran

Cinema of Iran
Persian art collage.jpg
Persian Arts
Visual Arts
Painting Miniatures
Decorative Arts
Jewellery Metalworks
Embroidery Motifs
Tileworks Handicrafts
Pottery Mirrorworks
Literature Mythology
Folklore Philosophy
Architecture Cuisine
Carpets Gardens
Performance Arts
Dance Music
Cinema Theatre

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.[1]

Film festivals that honor 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.[2] 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.[1] 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.[3]



Visual arts in Persia

One of the earliest examples in visual representations in Iranian history can be traced to the bas-reliefs in Persepolis (c. 500 B. C.). Bas relief is a method of sculpting which entails carving or etching away the surface of a flat piece of stone or metal. Persepolis was the ritual center of the ancient kingdom of Achaemenids and "the figures at Persepolis remain bound by the rules of grammar and syntax of visual language."[4]

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.[5]

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.[5]

Other than-popular dramatic performance arts, before the advent of cinema in Iran, are Khaymeshab-bazi (puppet show), Saye-bazi (shadow plays), Rouhozi (comical acts), and Ta'zieh.[6]

Early Persian cinema

Cinema was only five years old when it came to Persia at the beginning of the 20th century. The first Persian filmmaker was Mirza Ebrahim Khan Akkas Bashi, the official photographer of Muzaffar al-Din Shah, the Shah of Persia from 1896–1907. After a visit to Paris in July 1900, Akkas Bashi obtained a camera and filmed the Shah's visit to Europe upon the Shah's orders. He is said to have filmed the Shah's private and religious ceremonies, but no copies of such films exist today. A few years after Akkas Bashi started photography, Khan Baba Motazedi, another pioneer in Iranian motion picture photography emerged.[7] He shot a considerable amount of newsreel footage during the reign of Qajar to the Pahlavi dynasty.[8]

In 1904, Mirza Ebrahim Khan Sahhafbashi opened the first movie theater in Tehran.[7] 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.[5]

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).[9]

1930s and 40s

In 1930 the first Iranian silent Film was made by Professor Ovanes Ohanian called Haji Agha, Later in early 1932 he made his second film titeled Abi Rubi .later In 1932, Abdolhossein Sepanta made the first Iranian sound film, entitled Lor Girl. Later, in 1935, he directed movies such as Ferdowsi (the life story of the most celebrated epic poet of Iran), Shirin and Farhaad (a classic Iranian love story), and Black Eyes (the story of Nader Shah's invasion of India). In 1937, he directed Laili and Majnoon, an Eastern love story similar to the English story of Romeo and Juliet.

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 emphasized ethics and humanity.[10]

Pre-revolutionary cinema, 1950s-70s

The 1960s was a significant decade for Iranian cinema, with 25 commercial films produced annually on average throughout the early ‘60s, increasing to 65 by the end of the decade. The majority of production focused on melodrama and thrillers.

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.[11]

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:

  • The Bride of the Sea, by the late Arman (1965)
  • Siavash at Persepolis, by the late Ferreydun Rahnama (1967)
  • The Brick and The Mirror, by Ebrahim Golestan (1967)
  • The House of God, by Jalal Moghaddam (1966)
  • The Husband of Ahoo Khanom, by Davood Mollapour (1968)

Post-revolutionary cinema

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,[12] 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.[13][14]

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.[15]

There is also movie-documentary production, often critical of the society in the name of the islamic revolution ideal, like the films directed by Mohammedreza Eslamloo.

We must mention here "Tranquility in the Presence of Others" (Aramesh dar Hozur Deegaran, 1973) directed by Nasser Taghvai and rated by some critics as the best Iranian film of all times.[16]

Contemporary Iranian cinema

Today, the Iranian box office is dominated by commercial Iranian films. Foreign films are not commonly shown in movie theaters as part of a ban on films originating from the West. But heavily censored versions of classic and contemporary Hollywood productions are shown on state television. Uncensored versions are easily available in black markets. Iranian art films are often not screened officially, and are viewable via illegal DVDs which are easily available. Nevertheless, some of these acclaimed films were screened in Iran and had box office success. Examples include Rassul Sadr Ameli's "I’m Taraneh, 15", Rakhshan Bani-Etemad's "Under the skin of the City", Bahman Ghobadi's "Marooned in Iraq" and Manijeh Hekmat's "Women's Prison".[17]

Commercial cinema in Iran

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:

  • Films about the victory of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the ensuing Iran–Iraq war, filled with strong religious and national motifs.
  • Formulaic films starring popular actors. With 130 Iranian films looking for a screening each year, cinema managers tend to prefer crowd-pleasing comedies, romantic melodramas, and family comedies over the other genres.[18] The Lizard, Outsiders, Aquarium, Ceasefire, M like Mother, Glass Agency, Charlatan and Killing Mad Dogs were among the post-revolutionary films that gained the highest box office records.[19][20][21] These films have similarities with Indian popular cinema and with Hollywood (but also have distinct differences). They are chaste, in that the hero and his love interest do not so much kiss but rather walk off into the metaphorical sunset as the end credits roll. The appeal of these films is the escapism offered by their "western" attributes and their "non-Iranian" identity.[citation needed]

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-dressed women, night-clubs, 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.[22] Before Fardin, one could argue, Iran simply did not have a commercial cinema.[23]

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.[24]

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."[25] 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 100-year 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.[17][26][27][28] 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.[28]

There is no particular love of Arab cinema but Indian cinema is relatively popular among the Iranian masses – but 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.

Iranian New Wave films

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.[29]

Features of New Wave Iranian film, in particular the works of legendary Abbas Kiarostami, can be classified as postmodern.[30]

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

"that champions the poetry in everyday life and the ordinary person by blurring the boundaries between fiction and reality, feature film with documentary." She also argues that this unique approach has inspired European cinema directors to emulate this style, citing Michael Winterbottom's award winning In This World (2002) as an homage to contemporary Iranian cinema. Issa claims that "This new, humanistic aesthetic language, determined by the film-makers’ individual and national identity, rather than the forces of globalism, has a strong creative dialogue not only on home ground but with audiences around the world." [31]

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 Rafi Pitts, Bahman Ghobadi, Maziar Miri, Asghar Farhadi, Mani Haghighi, and Babak Payami,[32][33] along with newly emerged filmmakers such as Kiarash Anvari, Maziar Bahari, Sadaf Foroughi, Saman Saloor, and Mona Zandi-Haqiqi.

Iranian popular art films

Parallel to the Iranian New Wave, with its neorealist and minimalist art cinema, there exists a so-called "popular art cinema" in Iran. Filmmakers who belong to this circle make films with a broader range of audience than the narrow spectrum of highly educated people who admire the New Wave, but believe that their movies are also artistically sound. Filmmakers such as Nasser Taghvaee and Ali Hatami are the best examples of this cinematic movement (some of these filmmakers also make new wave films e.g. Mum's Guest by Darius Mehrjui).[29] The Demon and the Bald Hassan, Adam and Eve, The Fisherman's Story, City of Oranges, and Talisman are some of Hatami's works. Ardeshir Fardin

Iranian women's cinema

Following the rise of the Iranian New Wave, there are now record numbers of film school graduates in Iran and each year more than 20 new directors make their debut films, many of them women. In the last two decades, there have been a higher percentage of women directors in Iran than in most countries in the West.[31]

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.[34] 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:

  • Fatemeh Motamed Aria, Crystal Simorgh for the Best Actress, the 7th, 10th, 11th, and 12th Fajr International Film Festival
  • Googoosh
  • Shohreh Aghdashloo, First Iranian woman to be nominated for an Academy Award
  • Pegah Ahangarani, Best Actress Award, the 23rd Cairo International Film Festival
  • Taraneh Alidousti, Best actress award, Locarno International Film Festival (2002) and Crystal Simorgh for best actress from Fajr International Film Festival
  • Mary Apick, Best Actress Award from Moscow International Film Festival 1977
  • Golshifteh Farahani, First Iranian star to play in a Hollywood film Body of Lies Best Actress award from Nantes Three Continents Film Festival 2004 and Simorgh award for Best Actress from Fajr Int. Film Festival 1998.
  • Azita Hajian, Crystal Simorgh for the Best Actress, the 17th Fajr International Film Festival
  • Leila Hatami Best actress award, Locarno International Film Festival and Montreal World Film Festival(2002)
  • Niki Karimi, Best actress award, Nantes Film Festival
  • Ladan Mostofi, Best Actress Award at the third Eurasia International Film Festival in 2006
  • Hedyeh Tehrani, Crystal Simorgh for best actress from Fajr International Film Festival

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.

Iranian war films

War cinema in Iran was born simultaneously with the beginning of Iran–Iraq War. However, it took many years until it found its way and identity by defining characteristics of Iranian war cinema. In the Alleys of Love (1990), by Khosrow Sinai, shows the most poematic view on the Iran Iraq war and still after years, is one of the leading films about this historical event from a humanistic aspect, although unlike other Iranian war cinema which are fully supported by the Iranian government this film was made with numerous difficulties. In the past decades, the Iranian film industry has produced many war films. In the Iranian war film genre, war has often been portrayed as glorious and "holy", bringing out the good in the protagonist and pandering to nationalist sentiments. Tears of Cold and Duel were two films that have gone beyond the traditional view of war.[35]

Many renowned directors were involved in developing Iranian war cinema:[36]

Iranian animations

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.[37]

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.[38]

The following are among the notable filmmakers of Iranian animated films:

Timeline of Iranian films

  • Pre 1960
  • 1960s
  • 1970s
  • 1980s
  • 1990s
  • 2000s

Ethnic and folk cinema in Iran

Iranian Azeri Cinema

In 2002, Iranian director, Mehdi Parizad, shot a documentary on Azeri filmmaking. On January 10, 2005, The Azeri cinema event "Prospects of Azeri Cinema" opened at Tehran's Contemporary Arts Museum. In 1990, Mohsen Makhmalbaf made Time of Love. The film's dialogues are both in Turkish and Persian language.

Iranian Kurdish cinema

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.[39] 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.

Iranian cinema and other Persian-speaking countries


Cinema of Afghanistan is slowly rising after a long period of silence. Before the September 11th attacks, Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf attracted world attention to Afghanistan by his celebrated movie, Kandahar. It was an attempt to tell the world about a forgotten country. The film brought cinema of Afghanistan to Cannes film festival for the first time in history. Later on, Yassamin Maleknasr, Abolfazl Jalili, Samira Makhmalbaf, and Siddiq Barmak did significant contribution to Persian cinema in Afghanistan. Barmak's first Persian film Osama (2003) won several awards in Cannes and London film festivals. Siddiq Barmak is also director of the Afghan Children Education Movement (ACEM), an association that promotes literacy, culture and the arts, founded by Iranian film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The school trains actors and directors for the emerging cinema of Afghanistan.

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 2008, Mithaq Kazimi made 16 Days in Afghanistan which was shown in many television stations around the world.


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.

In 2003, Iran's Film Week was held in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Several Iranian films including My Eyes for You, Last Supper, Bride, Avicenna, and Passion, went on screen at the Vatan Cinema in Dushanbe.

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.

Influence of Iranians on French New Wave

Iranian graphic novelist and animator, Marjane Satrapi

Amongst the pioneers of French New Wave were François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, 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 whom 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.[40]

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 Académie 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 cast 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.[40]

After the resignation 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 Lelouch-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 Lelouch 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).[40]

Music in Iranian cinema

Although Iranian composers usually have their own special style and music structure, they all share one thing: melodic, lively rhythms. That might be because they often begin with folkloric songs and shift to film music. In the past few decades, a few composers have emerged in the Iranian cinema with highly appraised works. Composers like Morteza Hannaneh, Fariborz Lachini, Ahmad Pejman, Majid Entezami, Babak Bayat, Naser Cheshmazar and Hossein Alizadeh were some of the most successful score composers for Iranian films in the past decades.[41]

Iranian international film festivals

Film festivals have a rather long history in Iran that goes back to 1950s. The first Tehran International Film Festival opened in April 1973. Although the festival never reached the level of Cannes and Venice, however, it managed to become well known as a class A festival. It was a highly reputable festival and many well-known filmmakers took part in it with their films. Great filmmakers such as Francesco Rosi, Grigori Kozintsev, Alain Tanner, Pietro Germi, Nikita Mikhalkov, Krzysztof Zanussi, Martin Ritt won the festival's awards.[42]

Fajr Film Festival

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.[42] 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.[43]

Isfahan International Festival of Films for Children & Young Adults

This festival has taken place since 1985. In its first three years, it was part of the Fajr Film Festival. From 1988 to 1989, it was located in Tehran and in 1996, it was held in Kerman. The festival features international and national film and video competitions. The top prize is called Golden Butterfly.[44]

Iran Cinema Celebration Awards

On September 12, the national day of Iranian cinema, a celebration is held annually by the House of Cinema. In the 2006 event, Akira Kurosawa was honored.

  • 2006 Best film: Crossroad directed by Abolhassan Davudi.
  • 2005 Best film: So Close, So Far directed and produced by Reza Mir-Karimi.

International recognition of Iranian cinema

Here is a list of Grand prizes awarded to Iranian cinema by the most prestigious film festivals:[45][46]


First presence of Iranian cinema in Cannes dates back to 1991 when in the alleys of love by Khosrow Sinai and then 1992 when Life and nothing more by Abbas Kiarostami represented Iran in the festival.




The first film from Iranian cinema that won a prize in Locarno festival was khaneie doost kojast directed by Abbas Kiarostami (1989).


San Sebastian


Lifelong achievement awards

The Annual Academy Awards (Oscar)

Best films of Iranian cinema

Since 1988 Iranian leading film journal, Film, has conducted a poll for selecting best films in the history of Iranian cinema (and world cinema as well). The last poll was held in September 2009 and 93 leading Iranian film critics selected their all time favorites. According to this poll, best films of Iranian cinema are:

1 The Deer (1974) Masoud Kimiai

2 Bashu, the Little Stranger (1989) Bahram Beizai

3 Desiderium (1978) Ali Hatami

4 About Elly (2009) Asghar Farhadi

5 Hamoun (1990) Dariush Mehrjui

6 Strait (1973) Amir Naderi

7 The Cow (1969) Dariush Mehrjui

8 Captain Khorshid (1987) Naser Taghvai

9 Once Upon a Time, Cinema (1992) Mohsen Makhmalbaf

10 Tranquility in the Presence of Others (1973) Naser Taghvai

10 Kandu (1975) Fereydun Gole[48]


Although the Iranian film industry is flourishing, its filmmakers have operated under severe censorship rules, both before and after the revolution. Some Iranian films that have been internationally acclaimed are banned in Iran itself. Conversely, some Iranian filmmakers have faced hostility in other countries.

Censorship within Iran

Dariush Mehrjui's seminal film Gaav (The Cow, 1969) is now considered a pioneering work of the Iranian New Wave. The film was sponsored by the state, but they promptly banned it upon completion because its vision of rural life clashed with the progressive image of Iran that the Shah wished to project, while its prominence at international film festivals annoyed the regime.[49]

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.[49] 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.[50]

All of Jafar Panahi's films, including his recent film about female football fans,[51] Offside (2006), have been banned from public theaters in Iran.[52] 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."[52]

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.[53]

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.[54]

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".[55] 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.[56]

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.[57] 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."[2]. 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."[58] Despite the censorship, Kiarostami insists on working in Iran, saying "I think I really produce my best work in Iran."[58] 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."[59]

Hostility outside Iran

Given the tense relationship between Iran and the United States, Iranian filmmakers have faced hostility there, even if they have also been banned in their own country. Abbas Kiarostami was refused a visa to attend the New York Film Festival, Ohio University and Harvard University in 2002, in the wake of the September 11 attacks.[60][61][62] Festival director Richard Pena, who had invited him, said: "It's a terrible sign of what's happening in my country today that no one seems to realize or care about the kind of negative signal this sends out to the entire Muslim world".[63] Finnish film director Aki Kaurismäki boycotted the festival in protest.[64] Similarly, Bahman Ghobadi, winner of the Golden Plaque at the Chicago International Film Festival, refused to accept the prize in protest of the U.S. government's refusal to issue him a visa.[65] In 2007, Ahmed Issawi, the abashed Arab director of the New York South Asian Film Festival admitted that a conscious decision was made not to invite any Iranian filmmakers, saying "That's a territory I no longer want to tread [...] It's over. Given the whole thing with Iran—I refuse to approach it."[66]

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.[67] Samira Makhmalbaf also survived a kidnapping in Afghanistan.[citation needed]

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.[68]

      • In May 2010 Daryush Shokof was kidnapped by 4 terrorists in Cologne, Germany. the world was shocked by this incident and more so for even after he was released he said to the press that has been told by his captors to stop releasing his two latest movies Iran Zendan and Hitler's Grave, or Heaven's Taxi or else he would be killed. Iran Zendan was the first film ever to have portrayed the terrible situations of political prisoners in Iran's Prisons under the Islamic Republic of Iran in the last 30 years.[citation needed]

Shokof announced in his first press conference in Berlin on June 6, 2010 that he not only would continue to show the film(s) but that he would place the film Iran Zendan "on line" on global net for the whole world to be able to see the reality of the true face of the Islamic Republic of Iran. he delivered the promise as the entire film Iran Zendan is now on line and free of charge to be viewed world wide and under or under Iran Zendan.[citation needed]

Iranian film critics

  • Houshang Golmakani
  • Hamid Dabashi author of Close Up: Iranian Cinema, Past, Present, Future.
  • Bahman Maghsoudlou, author of “Iranian Cinema”, published in 1987 by New York University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies
  • Hamid Reza Sadr author of Iranian Cinema: A Political History.
  • Ehsan Khoshbakht [69] author of Celluloid Architecture.[70]

See also


  1. ^ a b The Iranian Cinema
  2. ^ Abbas Kiarostami: Articles & Interviews
  3. ^ The Iranian Cinema: A Dream With No Awakening
  4. ^ Honour, Hugh and John Fleming, The Visual Arts: A History. New Jersey, Prentice Hall Inc, 1992. Page: 96.
  5. ^ a b c Iranian Cinema: Before the Revolution
  6. ^ M. Ali Issari, Cinema in Iran: 1900-1979 pages 40-67.
  7. ^ a b The history of Iranian cinema, Part I by Masoud Mehrabi
  8. ^ M. A Issari, Cinema in Iran, page 96.
  9. ^ Omid, Jamal. The History of Iranian Cinema 1900-1978. Tehran: Rozaneh Publication, 1995, 1174 pgs (Persian).
  10. ^ Iranian filmmakers and influence of Ancient Persian literature
  11. ^ Shahin Parhami, Iranian Cinema: Before the Revolution
  12. ^ Kiarostami Will Carry Us; The Iranian Master Gives Hope
  13. ^ Iran's strong presence in 2006 Berlin Film Festival
  14. ^ Iran films return to Berlin festival
  15. ^ "Kurdish Cinema Really Started out with Yilmaz Güney"
  16. ^ IMDB rating of 50 best Iranian films
  17. ^ a b - - Iranian Cinema - Beyond Festival Films
  18. ^ Yahoo! Movies: Movie News
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ BBC News. (2000). "Iranian 'King of Hearts' dies". BBC News. Retrieved November 8, 2006.
  23. ^ Farewell to Fardin: Death of legendary actor marks end of an era
  24. ^
  25. ^ "Ahmadinejad turns down chance to star in Oliver Stone film", The Guardian, July 2, 2007.
  26. ^ Sixteen foreign films to compete at Fajr Festival
  27. ^ Iran Daily - Arts & Culture - 12/13/06
  28. ^ a b No more ‘feminist’ or pro-US films in Iran!
  29. ^ a b The New Wave in Iranian Cinema - From Past to Present
  30. ^ Abbas Kiarostami ? The Truth Behind Reality
  31. ^ a b Real Fictions
  32. ^ Rising talent on Iranian Scene
  33. ^ To Kiarostami or Not To Kiarostami
  34. ^ "Iranian women tell their own story". BBC News. May 4, 2001. Retrieved April 30, 2010. 
  35. ^ Tehran Avenue | Film | War Cinema and Two New Iranian Films
  36. ^ History of Iranian war cinema
  37. ^ First Animation of the World Found In Burnt City
  38. ^ Tehran International Animation Festival (2nd Festival 2001)
  39. ^ [1]
  40. ^ a b c The Modern Magazine for Persian Celebrations, Cuisine, Culture & Community
  41. ^ Music in Iranian cinema
  42. ^ a b F for Festival
  43. ^ Fajr Film Festival on IMDb
  44. ^ Isfahan International Festival of Films for Children & Young Adults on IMDb
  45. ^ Film Festival Guide
  46. ^ Locarno festival ranked 4th after Cannes, Venice and Berlin
  47. ^ ASGAR FOR AN OSCAR!: Iranian Sound Editor nominated for Oscar for Apocalypto
  48. ^ Ehsan Khoshbakht's notes on cinematograph
  49. ^ a b Steve Nottingham: Early Soviet Cinema
  50. ^ The new Iranian Cinema
  51. ^ Blowing the Whistle
  52. ^ a b Farouky, Jumana (May 21, 2006). "Blowing The Whistle". Time.,9171,901060529-1196395,00.html. Retrieved April 30, 2010. 
  53. ^ Iran Chamber Society: Iranian Cinema: Mohsen Makhmalbaf
  54. ^ Iranian director Tahmineh Milani speaks with WSWS
  55. ^ New Statesman - Samira Makhmalbaf
  56. ^ Filmfestival
  57. ^ "Iran unyielding over director ban". BBC News. April 28, 2005. Retrieved April 30, 2010. 
  58. ^ a b Jeffries, Stuart (April 16, 2005). "Landscapes of the mind". The Guardian (London).,,1460813,00.html. Retrieved April 30, 2010. 
  59. ^ Al-Ahram Weekly | Culture | Strategic lies
  60. ^ Andrew O'Hehir (2002). "Iran's leading filmmaker denied U.S. visa". Retrieved 2007-02-23. 
  61. ^ "Iranian director hands back award". BBC. October 17, 2002. Retrieved 2007-02-23. 
  62. ^ Jacques Mandelbaum (2002). "No entry for Kiarostami". Le Monde. Retrieved 2007-02-23. 
  63. ^ Stuart Jeffries (2005). "Abbas Kiarostami - Not A Martyr". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-02-23. 
  64. ^ Celestine Bohlen (2002). "Abbas Kiarostami Controversy at the 40th NYFF". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2007-02-23. 
  65. ^ Gomgashtei dar Aragh (2002) - Awards
  66. ^ U.S. Visa Policy Inhumane and Counterproductive
  67. ^ Curiel, Jonathan (July 9, 2002). "Iranian filmmaker stays true to his social conscience / New 'Baran' shows the miserable plight of Afghan refugees". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  68. ^ Bomber targets Makhmalbaf
  69. ^ [Senses of Cinema]
  70. ^ [Notes on Cinematograph]

Further reading

  • Umid, Jamal, Tarikh-i sinima-yi Iran : 1279-1357 / Jamal Umid = [The history of Iranian cinema] : [1900-1978] / [Jamal Omid] 1175 pages. Illustrated. Press:Teheran Rawzanah. Year:1374[1995]. Language:Persian.
  • Displaced Allegories: Post-Revolutionary Iranian Cinema (Duke University Press, 2008). ISBN 978-0-8223-4275-5
  • Hamid Dabashi, Close Up: Iranian Cinema, Past, Present, and Future, 320 p. (Verso, London, 2001). ISBN 1-85984-332-8
  • Hamid Dabashi, Masters & Masterpieces of Iranian Cinema, 451 p. (Mage Publishers, Washington, D.C., 2007) ISBN 0-934211-85-X
  • Gönül Dönmez-Colin, Cinemas of the Other, Intellect (April, 2006) ISBN 978-1-84150-143-7
  • Hamid Reza Sadr, Iranian Cinema: A Political History, I.B.Tauris (2006). ISBN 139781845111465
  • Najmeh Khalili Mahani, Women of Iranian Popular Cinema: Projection of Progress, Offscreen, Vol. 10, Issue 7, July 31, 2006, [3].

External links


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